Odd Blood: Serodiscordancy, or, Life With an HIV-Positive Partner

The pills are $2,000 every month. The doctor visits never end. And there's always the possibility the virus could spread. Otherwise, it's not so different.

Andrii Muzyka/Shutterstock

Chad, my boyfriend, types to me from the Hyatt on New Jersey Avenue, "I am hiv positive." We study the screen together, 1,426 miles apart. The cursor of my chat window blinks for me. I'm not stunned, or even much scared, really; definitely not sickened, repulsed. I am more overcome by the simple fear that the chat window will time out, that my Internet connection will lapse, that he will think, alone in a computer lab on the other side of the country, that I have closed out. So I type in a rush, "That's OK," and then add, "Really."

I'm not sure he entirely believed me, then, but he came back.

* * *

We lie crossways in unfettered sheets and discarded clothes, tangled so deeply I don't know where my arms end and his hands begin. Late August 2010. It's hot, almost insufferably stuffy; I remember not caring.

Jesus Christ are we broke. Jesus Christ, we are out of condoms. Pay day is four days away, there is no food in the pantry, and there is less than 10 dollars in the bank account. I don't remember us being hard, actually, but I must have known it was coming, because I remember saying, "I mean, we don't know for sure. We could take a chance."

He said, "I could never put you at risk like that."

I remember how much that made me respect him.

* * *

At 2:00 a.m. at DFW International, the only way to travel between gates is the Terminal Link, a rollicking sort of short bus manned by a former tractor driver whose accent, combined with the whoosh of the air outside and the whine-and-hiss of the hydraulics seems intentionally indecipherable; I've lived in Texas 20 years, and I still can't make out half of what he tells me.

Also difficult to make out over the road sounds: Chad's voice on my cell. "I'm at Gate...."

I've grown, over the last few months, the beginnings of concerned; he's started to suffer bouts of malaise. Nothing too terrible: mild stomach aches, sore joints. In anyone else, it could be anything.

"I know where you are, I'm on my way."

"I'm...."

"Can you see a bus stop that says, 'Terminal Link?'"

"I...."

"Just find the Terminal Link stop. I'll be right there."

I spot Chad a few minutes later, a dark-eyed waif on the sidewalk. It's been three weeks he's been gone, and he's lost so much weight. Everything about him looks burnt-out, the way refugees on TV look with farms smoking behind them: translucent skin, an uncertain balance something like shellshock. I notice he's wearing a necklace, one he wasn't wearing last time. A ring and a small cross.

I tell the driver, "That's him."

The bus slows, but the doors don't open.

"Five hundred dollar fine!" the driver shouts.

"What?"

"Five hundred dollar fine for entering or exiting the vehicle at..." (here I have no idea what he says) "...designated stopping point."

"So he can get on at the stop?"

"Five hundred dollar fine!"

Chad studies me through the plexiglass of the bus's doors. Perplexed, panicky from lack of sleep, obviously trying not to show it. I do my best to motion him down the road, try to mouth, "wait there." The yellow and black paint of the stop is at just such an angle I can't point at it through the doors. I keep pointing as the bus keeps moving. It stops 20 feet away; the doors hiss open.

"Can he get on here?"

"Designated stopping point!"

Chad reaches the stop a few seconds after the bus. I can't think of anything to say but, "Hey."

We collapse into seats next to each other, he with a bag over each shoulder. His lips taste like seawater; his mouth is dry. I later learn that he took a shot, his last shot, in the bathroom at Dulles. This is quite valuable, actually, seeing what he looks like still high, on the tail-end of high -- it's a look I've yet to see on him again.

"I parked at the wrong gate," I explain. "We have to go back around."

He seems euphoric to just be able to rest.

* * *

We stop twice on the two-and-a-half hour drive back from Dallas. Once, at a gas station, where he buys two microwavable chicken sandwiches, a cigarette lighter, and each of us a cup of slushy red sugar water. Back on the road, after a few sips, I dump mine out the window.

