Monday, November 29, 2010


I didn't want her.  I didn't understand why the ladies of our family wanted a second dog in the household anyways.  Having one dog already was work on its own.  Nevertheless, if they insisted on having a new member of the family I made sure to help choose one that would contribute.

I remember the afternoon when we brought the new dog home from the pet shop.  It was a beautiful spring day, a month before I was due to graduate from Junior High School and the grass and flowers were in full bloom.  The shop was filled to capacity with howling newborn birds, cats and puppies.  The odor was enough to make me postpone my breathing inhalation patterns in an attempt to avoid the delicious fowl. 

I wanted the Shih Tzu with the golden-colored patches on its body.  It was overly friendly and carefree; it jumped around and smiled at me endlessly.  Meanwhile, a darker-colored Shih Tzu lay in the corner like a lump, quiet as a mouse and did nothing to show enthusiasm for wanting a home with humans.  However, she was chosen by my sister on the basis that the two shared the same birthday.  I was overruled and furious.  We brought the lump to her new home and named her Lillie (Tigerlily.)

The infant puppy never cried.  She never barked to be released from her cage.  Lillie was the most obedient baby I have witnessed up until that point.  Once she was house broken Lillie began to do something quite peculiar: Lillie followed me wherever I went.  She slept at the foot of my bed begging me to pet her.  It was as if she knew I wasn't the least bit impressed with her earlier mannerisms.  To make a long story short, I came around and before long Lillie and I were best friends.  I became protective of my pet sister from my human brother and sister's roughness claiming Lillie enjoyed it.  "If she likes it so much why does she come running to me when she's scared?" was my general response.

There was no doubt that Lillie loved everyone in the family.  But, as my brother put it, "Lille was my shadow."  It was hard to say good bye to her when I left for college, when I moved to Florida, or after a short holiday visit home, but she always jumped for joy and wagged her tail uncontrollably when I returned.  Two days before she passed we cuddled on the couch watching the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."  I got up to get a drink and typical Lillie would've followed me- this time she didn't move from the couch.  I knew in my heart it was time.

I shed my tears on the way to my parents’ house the afternoon of her passing.  I wanted to remove it from my system to stay strong for my family when I arrived.  I thought about death which of course reminded me of my diagnosis.  Considering it was Thanksgiving weekend I tried my darnedest to find what to be thankful for in this situation.  I was thankful that Lillie was only sick for a handful of days- which meant her life till the very end was healthy and prosperous.  I couldn't say the same for my other dog where there are arguments that we dragged on his suffering too long.  "Would my family do the same to me should HIV take a turn for the worse?" I thought. 

Suddenly my thankful thoughts turned to anger and resentment.  I was angry that Lillie died on us.  The weeks when yours truly was on his deathbed, as I've referred to it, with early stages of the HIV infection, Lillie was beside me as much as I would let her.  Looking at her eyes I could tell she knew I was sick and there was nothing her paws could do, except to cuddle with me.  I felt her pain for my pain and I loved her for it.  She may have only been a dog, but a spirit nonetheless that I was able to count on the most in my life.

When I returned to the city at the end of the weekend I met up with a guy whom I was recently dating.  I told him about Lillie and her death mixed with my realization of my HIV diagnosis, the nonsense that makes New York, my ADAP troubles and my forced decisions to leave the city to go back to my childhood home where I'd be isolated and alone mixed deeper with my fatigue and my unhappiness had finally taken its toll- my anger from the past few weeks turned to exhaustion.  I'm physically and emotionally exhausted and all I want to do is take a nap.  Then, he said something I'll never forget; He explained that an argument the two of us had wasn't about me and him, but that he realized all I need in my life is a friend.  Someone to tell me everything is going to be okay.

I have friends, of course.  Some very close friends that are dear.  And after I spoke with him it dawned on me that he's right- I don't have a friend, a best friend, the kind I speak to almost everyday where we check on each other and can't go to bed without speaking to one another.  Lillie, should she have been human, would have been that friend. 

I didn't want her.  And now I didn't want her to ever leave.  If she was here and was able to speak to me I'm confident she'd say this to me, "Christopher, so what if you're HIV positive.  You're better than this.  You're my best friend and I know you better than anyone on this planet ever will.  I know all your secrets, your happiness, your sadness.  I forgave you when you left me for school.  I forgave you when you left me for Florida.  I forgave your drinking problem and DWI.  Only I understand you.  Now, Christmas is coming.  My gift to you is this- my blessing.  Go!  Do what you've been debating about.  Ignore everyone else's opinion and sarcasms.  They don't know better because they are not you.  Your life has finally been heading in the right direction, HIV or not.  I will always be here to support you."  

Lillie is right.  I need to make the arrangements, send for an extra supply of medications and get the hell out of the presence I'm in.  It's time to say good bye to New York City- for good.

I will always love and miss you, Lillie. 

