(Delilah)1

I made my way slowly down the stone stairs leading down to the subway, avoiding what stains and old pieces of gum I could make out and miss stepping in. Crowds of people pushed past me impatiently, not seeming to notice my presence close to the right of the stairwell. Their impatience was not directed at me, a slow-moving woman who might be slowing them in their paths, but rather the world in general- they could not move fast enough of efficiently enough to accomplish all they wanted to before the day was up. I could identify, despite my slowness seeming to contradict me. At thirty-four years old, I already knew too well that I would never accomplish even a quarter of what I had expected to by the end of my lifetime. My time left was too short, and the lengths I'd have to strive too endless….it was simply impossible.2

There were more people exiting the subway than entering it- it was eight pm, and most people by then had gone home a few hours before- the business people, at any rate. I knew the subway would be up and running with plenty of people riding it for hours to come- the problem was, I didn't want to be riding with the kind of people who would get on at 11, 12 pm- like I said, the life I have left is short enough. Why tempt fate?3

So I never wait around like a lot of young-ish, unmarried New York City women do after getting off work, to shop or do errands or date, to go out and drink with friends. I used to, before- but now doing so would not only be a pointless denial of reality, it would be selfish. Selfish to my few casual friends, to by my actions feed them the lie that everything is the same, everything is still okay with me, that nothing has changed. Selfish to any man who might be attracted to me, might even grow to love me, a man I could not allow myself to love or express intimacy with. But also it would be selfish to myself, to allow myself to deny reality and think I could still live a normal existence, that my time living was not slowly dwindling.4

For you see, I have known I am HIV positive for nearly two years now… and I am just awaiting the day it turns into full-blown AIDS.5

Everything was so different when I was still with Hollis… when I was with Hollis, the possibility of ever having such a disease, of ever being so unlucky, would never have crossed my mind. But neither would I have ever thought he'd stop loving me- neither would I ever have thought I would one day be alone…6

Hollis and I married when we were seventeen, still barely more than kids. He was in the navy, and I romanticized it, thinking it would be like women in fairy tales whose husbands go overseas, that I would write him letters and wait for him and our love would grow stronger as we were apart. Well I don't know if that saying's true for anyone, but it definitely wasn't for us. Hollis got an honorable discharge after a pretty bad back injury, and once he was home every day, having to get a new job in an office that required no strenuous activity, things were different immediately. My fairy tale marriage dissolved before my eyes- suddenly when we were together every day, neither of us seemed quite so wonderful to each other.7

Still, I was a good one for burying my head in the sand, and I told myself it was fine, told myself that marriages were difficult to maintain. Of course we were happy, of course we loved each other- there was no question about it. At least, there wasn't on my side of things.8

So of course it stunned me when Hollis made his proclamation to me one night, blew my world into pieces… he told me not only that he loved someone else, had for nearly a year, but also that he did not know if he had ever loved me at all… he wanted a divorce. I could have the apartment, he would pay alimony, but he was moving out, he did not love me.9

After that, I kind of fell apart. I was 29, still pretty young, and my husband no longer considered me attractive, no longer wanted me… pain, grief, and insecurity gnawed at me, but I would not react in front of him, would not show any emotion. I kept my face a blank and nodded stiffly, and I did not let him see me cry. I let it happen and I did not give him the satisfaction of knowing how it affected me.10

He did like he'd said, I'll give him that- he gave me alimony, allowed me to have most of what we had once owned jointly. But that, money and things, they're nothing to make up for once having a husband, believing that you are loved unconditionally. They are nothing compared with knowing that although you have them, your ex gives them to you only out of a sense of duty.11

Even with the alimony, it was not enough, I could not pay rent and support myself in our decent-sized apartment without getting a job. I had never had to work before, had in fact only a high-school education. I'd known that I would marry Hollis- why would I need to go to college? He would always support me, I had figured. And he had, for eleven years- a long time, but far from the lifetime I'd expected.12

With my lack of qualifications, my job possibilities were narrowed down to menial labor, minimum wage. I became a waitress in T.G.I. Friday's, the best job I could find under the circumstances. Now I worry that even this job soon won't exist for me- lately I've had to call in sick so many times I'm sure my boss will say something if it happens again. I've already had my pay docked, but I can't tell him about my HIV. That would only ensure being fired- who wants to have their food served by someone with HIV?13

What's the worst about it is, however I contracted HIV, it was my fault, my own actions and carelessness. I know that now, although at first I put the blame squarely on Hollis. See, regardless of how I played it around Hollis, I was devastated by our divorce. It was like his leaving took a chunk of my own self as well, a vital part of me, leaving me with a raw, gaping scar that constantly was jarred, torn open. It made me hurt, it made me swear constantly when home alone where none could hear. It made me bitter.14

The thing about bitterness is, it takes your logic and completely twists it, turns it into something ugly and vindictive, something very wrong. All I could think about for nearly two years after Hollis left me was getting back at him, making him hurt as badly as I did, making him sorry… I wanted to show him that I had never really loved him, never really cared for him, that other men were just as interesting to me. I could have others; I didn't need him…15

Somehow this track of thinking brought me to the screwy conclusion that the best way to show Hollis I didn't care was to sleep with other men, the same way he had slept with other women. If I slept with men, lots of men the more men I slept with, the more he'd see I didn't care, that other men wanted me even if he didn't. He'd see then- I could sleep around town too, more than he had…16

So I did… I flirted with males, any males, even customers or co-workers, if I knew they were unattached. I made it blatantly clear that I was willing and available for anything they might have in mind with me…17