The second stop: I pull off the Interstate, onto an access road in the middle of nowhere. We sit, side-by-side, on the trunk of the car, our backs against the rear windshield, looking up at the shockingly bright stars. The weather has turned cold since he's been away; we press up against each other.

"I needed to tell you," I say. "That I forgive you. I think everyone deserves one good fuck-up."

"I was so afraid, after everything, you weren't going to want me back."

"It's not going to happen again," I say. I'm trying to sound collected, forgiving, loving, happy, and I am probably all of those things, but I'm also terrified I'm going to lose him again. Betrayed. Justifiably furious at him, if I'm being honest, at least at the junky side of him. It's 3:00 a.m., and the last three weeks have taken their toll on me: I don't know it yet, but a feature of my dreams for the months to come will be lost phones, missed connections of deathly importance, frantically asking, "Where's Chad?" In the face of what we've both come through, 1,500 miles apart, when he says, "And about the...." I can say, and mean, "I'm not worried about it. We'll figure it out later. Really."

We wait a few days to have full sex, not so much by choice but by exhaustion, his withdrawal, my job. When we do, having to pause Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven, as he rolls down his condom he asks, "Are you sure?"

I say, "Absolutely." I'm only barely lying when I tell myself I'm not worried at all. Only barely, really.

* * *

I started doing my homework the moment the conversation from the Hyatt computer lab ended, after I told him, repeatedly, that it wasn't a big deal to me. Sure, I'd never slept with someone I'd known was positive before, but I had met people online, all of them incredibly friendly, who were open about their status, generous with my questions, even before I'd met Chad. Either the night of or the night after the Hyatt conversation, I call one of them. Even after admitting that he was a little sad to hear that I'd been taken (how to respond to this, I had no idea), he told me about friends of his in situations like mine. He pointed me to websites, or really just to thebody.com. He told me that those friends in their situations like mine were still the way they started, with one partner still negative, even after years together.

I contacted other people. An online classmate, who I remembered helped coordinate HIV/AIDS services in some city, and to whom I sent a long email, and got a longer email back: situations like mine could be loving and happy and healthy. Situations like mine.

The weeks that Chad had been away were taking their toll on me; I was spending most of my days asleep, and when not asleep, I was on Manhunt.com, AOL Instant Messenger, my phone: waiting for him to call, come online, make contact in any way. I would go to work and return in a rush, searching frantically for evidence that he'd tried to contact me and I hadn't been there. I miss him, so badly, am so worried for him. It's like a wound.

I learned the clinical term for situations like mine: serodiscordant.

* * *

My regular doctor is on vacation in the days after the Hyatt conversation. The doctor available is, weirdly, the same man who sees my grandmother. As the nurse leaves me in my room, she says, "The doctor has a student with him today, but considering...."

'It's fine," I say. "Don't sweat it. I really don't mind." I'm not nervous in the least.

The doctor obviously is. Behind him floats a very tall 20-something wearing a truly unfortunate paisley shirt. Dr. X, scrutinizing my chart with a laudable intensity, listens to me explain: "Just a precaution ... my boyfriend ... positive ... just wanted to be sure ... we were always safe."

At this he glances at me, for the second time in five minutes, and says, "You used contraception?"

"Um, yes."

His eyes back down to my chart; the lab paperwork is scrawled in a matter of seconds. I project onto the floundering professionalism of the intern's face (God, that shirt he's in): Sweet Jesus, please don't make me deal with this often. Honestly, if he stays in Waco, he probably won't have to. But they still shake my hand when I leave.

* * *

The lab tech comments on the veins in my arm with the same enthusiasm as Chad when I first met him. She prods them a few times with two gloved fingers with what seems like almost admiration, ardor. The needle slides in clean. In my mind, I remember it piercing the skin with a slick hiss, like a nail gun firing, a bullet punching through a plywood wall.

My main physician calling back two days later. No worries.