Friday, November 19, 2010


At least that is what I'm starting to believe in our country.  I'm a responsible citizen: I pay my taxes, I bring home an honest paycheck, I take care of my heath, I volunteer, I even vote.  However, I am starting to understand that trying to stay ahead and doing the right thing is working against me.

Let me explain.  I work a full time job through a temp agency.  The agency has an extremely limited benefits package that will not cover my specific HIV medical needs.  I also work part time at night at a hotel of which is my only medical coverage.  This part time gig is a union job.  Regardless of your opinion of unions I will say this: I believe unions are necessary solely for the purpose of employers and employees having equal opportunity in an environment that would have otherwise.  Sure, there are abuses on both sides, but I digress.  My union benefits differ from regular medical benefits in a number of ways.  I cannot choose my medical care.  Instead, it is required that I see their doctors and their specialists in order to be covered.  The problem with that is that it can take as little as a few months to see a doctor for a sore throat.  Their response is if you need to seek help go to the emergency room.  Being HIV positive and required to submit bloodwork every three months in addition to my primary care follow up of said work, it is a necessity that I am able to schedule my appointments in a reasonable matter.  Of course there is no HIV specialist under my medical plan.  Finally, if I want to see a specialist not only would I need a referral to see that specialist (every time I need to see him), but I would also need a referral to get bloodwork drawn (again, every time I need it done.)

For the time being, I have been paying for my blood work as well as my doctor visits out of pocket.  Thousands of dollars later and I still owe a significant amount.  Unfortunately, until we find a cure, or I quit my jobs all together, this cycle will have no end.  Naturally, I can see how the world outside of HIV take this illness less and less seriously given your "once-a-day" medications and living longer lives.  This side of the epidemic isn't spoken about enough to the general public.  I've had endless meetings with social workers over months on end.  It has come to the point where I have pleaded with them with what I should do.  "Give me an ultimatum," I say. 

Scenario One: IF I quit my part time job and have no medical benefits I will qualify for New York's ADAP (Aids Drug Assistance Program.)  Consequence to Scenario One: my income will be significantly less and I may be forced to leave my home and move back in with my parents.  My temp job is above the poverty level, but just enough to barely make ends meat, so I don't qualify for government assistance.  Food will become a luxury.  My parents live outside New York City, and our state is under the radar for falling into the ADAP "waiting list" category.  For further information regarding ADAP and the waiting lists (if there is one in your state) and what you could do to help, click on the website here: 

Scenario Two: IF I keep both my jobs I will not qualify for ADAP.  Consequence to Scenario Two: Not only will I run myself down with fatigue working 60 hours a week like I currently do, but I will somehow have to conjur up $750 every three months.  At least my medicine is still covered with my current part time job.  That is, they haven't questioned my prescriptions at this point.  Praise be to God that I don't have to ever pay for my medications out of pocket.  Seeing how much each individual pill costs turns my olive skin to snow white.

There should be a law of some sort where employers only have a certain time frame to decide whether or not they'd like add a temp employee to payroll.  There should be consquences should they string hardworking professionals along.  Maybe there is, but I doubt it. 

I haven't reached my offical one year mark being HIV positive and I'm already exhausted.  I'm tired of closed doors and "we can't help you" answers.  I try to do the right thing by working hard and paying my dues with no end in sight.  I was once taught to aspire to a world with a house and a white picket fence and landscaped gardens.  For all the Americans on waiting lists, live hours and hours away from medical care or try to do the right thing and still get spit on like me I say this: even in a metropolis like New York City, you can feel alone.

We really are all in this, together.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I'd like to start off this entry by thanking my fans, friends and family for not allowing me to swim in the middle of the ocean without a life jacket.  You wouldn't let me get away with expressing my anger and frustrations without having the final say.  I was reminded that there is still plenty of love, compassion and support out there, even when I temporarily lose hope- for which I am truly grateful.  

For the past few weeks on numerous occasions I was reminded of some of the harsh realities I face.  The specifics don't matter.  What matters is that by more than one individual I was put into a corner regarding my HIV status, made to feel worthless and to blame.  As if something was wrong with me or that I wasn't good enough.  Even in a liberal city like New York I have found people here to be uneducated and lack support.  If that weren't enough I was reminded on how we as a gay community are cruel and discriminative towards each other- just for the temporary satisfaction to feel better about ourselves.  If you're living as a gay man the chances are you were never accepted by anyone as an equal- in high school, in the workplace, or wherever you may roam.  You're more like a side show to the outside world, weak enough to be picked on without consequence.  In turn, we hurt each other within our own community.  

If your not lifting weights eight days a week, or a Glee fan, or HIV negative, your chances of acceptance in our own community are dire.  It doesn't work in our favor to be honest with people.  Guys would rather not know your status and pretend it's not there.  If we don't talk about HIV then it won't be under the sheets.  I know I was once a guy that thought that way. 

