What better way to start than at the beginning….
When I say "beginning" I mean of course the moment I learned I was HIV positive.
I know in advance that it's not going to be easy to talk about it, but I am sure that the benefits will be substantial.
It was November 2008, I had just had an extraordinary encounter….my very first crush.
I was living in Paris at the time and D (Let’s call him this) was living in Caen, but that was never really a problem for this chapter in my story.
After a few intense weeks, we both decided to have a blood test for peace of mind. My last HIV test was less than a month before, so I wasn't really worried about getting the results back.
D had his test in Caen and I scheduled mine at the Figuiers centre in the Saint-Paul metro. It had become part of my routine to go twice a year so I didn't consider that I might need a friend to go with me.
I always remember that just before going to the centre I went to the cobbler's to drop off my A.P.C. boots that I was particularly fond of. I had no idea that a few minutes later I would lose my carefree attitude.
I arrived at the centre at about 2pm when it opened and unfortunately it was already very busy. My name was called out very quickly and ahead of a lot of people who had arrived before me. I must admit that I didn't understand why at the time, because usually the order of arrival is respected.
I sat down, feeling quite relaxed. Like I said, this was a routine for me and I was very familiar with the process.
The doctor opened an envelope. He said to me in a very calm voice: "Well... It's positive”
My brain didn't understand the information at all at the time. I really asked myself: if it's positive, is everything okay? And of course I saw in his eyes that it was not. I remember instantly feeling my head boil, my stomach knot up, I felt like I was floating and not with the doctor anymore, like my body was there but my mind wanted to escape.
The doctor told me to breathe, that we had to take a second blood test to confirm the result. I compiled myself and went to the nurse. Everything was done very discreetly and I remember this very gentle nurse who seemed to want to help me but I had an overwhelming feeling that I knew she definitely could not.
I came back to the doctor's office: "Don't send messages to your relatives right away, go home but don't do it right away. You need to understand what is going to happen.
He referred me to a doctor who was "used to treating HIV-positive patients” He told me that the results would be sent directly to this practice and that I had to meet him to set up the next steps.
At the time I wasn't really paying attention, I didn't have any questions, I just knew that twenty minutes before I was terribly in love and I didn't understand why it was happening.
During the consultation I got a message from D who had just got his results back: "It's ok for me. You tell me when it's good for you."
The problem was that it wasn't good for me... And that I had only one fear, beyond the rest, and that was to lose him.
I quietly left the centre, through the back door. Even if in retrospect I find this very negative symbolically because it conditioned me from the beginning to be ashamed, I was also scared to have to cross the waiting room in tears.
I sat on the pavement, alone, and cried.
I realised that I would need time to digest what had just happened so I decided to call my employer to tell her that I would be away for an indefinite period. She could tell by the sound of my voice that something was very wrong. She had a very reassuring reaction and just told me to keep her informed.
I walked back from Saint-Paul to Voltaire, my brain completely fogged up, with tears streaming down my face. Those twenty minutes of walking were the longest of my life.
When I arrived I called D and my silence mixed with the tears made him understand that the news was not good. He cried a lot with me on the phone.
D couldn't arrive until the next day, so I called one of my sisters who also lived in Paris, and told her how urgent it was to be there. I also contacted two of my best friends, one of whom was celebrating his birthday on the same day. I would have preferred to give him a completely different present.
My sister arrived first and immediately hugged me using all the most reassuring words she could think of. Her strength gave me a lot. We agreed to keep this information to ourselves at first. The distance from my parents and my other sister would have increased the anxiety tenfold and it was obvious that we had to talk about it face to face together but certainly not on the phone. My sister's husband (at the time only a boyfriend) came to my house as well to support my sister.
My friends arrived at the end of the day. The atmosphere was obviously heavy. We quickly decided to go for dinner just downstairs.
The presence of my sister and my friends gave me the momentum for the rest of the day: I had to move on.
I don't have a bad memory of this meal. I even remember tasting a duck parmentier for the first time. It's amazing how the brain works, the memories it anchors, sometimes insignificant.
D arrived the next day, gave me a hug and my fears of losing him slipped away.
It was good, I was starting to build my army to rebuild myself and get through the next stages which were obviously not going to be easy.