RAJ CREATIONZS/Shutterstock

A month after Chad's return to Waco, we go to the zoo. It's a cold winter for Texas, bleak; today is the first dry afternoon in days. The giraffes are not out, nor the elephants. The signs are still up on the pens of the Dik-Diks, the tiny African antelope that were slaughtered, all of them, in the night, at least two years ago, by a pack of wild dogs that somehow got through the fence. No sign of the pandas, either.

In one of the new exhibits, visitors can slide down a clear plastic tube that leads through the water of the otter tank. The gray day has given us the zoo to ourselves, and we slide down the chute again and again, braking in mid-slide to watch the otters swim up and examine us through the round wall. "Are they as playful as they look?" I ask Chad, "Or are their faces just stuck that way?"

At the bottom of the slide, the otters swim to the glass and study the fingers we poke through the mesh above them. I notice the look in their eyes, and even though the mesh seems far higher than they could reach, I pull my hands out. I glance away, toward the next exhibit, and miss the jump. A splash, and Chad shouts, "Fuck," only half-laughing.

There is, fortunately, a bathroom directly behind us. As he washes out the wound, we both marvel at the perfectly symmetrical zig-zag the otter's teeth have left in the pad of his index finger. He holds it under the water a long time, wraps it in paper towels, wraps it again with fresh ones.

"Jesus, the sink," I say.

"Things have taken a lot longer to heal lately," he says. An understatement.

This is before we're even able to apply for health benefits, four months before a doctor's appointment, five months before he is able to start medication.

The next exhibit, the one I was looking at when the otter attacked, is a single ocelot. We're both shocked at how beautiful it is, this miniature leopard. Note the way it stalks us from across the fence, note the way its every step mirrors ours as we make our way around its pen.

"Look at those eyes," I say. "He's studying us."

"He smells the blood," Chad says.

* * *

We awaken at 6:00 a.m.; coffee in a thermos, documentation under one arm. We arrive at the health center 10 minutes before they open; in the waiting room of the benefits office, ours are the first names on the clipboard.

What makes me look away is watching how she hits it; when they at first don't succeed, she and Chad come to some sort of agreement, and she shoves the needle down.

"In D.C.," Chad says as we sit down. "It's four waiting rooms just like this, and there are always people here ahead of you. I think they camp out."

As 8:00 a.m. approaches, others arrive: Hispanic housewives with squadrons of toddlers, black women younger than me with newborns over their shoulders. Just a year ago I would have considered applying for welfare beneath me. A good way to grow up in a hurry: let your parents take you off their health insurance.

I'm not completely matured yet. I take an incredibly smug satisfaction in seeing that we're the best-dressed people in the building.

At 8:00, a small woman hauling three bags and long rowdy hair treks through the room, smiling to everyone. She disappears into the office, and 10 minutes later emerges, looks at the clipboard, and calls Chad's name. We both approach the door; "We're together," Chad says. She keeps smiling, ushering us in. I feel, though am probably imagining, the eyes of everyone in the waiting room on our backs.

Sort-of-free health care doesn't take long at all to get, if you show up early enough. Within 15 minutes, she has reviewed all the paperwork we've brought with us, made photocopies, typed us into the computer, and had a thumping machine spit us out two plastic cards, our names punched into a nightmarish shade of chartreuse. That smile she gave to everyone on the way in was genuine. "Good luck," we tell her, on the way to the door; in our 15 minutes, the number of people in the waiting room has doubled.

Whatever hope I have of our health looking up is dashed, or distended, as soon as I start calling clinics to schedule us appointments. The earliest we can be seen is with Doctor XY, in March, two-and-a-half months away.

* * *

I take full responsibility for our tardiness to our appointments with Doctor XY, for not checking Street View before we left. A small miracle we find his office, a tiny building orbiting a strip-mall hospital (Gynecology, Rhinoplasty, Medical Supplier, Suites A-C), one of a long line of interchangeable buildings that with their dismally bleached limestone define in the Texas sun everything that is terrifyingly identical about Southern suburbia. The nurses look at us sourly when we come in late and give us paperwork to fill in and slide shut the window in front of their desk.

My appointment first. Initial impressions are worrisome: just past the scales and blood pressure cuffs, eating most of the wall on the way to the exam rooms, is a massive, hideous, fussily composed oil painting of Jesus standing over a doctor's shoulder, pointing out something on a patient's chart, both He and the doctor wearing a look of constipated dignity and lit both by lamplight and by a glaring Messianic effulgence. Looking back, I honestly cannot get over just how terrible this painting is, or if I can properly convey how disturbing is the idea of anyone paying money for it, let alone displaying it for others to see. Further worries, as I'm shown into my room, the first book I see on Doctor XY's desk: James Dobson's How to Raise Boys.

When I meet Dr. XY, he's not a bad guy, just Christian. He takes pretty well the news that my HIV-positive boyfriend will be with him in an hour. He writes without laying a finger or a stethoscope on me the same scripts that I've been on for years under my old doctor.

As the appointment is winding down, he asks me, suddenly, "I'm assuming, from all that you've told me that you're ... homosexual."

"I am, yes."

"When did ... when did you first start to suspect you were?"

It's only after I leave, as I am telling the nurses (truthfully) that I have absolutely no money to pay them with, as I take my exit paperwork, that I realize why Doctor XY's question, the tone with which he asked it, struck me so oddly. That I wonder if, perhaps, about one of his boys, he has suspicions.

Chad's appointment is far less fruitful. Doctor XY, in an awkward rush, mistakes HIV for AIDS and asks him straight off, "Have you developed any lesions?"

Chad tells me, "He's referring me to a social worker."

"Did you like the painting on the wall?" I ask him.

"Oh my God, did you see the book on his desk?" he responds.

* * *

Further waiting: Chad calls and leaves messages for Social Worker #1 for two weeks. No word.

I've grown, over the last few months, the beginnings of concerned; he's started to suffer bouts of malaise. Nothing too regular, or too terrible: mild stomach aches, sore joints, general lethargy. In anyone else, it could be anything, etc. In Chad, I grow attuned to the slightest variation in temperature, to the distracted look behind his eyes when food isn't sitting with him.

Finally, we call the main office of Social Worker #1, just to see if a message can be delivered to her in person. Instead, the phone is answered by Social Worker #2, who doesn't normally answer the phones but, today, the receptionist is indisposed. Social Worker #2 tells us that her name is Melissa. She schedules us an appointment to come see her instead.

* * *

Chad, musician that he is, tells me for the 100th time how beautiful the name Melissa is to him. "Yes," I say. "I know it comes from the Greek word for honey." We're both nervous; about what, it's hard to say.

Social Worker #2, sweet Melissa, is, like the smiling lady at the health office a few months ago, one of the most refreshing facets of the Texas health care system: gentle, sharp, a wry sense of humor one gets the impression she doesn't get to use too often. Instantly, we are in love.

Paperwork, paperwork. Signatures, initials, dates, some pages intentionally left blank. As Chad signs, she discusses plans: bloodwork, doctor's appointments, vaccines (in the weeks to come, I will have completely lost track of which of the dizzying number of dead viruses Chad has or hasn't been injected with), more bloodwork.

"I don't know how they're going to get anything," Chad says, with the mix of apprehension and something like shame he gets when discussing the repercussions of the junky life. "When they tested me in D.C., they weren't even able to get anything out of my feet."

Melissa nods, concerned but not shocked. "Don't worry. You'll like Carolyn."

* * *

We do like Carolyn. Spry, sharp, a wry sense of humor she deploys whether people get it or not. When she sees Chad's arm, she says, "Ah."