These past few weeks we all, including myself, have reached out to teenagers all over the world with our message that it gets better.  Does it?  It may get better, sure, but the pain and the hurt doesn't get any easier- unless you’re either an Adonis or a Broadway fan.  When does it get better for someone like me who are neither of those things?  When does it get better for someone like me who goes out to dinner by himself?  When does it get better for someone like me who has a phone that never rings?  When does it get better for someone like me who is never approached and stands alone at the bars?  When does it get better for someone like me who throws their medications against the wall in disgust?  When does it get better for someone like me who is tired of hearing the silence?

We've all heard this phrase, in many forms, by loved ones when we are down: "You're okay.  There are so many people out there in worse situations that yours."  I have two problems with this.  First, we are asked to dwell on other people's pain and suffering so we can feel better.  Where's the humanity in that? Secondly, we are asked to never put ourselves first, that we should ignore what our soul is feeling.  As long as the Earth's heart is beating there will always be pain and suffering.  When is it okay to take care of yours without being made to feel like you have nothing to complain about?  

I am no stranger to depression.  When I am down like this I bring myself back to my childhood, where most of my free time away from homework was spent alone in my bedroom with my Legos.  Indeed, Legos was my saving grace, but I refuse to let myself go back there.  I had a period of weakness, sure.  And I let the world know about it.  I guess it was a cry for help.  

However, I am slowly relapsing now and coming back to my old self again- the man who fell in love with himself, even with HIV running in his blood-the man who put others ahead of himself- the man who never ignored the people around him by chatting on his cell phone-the man who asks, "How are you doing?" and actually mean it.

Thank you all, one last time, for letting me feel life's sadness for a quick moment and knowing that at the end of the day it all will be okay.  If there is any advice I can give this week it would be this: put down your cell phones.  Sign off of Facebook and Twitter.  Take a night off from work.  Call an old friend, check up on those around you.  A simple "Hello" and "How have you been?" vocally, as opposed to a text message, can make all the difference.  It did for me, today.

To everyone that I am blessed to know in this world, thank you for letting me be me. 

Specifically, thank you to my sister, Katie, who I wasn't ignoring, but I couldn't let hear the ugliness I was experiencing.  Thank you to an old friend, Bridget, who reminded me that words speak so loud for themselves and I'll never forget the letter you wrote me.  Finally, thank you to Theresa, a coworker and friend of mine who understands hardships, but still found the time to hold me when I needed it.  There are so many people to thank, so for the sake of sounding less like an Oscar acceptance speech I collectively say, Thank You, everyone.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day- my writing class- the first step towards enjoying the pleasures surrounding me, once again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The colors outside are changing and daylight settles in earlier than New York has been accustomed to in the warmer months.  It’s time to hang up the swimming trunks and snuggle up with a blanket with some green tea.  I hear it’s a great source of antioxidants for HIV positive individuals like me. 

As much as I try to celebrate this beautiful, yet chilly time of year I can’t.  I’m having trouble getting myself out of the “funk” that I’ve been in the past couple of weeks.  All the things that I once got a charge out of are now a chore, like going to the gym or volunteer work or having a nice dinner.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what the culprit is that are responsible for putting me through this:  Perhaps it’s been sinking into my mind that I have HIV and the discipline of medications is starting to take it’s toll- or that I live in a city of which I don’t find beauty in like everyone else- or maybe I’m tired of spending so much time alone.  Regardless of the reason I am trying my hardest to not go down the same path that got me in trouble the first time around.  I must admit that on many occasions I cannot the resist the temptation of chilled Bourbon on the rocks and that scares me.

There’s only one thing these days that stimulates my mind: my writing.  I’ve been working on a novel for the past few years and with the help of a friend of mine I’m steps closer to finishing it.  Many have pestered me to speak of the story and I’ve tried to defy conversing with others about it until the book is in production.  Considering this funk I’m in and my defenses are low I thought it deemed appropriate to finally talk about one of my current joys.  For my avid readers, this is the first time I am publishing a synopsis of the storyline.  I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoy writing it.  Every completed page is one step closer to publication and another smile on my face.  Here it goes.    

Every individual has rituals of their own when it comes to problem solving.  Some turn to friends while others want to be alone and drink their sorrows away.  Some may go for long walks to sort their thoughts while others run from them.  Nathan, an introvert with a closeted past finds refuge in his laundry. 

Laundry is this adolescents’ alone time where he is attentive to his clothes circling in the machines.  For him the problems go away with the stains and the marks- ready to conquer the day ahead as soon as all articles are folded and set. 

However, for the first time Nathan is challenged by family and love and all the detergent in the universe cannot help him.  With the help of his sordid friendship with the Laundromat owner, Mildred, Nathan must face his most difficult challenge of all: Life.

The chapters are broken down by articles of clothing, each with their own storyline.  We begin with Nathan’s entrance into the Laundromat and journey with him through the cycle to an ending that no one would have predicted! 

Keep your fingers crossed that one day Nathan’s story, which so many can relate to, makes it on the New York Times Bestseller’s List.