“What’s on your mind, Tyler?” asks Facebook.
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Tyler’s in his bedroom. He’s 23.
He’s on his bed, hunched over his laptop, adrenaline-full, wind-empty. He’s about to share with the world something to which even friends are ignorant, a destructive four year secret. From him it pours:
“I’m HIV Positive…” he writes. His revelation is at once hesitant confession and cathartic release: an admission for why he’s waited so long, the toll it’s taken, his regret for having kept it secret, his fear of stigmatization.
And Tyler sees again the world through 19 year-old eyes…
He’s in a clinic’s stuffy patient room awaiting test results he knows will be fine. His boyfriend’s cheated on him, and, heartbroken though he is, Tyler knows his physical health is in order; today’s visit is routine and will confirm that the problems he faces now are only emotional.
He thinks about his boyfriend, about how wonderful Once Upon a Time used to be, about how it all so quickly came crashing down, and–
“So the results came back positive,” a nurse interrupts as suddenly as she walks through the door.
Tyler doesn’t register she’s even entered the room when she speaks. He hears her shoes shuffle across the white laminate flooring. What did she say?
The news catches him. Breathtaking silence ensues. There is a stunning, empty, confusing fog. Tyler stops breathing, his heart stops beating, his vision tunnels. There is nothing at first, and then from cloudy emptiness charges excruciating pain. It slams into Tyler’s stomach and chest. His lungs empty, his intestines contort.
Dizzily he turns to the nurse, who’s sitting now, her mouth moving, but her speaking muted. “Love doesn’t stop HIV!” says a poster on the wall. From this moment, Tyler remembers only “positive.” Everything else is a blur.
He isn’t sure what it is, this virus. He knows only that it means the End of Your Life. He knows that people who have it have no hope for romance. His chances at happiness are gone. He is now someone people will pity and ostracize.
He doesn’t know anyone with HIV. He doesn’t have gay friends. He has no support network. He is alone, and he must keep this secret.
From this moment three years pass–three years spent with lies, tears, anger, and denial–three years spent self-destructing, slow and in disarray. The weight his secret carries grows heavier, and he knows it will break him if something isn’t done.
At a gracious aunt’s invitation, Tyler finds himself, now 22 years old, on a midnight California beach, here finally to attempt acquiescence to reality. Around a bonfire with hipsters and musicians he sits, listening to the ocean’s waves, feeling its salt-soaked breeze. There are fireside guitars and lifelong talks, new and friendly faces aglow. Flames lick the sky and disappear into the night. This is a forever moment, a moment in which Tyler finds peace, a moment that never ends, that strikes in Tyler courage he hasn’t felt.
And now Facebook asks a 23 year-old Tyler, “What’s on your mind?”
Today he’ll finally answer, all at once and to all the world. He is nervous, but he knows it’s time.
From Facebook he announces his status and hundreds applaud his bravery. Within weeks he hears from people who are HIV-positive but were too afraid to say, people who thank him for his courage and his inspiration. His announcement helps relieve not only his burdens, but provides solace to those standing in his shoes. His experience is worthwhile.
Tyler’s life isn’t finished, he knows; his party isn’t over. There are friends with whom to play, to drink, and to laugh. There are places he hasn’t seen, and places he’ll revisit. There are memories to be made and upon which to reflect. And there is someone, somewhere, with whom he will one day make love and make happy.
Tyler came out as HIV-positive in April 2013. He lives in Minneapolis. If you are HIV-positive and are seek counseling or other resources, visit OutFront Minnesota. OutFront.org.