The two failed sticks that day don't bother me much; mostly disappointed, for Chad's sake, because we have to reschedule. I'm more stunned than anything; he's told me time and time again how nice my veins are, how some parts of his arm are practically calcified by now, but seeing it in practice, and with a lady who has seen it before too, is bizarre, a little unnerving. The two share a specialized, private rapport: they discuss arteries, tendons, angles, and finesse the same way I've seen veterans meeting each other on the street discuss outfit numbers, IEDs, ammunition calibers. I sit on the bed with the paper sheet and feel for all the world like the petite blonde in the sundress on the GI's arm, the boyfriend on the pier watching the warship pull away.

Before the next appointment, Chad chugs water, Powerade, debates and decides against aspirin. Carolyn tells us she's eaten her Wheaties this morning. A long build-up, as she lets the arm fill up under the tourniquet, prods again to find her most promising spot. Chad tells her not to be afraid to push it, because she'll probably have to. That's how they finally got him in D.C., he says, to test him. Carolyn nods, a vial between her teeth.

I'm not fazed when the needle first goes in, and then when she finds it, it's not the way the blood spits through the leur-lock like a bullet wound in a movie (because it's an artery she's hit) that gets me. What makes me look away and put a hand over my mouth is watching how she hits it; when they at first don't succeed, she and Chad seem to come to some sort of agreement, and she shoves the needle down. In my mind, it seems like to bury completely in his arm. One thing I know I remember accurately: the way Chad's eyes flutter and roll back in his head, the way his face goes slack, when the needle breaches the vessel. It's like he's dying and coming and about to vomit all at once.

Tweakers sometimes call crystal gak, because when a vein is punctured, a choke of pure adrenaline sprays directly into the back of the throat, and the first reflex upon tasting it triggers a sound on the tongue exactly spelled gak. Seeing this look, this junky Chad face, I get it.

With all the tests we do, she takes a hell of a lot of blood.

Andrii Muzyka/Shutterstock

Melissa pulls strings and gets us an appointment with a new doctor for a week away. Back in the building where got our health benefits in the first place, we meet Doctor XX.

A fourth very cool woman; some straight men don't meet this many in their entire lives. With the work I've done in a pharmacy, I take immediately to Doctor XX, and the way, fresh from med school, she rattles off abbreviations and testing protocols and drug classes: plain and nuclear and nonnuclear reverse transcriptase inhibitors, CD4 counts, viral load. She at first tells us that, with a line of prescriptions at the ready, that Chad is on death's door, his white blood cell count is so drastically low; she leaves the room for a moment. Chad won't look at me.

She returns. Profuse apology. Upon further study of the chart, that was a percentile, not an absolute value. He's actually at quite a manageable level.

Atripla, she decides. Emtricitabine/tenofovir/efavirenz. One pill, once a day, every day, no matter what. Only 2,000 dollars for a one-month supply.

* * *

Another appointment with Melissa, more paperwork. We qualify for Texas State Prescription Assistance, and every month since I have smiled, thinking of all the decrepit Republicans who no doubt stay awake at night knowing us fags are using tax money for our drugs.

We choose to get the prescription filled at Target for no more complex a reason than the fact that we like the color scheme. They treat us pretty well, though I still can't tell if the techs' (and even some of the pharmacists') apprehension in talking to us is based on busyness or a fear of getting something on them. (True fact: pharmacy technicians in Texas are, as a general rule, more ignorant about these sorts of things than their nurse counterpoints; I remember one tech in the pharmacy I used to work in, telling us all with a sort of snide disgust that, at the CVS in New Hampshire where she used to work, all of "those drugs" were on the fast-moving shelves.) But we get our first 2,000-dollar bottle for free.

* * *

Yes, everyone is right. The first month on the pill sucks. The way that only throwing up, waking dreams, erratic appetite, horrifically vivid nightmares can suck. With my love of David Lynch, I'm almost curious to try one, just to see what I'd see, but I buy Inland Empire instead. Chad holds up admirably. We learn when and when not to take it, not to eat fatty foods beforehand, to drink plenty of fluids. Ultimately the virus becomes more an irritation than a worry: Why has the doctor's office not faxed back the new prescription, how have we forgotten the pharmacy closes in an hour? Chad, that master of the scattered brain, calls in his own refills, makes his own appointments. He remembers to take it every night, even waking up at 4:00 a.m. when he's forgotten it. He does everything about his condition that I knew, back when he picked him up at the airport, that he would have to do in order to make the relationship work. He does it.

* * *

Six months, a year later. Steadily falling viral load, steadily rising white blood cells. His viral load becomes undetectable. It is staggering, modern medicine. Just before we start on the pill, the Berlin Patient seroconverts from positive to negative. A man, through two bone marrow transplants brought on by leukemia, is no longer HIV positive. A man who was once positive is now negative. A man who was once positive is now negative.

* * *

As our first anniversary approaches, I call Melissa for myself. A week later, I take a seat in one of the health departments many windowless offices, where a sweet man talks to me about his partner of 20- (or it may have even been 30-) odd years as he slides a needle into my arm.

It is staggering, modern medicine. Just before we start on the pill, the Berlin Patient seroconverts from positive to negative. A man is no longer HIV positive.

It's close to a 10-day wait, the free test. And it's 10 relatively worry-free days, too: I have faith in our adherence, in the precautions we've always taken. I have faith in prophylactics. The way his numbers have been dropping has confirmed to me what I suspected: that it is treatable, that it is quite live-with-able, after a month of vomiting and waking dreams. It wouldn't be that bad, a part of me says. Are you fucking crazy? another replies.

It's something you knew was a risk from the start. If you're smart about it, it's hardly a risk. Yes, but that doesn't mean you can permanently put it out of your head, can you? I don't worry it too hard, no. But now you can't help but worry. Worry is just an irrational byproduct of uncertainty. Keep telling yourself that.

Yes, I knew this was a possibility going in. Yes, I knew.

They don't call, the health department, at all; it's my responsibility to ring and check if the results for number 3948 are back. They are -- when can I come review them? Appointments. Always appointments with these people.

* * *

A third social worker, just as sweet. I sit in the same windowless room. Chad has come with me this time. "Wait with me," I tell him, then, "No wait, don't. Or, actually...."

She approaches, opening a manila folder. A gentle, completely opaque poker face. I sit alone.

She doesn't even close the door behind her; when she meets my eyes she smiles warmly and she says, "Negative" and hands me a copy of the paperwork and we're out of the office in seconds.

Negative. Non-reactive. Negative. I thank her. Chad thanks her. I walk down the stairs of the department in a daze that surprises me. I say, distractedly, "Next time we should pay for the instant results." He only nods; I don't bother trying to decode the look in his eyes, but he's smiling.

It's got a hell of an incubation period, you know. You need to get tested every six months, you know. There's no telling next time, you know.

Yes, but a year, an entire year, of weekly sex, and today's results have come back negative. That is enough to live on. We're doing something right. On the ride home, we lace our fingers together.

But what about ... next time. We'll survive then too.

* * *

We go to the mall and spend too much. We go to multiplexes and laugh at bad horror movies. We scrape by, for several months, on turkey sandwiches and canned soup and whatever meals we can eat with my parents. He offers good advice. He listens to me when I talk, which I'm not sure anyone I have ever dated or loved has ever really done. We, at times, have sex that is identical in every position and maneuver and duration as the time we had it before and yet we both, it seems, enjoy it just as much if not more. We have sex without worry.

To be doing all of this with someone whom I continue to find just as attractive, if not more, as the first day I met him, and yet who I am also able to live with, every day, and not murder, not grow tired of, is miraculous, insane, stupid good luck. It's absolutely impossible to understand how one other person can so snugly tuck into your life as to seem like he's always been there. We were like that from the first day we met: like we'd always known each other. We get for free a 100-year-old piano, irreparably out of tune, and on it he plays Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Neko Case.

* * *

Initially, he was going to just be a roommate, this online friend of mine from Manhunt.com. Having an apartment to myself (possibly the one good thing about Waco: cheap real estate), I tell him he can come take a break from D.C. for awhile. We discuss, online, the possibility of him getting a job. I don't quite know, but intuit, that things in the District aren't going well. He doesn't tell me, probably wisely, quite how hooked he is.

And yet, even through the delirious stages of withdrawal, he's mostly fun to be around; that has to say something. When he tells me he doesn't know for sure if he has the virus, but suspects he does, I nod and say, "Fair enough." We continue having sex. When we run out of money for condoms we abstain, until a coworker gives me a brown paper bag-full she got for free at Planned Parenthood.

The job hunt doesn't pan out. We last, for three weeks, on my part-time $9.90 an hour. I see no problem with this, I tell him. I'm not worried at all. We slowly start to tell each other "I love you."

Our only real fight, the only time I have every been truly, seriously, uncontrollably furious with him, is when he tells me, near the end of that third week: "I have to go back. Just for two weeks. I just need to get my things, I have so many things I left up there. I need to say goodbye to everyone." He puts something sweet on the sound system, Simon and Garfunkel, probably, the idiot.

I'm no fool. Back to D.C. means back to the shit; back to D.C. means all the help I've given him up a vein. Back to D.C. means like all the other men I've ever cared for he is going and promising and promising and gone. It makes me cry, in a way I don't think real life has ever made me cry, and then I change the music, to Lily Allen's "Fuck You," and I'm too angry and gratified by the crushed-in look on his beautiful face to feel humiliated by this ludicrously melodramatic little gesture. Fuck you, I tell him. Fuck you fuck you fuck you.

I still hate him, over the next few days, but in a more manageable way. He texts me to tell me he's reserving a plane ticket for September 11 (of course). When I get home he tells me that the ticket is a one-way but only, he insists, because it is so much cheaper, and he's having to borrow money from friends to get back. Only for that, he insists, but I don't believe him.

The plane ticket doesn't pan out. He finally is able to borrow enough money for an Amtrak pass. Like an asshole, I agree to drive him, on Monday, the 20 minutes to the station. A difficult weekend passes. He tries and tries to convince me that he's going to be back before I know it. I know better, but try to believe him anyway. He promises that when he gets there, he's going to get tested, at the free clinic, so we can know for sure. "You can get tested here," I tell him. "Yeah, but..." he replies.

Sunday night, we watch Harold and Maude on Netflix; I've never seen it. We awaken early the next morning. I leave him standing on an empty rail platform in the country. The place looks like it hasn't been used in years. I pray, driving back, to work, alone, that maybe it isn't used, that the routes have changed, that he'll be calling me in a few hours to ask me to come pick him up, and I'll make him wait until I'm through with work, of course, but I will. But he doesn't. I come home that night and play on repeat David Bowie's "Five Years." I'm working the next day when he calls and leaves a voicemail from a payphone in Chicago.

The two-week deadline we set for him to return comes and goes. On the day he was meant to be back, I return from a long drive to the empty apartment and download two Cat Stevens songs from Harold and Maude and play them on repeat, very loudly.

I hear from him, at first sporadically, then rarely. He tells me he misses me, that it hurts to exist without me; I can sympathize. And it's not that I don't believe him. It's more like I know he feels the same about the meth.

One night, he logs onto Manhunt, from, I learn later, the computer lab of the Hyatt on New Jersey Avenue.

* * *

It takes an ultimatum, as I've learned it usually does with addicts, for him to get the ticket, for us to get to that 2:00 a.m. ride on the Terminal Link bus, to that 3:00 a.m. parking on the access road.

"And about the..." he says.

"I'm not worried about it. We'll figure it out later. Really."

We press against each other because the weather has turned cold. That night. Those stars.

Presented by

John Fram is a Texas-based freelance writer.

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Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

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