I began with a man a couple of times a week, then gradually it was happening more and more often until it was nearly every day, even with men I would have not wanted to speak to before my divorce. I hated to be home- the empty apartment, all the things in it that Hollis had once used, that we had once shared, seemed to mock me, underlining the fact that we would never be together in it once again.18

So more and more I left it for the homes of men I took on as lovers… I didn't care what those homes looked like as long as they were unfamiliar, as long as I had no embittered memories attached to them. Any apartment, no matter how slovenly and shabby, seemed preferable to me.19

I drank more at this time, which didn't help me raise my standards of conduct, of course. To this day I have a tattoo of a dragon and a rose on my shoulder that I have no memory of getting.20

I first realized something was wrong when I was 32. For the past year I had been sick almost constantly with severe colds and flu-like symptoms- the coughing, headaches, fatigue, that usually go along with particularly nasty colds. I figured it wasn't all that serious, although it worried me a little that I was losing weight, that I sometimes seemed to have problems catching my breath. I finally was concerned enough to see a doctor when my neck started to swell up. It turned out that my lymph nodes were swollen and I had the flu- but I was also HIV positive…21

Of course, everything changed for me in that instant. I could not understand how it happened to me. Well, of course I understood mentally either unprotected sex or the needle used to make my tattoo had been unsanitary. But emotionally, I had truly never believed such a thing could happen to me, regardless of what I did. Illness like that was for other people- nameless people not associated with me personally. Not me, never me…22

Beginning then, I became a person completely isolate from others physically and mentally. My nights out ceased, as did my drinking and nightly sex, of course. All that occupied my head was taking care of myself the best I could, trying to keep myself from getting sicker. I rarely venture out of my apartment now except to go to work- there are too many germs, too many people with too many diseases that could infect me. That is another thing that bothers me about my job- the amount of germs and people it puts me in contact with.23

My parents are dead now, were dead years before my divorce, and my one brother has never been close to me, lives hours away. I am truly alone in the world now.24

People with HIV usually live around ten years before it develops into AIDS. That means I have about eight more years, if I'm lucky… sometimes I wonder if those extra years are worth it, if in order to have them, I must continue to lead the lonely life I do now…25

I finally reached the bottom of the subway stairs, having managed not to be knocked down by the throng of people pushing past me to go up and the few behind me weaving around me. I stopped at the bottom briefly, sucking in my breath several times, waiting for a sudden tremor that ran over me to ease. My nose was running, and I sniffled, wiping it on the back of my hand. My shirt and pants were fitting me more loosely than they once had, I could feel my pants drooping in the back- in two years I had lost 25 pounds, putting my weight from 130 at 5'6" to 105. I had always wanted to be a little thinner when I was younger; I guess I should have been more careful what I wished for.26

I walked into the area where you get your tickets out of the little machines, punching in the information to receive my stub. Behind me, waiting for me to finish, stood a teenaged boy with curly brown hair and an unreadable expression on his face. He looked to be about fifteen and was wearing dirty, torn clothes that I could not tell whether they looked so intentionally or not. I wondered idly how often he rode the subway by himself- if he were my kid, I wouldn't want him riding alone at night, even if it was only 8 pm.27

Collecting my stub, I waited in line behind a well-dressed man around 50 carrying a briefcase, who looked preoccupied with his own thoughts. We each scanned the bar code on our ticket and were let through the turning bar, allowed to wait by the subway tracks for our car.28

I stood slightly to the left of the tunnel, leaning against the wall. My arms and legs ached for a chance to sit down, to rest, sleep. I was usually tired now, but after carrying plates of food and being on my feet for hours I was always exhausted. I was only lucky I had no headache tonight.29

Near me a small group of people had gathered, perhaps waiting for the same subway car. There were more people to the right, standing apart from us, but I could see none of them clearly. Those near me, I watched with vague interest, studying them closely, wondering how their lives differed from mine. Surely they led such different lives- happier lives…30

The teenaged boy and middle-aged man I had noticed before were near me, but there were about six others as well. There was an attractive, dark-haired man with a young, sandy-haired child, his daughter, assumedly, sleeping on his shoulder. There were two girls perhaps 19 years old, a thin blonde and a more muscular-looking girl with heavy eye makeup and reddish hair with streaks of black. The short-haired blonde was smiling widely, talking in a slightly high-pitched voice, gesturing with one arm, as the other girl let her lean into her, an arm around her shoulder. It was clear that the two were close, that the streak-haired girl cared deeply for the blonde from her expression.31

Standing a little apart from the others, but still near enough for me to see, stood a young couple perhaps seventeen years old, both dressed in baggy, black pants, Gothic style, I think it's called. They wore big T-shirts, the girl's tie-dyed with long sleeves layered underneath. They had about the same shade of brown hair, the girl's cut short with longish bangs. She also had glasses, I noticed, and she had a long scratch on her cheek, which looked like a scar of some kind. The boy had his arms around the girl from behind, his head against hers, and she leaned back into him, a small smile on her lips. As I watched them, a strange stirring in my chest, I saw the boy reach to trace the scar on her cheek, gently, tenderly, and I felt a sudden flash of envy for the two. The girl did not know how lucky she was, to have a man who loved her despite her scar, her apparent outward "flaw", a man who seemed to care so much for her…32

I had thought I had such a thing at her age, and I had been wrong. I had thought I would always have Hollis, that he would always love me- and look where that had gotten me.33

I read once that Delilah, my name, means "weary, weak, and delicate" in Hebrew. How appropriate, now… was this my fate? Or could I have changed this long ago, prevented myself from becoming this?34

If only I could go back to being seventeen again, never marry Hollis, never waste all those years of my life when I could have found someone else… if only I was like those kids, young and in love, with years of life ahead of me…35