By Jonathan May
I walked into the University of Memphis Student Center early that Friday and skipped the elevator, focusing on each step of the stairs in front of me. No one, I thought, wants to rush to be tested for HIV.
“Get tested” one hears from friends, lovers, the doctor. And too often people put it off, stoking their fears online, in isolation. The fear of arriving only to be told, “I’m sorry, but your test came back positive.” It’s not the death sentence it used to be, but still.
The woman from Planned Parenthood was waiting on a sofa outside a conference room on the top floor. She asked if I was there for the free HIV testing, with no hint of judgment, no sideways look. I was used to sideways looks from doctors when I asked about HIV testing in the past. But she gave me a clipboard and her name with a warm smile, and I sighed in relief.
What proceeded was both professional and caring. A mouth-swab was taken, with results showing twenty minutes later. The mouth-swab method is only good for determining the presence of HIV antibodies produced after three months’ time, I was told. In addition to the physical test, I answered a few simple questions about my sexual history and felt no embarrassment. They offered me condoms and lube. After fifteen or so minutes of waiting in an adjacent room, I was led back into the room and given my negative diagnosis.
The relief was powerful, even in its brevity. Even though I take precaution, in the back of my mind played out a different scenario, one where I would then be walked through what to do next.
Though this testing went well, it reminded me how important it is to be tested regularly, even when being precautionary. It also reminded me that the warmth and concern of others, of people who care, outweighed my fears and embarrassments. I’ll take those stairs again in a few months; you should too.
Jonathan May grew up in Zimbabwe as the child of missionaries. He lives and teaches in Memphis. His work has appeared in [PANK], Superstition Review, Plots With Guns, Luna Luna Mag, Shark Reef, Duende, One, and Rock & Sling. He’s recently finished translating the play Dreams by Günter Eich into English. Read more at https://memphisjon.wordpress.com/
*Author’s note: free HIV testing is also offered at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Wednesday.
Here are some free testing resources courtesy of Walgreens: