I am the director of STDs, HIV and AIDS Programs for our county’s Health Department. My best friend Katie and I teach a class on GLBT Issues every Spring Semester at the local State University. Katie is the Director of Health Services at the local GLBT Center.
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I was in the hallway packing for a presentation when I heard, “Hey, you.” I turned to see Katie standing beside me. Ah, my Katie, ever sporting her non-profit professional lesbian attire of big baggy jeans, a gray v-neck sweater over a white t-shirt, and her big clunky steel-toed Doc Martins.
“Hi, love. How are you feeling, and what brings you over to Public Health?” I asked, standing and leaning in to kiss her on the cheek.
“Much better. Thanks.” Katie answered. “I had a meeting with Breast and Cervical Health. We’re doing mobile mammograms at the center next week.” Why she needed to touch her breast at this statement, I am unsure, but she has the hilarious habit of touching whichever part of the body she happens to be discussing. “I was hoping you might have time for lunch.”
“Sorry, love. I have to cover a presentation over at Kennedy Elementary.” I said.
“Joy.” She replied, with the utter most sarcasm. “How’s Verge?” Her voice had changed to express sincere concern.
“He’s having a hard time. I’m sure he would love to see you. Are you coming to dinner at Syd’s tonight?” I asked.
“No, I have to go pick up Fred and George from the Vet’s, they got snipped today.”
I winced. “You know you could have a little more sympathy for the poor babies, they HAVE lost their manhood.” Fred and George are Katie’s new kittens. Admittedly they are quite adorable, two little identical orange tabbies, but they are starting to hamper her social life. I’m a little worried about her becoming an old cat lady.
“Ya, whatever.” She said with a smile. “You boys are way to attached to your testicles. They’ll be fine. They’re kittens, they won’t even miss ‘em.”
I shot her a dirty look. “Dyke.” I whispered under my breath.
“Could I come visit tomorrow?” She asked.
“That would be great. We don’t have anything planned.” Virgil really would enjoy her company. Katie’s spirit and humor were a delight to be around, even when she was suffering deep despair, she was still able to express warmness and ooze charisma around her loved ones. Verge and I were lucky to be a part of her circle.
“What are you presenting on at the elementary school?”
“The basic 5th grade stuff, wet dreams, periods, where babies come from.” I said as I continued to pack anatomy models and pamphlets.
She laughed and reached over to give me a hug. “I’ll let you get back to your packing.”
I wrapped my arms around her waist and gave a little tug to her pants. She quickly moved her hands from around my shoulders to grab the waistband of her pants and keep them from falling down. “Hey!” she said as she looked around to see who might be looking.
Now it was my turn to laugh, “You either have to stop wearing pants that are three sizes too big or start wearing a belt.”
She stuck her tongue out at me. “They’re comfortable and highly fashionable.”
“Yeah, the height of fashion for 15 year old boys and 30 year old lesbians everywhere.” I said as she raised a finger to me and headed out of the office. I called after her, “Don’t over do it, this is your first week back after the pneumonia.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You sound just like Syd.” I heard her say as she exited the building.
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I got to the school about 20 minutes early, so I decided to go and sit in and observe one of my new staff members. I rounded the corner and heard the sounds of a terribly disruptive classroom.
“Is it true that when two guys do it, one of ‘em sticks his dick in the other guy’s butt?” I heard a young male voice ask.
“How do two girls do it?” A second young male voice asked.
“I think they just French kiss.” Young man number one answered.
“That’s not how they do it in my Dad’s videos.” A third young man chimed in.
I stepped into the classroom to see Molly looking terribly disheveled at the front of a classroom full of 25 ten-year-old boys and not a teacher in sight. I let out a sharp whistle, “Alright that is enough gentlemen. Heads down on desks. I want two minutes of silence.”
I walked up to Molly. She mouthed a thank you. I asked her to point out the rather obnoxious participants. She pointed out Ramón (Mr. Gay Sex), Johnny (Mr. Lesbian Sex), and Kyle (the porn watcher). I went and collected each of the offenders and quietly led them outside, signaling Molly to follow.
“So, young men, your behavior in there was completely inappropriate and disrespectful. Please apologize to Molly.”
A small chorus of sorrys rang out.
“Molly, you can finish your class, I will escort Misters Ramón, Kyle and Johnny to the Principle’s office.”
Molly returned to the classroom.
“All right gentlemen, single file, let’s go, march.”
After depositing my charges to the principle with an explanation of the charges against them. I had a very uneventful presentation, packed up and went back to the office.
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“Chris Robeson.” I answered.
“Hi, Babe.” Virgil said.
“Verge. What’s up?” I was a little surprised to hear from him. He was still overly anxious and scared, and for the last week had been choosing to express it as anger at me. Since he had gotten home, it had been rare for him to call me during the day. I missed the usual twice-daily calls I used to get. Depending on his mood they usually ranged from a sweet I love you to terribly dirty innuendos of what he hope we would do later that evening (I was especially missing those).
“I’m going to be a little late, I have to do a surgery at 6:00.” He said.
Surgery was not a regular part of Virgil’s duties as a Nurse Practioner at the local free clinic. So, I was a little taken aback by his need to be late. I took it more as his way to try and get around the fact that he was grounded than as a life or death situation. Verge knew that I rarely had a problem with him staying a little late if a patient really needed him. But, I sincerely felt he was trying to use this as an excuse to get around his punishment. “I don’t think so. You’re grounded.” I replied.
“Chris, it is surgery, I think it is a little more important than my being grounded.” And, that confirmed it for me. When Verge needed to work late, he always asked permission, apologized for any inconvenience, and most importantly talked about what his patient required.
“Can someone else do it?” I asked. There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Virgil, can someone else do it?” I repeated myself.
“Yes,” he answered, doing little to hide his anger.
“Okay, then I will see you at home at 6:15.”
“No, I agreed to do the surgery and I can’t back out.” Virgil stated very firmly.
“Virgil, if someone else is available to do the surgery, then you will ask them to cover for you. I expect you home at 6:15.” Again I was met by silence. “Virgil, do you understand?”
“Yes.” He spit out.
“Good, I will see you then. I love…” Virgil hung up the phone.
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I arrived home at 5:30, emptied the dishwasher, fed the fish, and started dinner. Verge arrived home shortly after 6:00. He walked in the door and entered the kitchen and planted a kiss on my cheek. “Thank you.” I said. “Please find a corner.”
Virgil’s expression changed to one of protest, “What? I’m home on time, as you requested,” he said heading to a corner.
“It wasn’t a request.” I informed him.
“No, shit,” he muttered under his breath.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he mumbled.
I left him in the corner hoping to calm his mood. He had been struggling since he came back home last week.
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It didn’t take much time to track him down. After the report had come across my desk, all was clear and I knew it was time for him to come home; he had been off on his own for three days, refusing to speak to or see me.
I went to the clinic at the end of his shift and waited for him by his car. I stood in front of the driver side door. When he saw me, he took a deep breath, and politely asked me to move out of his way. I didn’t. I did take him gently by hand, I explained that I knew everything and it was time to come home. I led him to my car and we drove home in silence.
When we arrived home I led him into the lounge and seated him next to me on the sofa.
“You know, you did a pretty crappy job of running away.” I said, raising Virgil’s head so that his eye’s met mine. I gave him a brief grin, before pulling him in for a kiss. Virgil kissed back and then rested his head on my shoulder.
“I’m scared.” He said so lightly that it was more as if I felt his words from his breath on my neck than that I heard his voice.
“Of me?” I asked.
“No, never of you,” he answered, rubbing his hand along my cheek, “of me. Of what I have, of what I could give you.”
I pushed him slightly away from me, but kept a hold of his shoulders. I looked him firmly in the eye. “First of all, we don’t know that you have anything, and even if you did, we would take every precaution to make sure I didn’t get it.”
Tears were rolling down his face. “I’m so sorry Chris. I can’t believe I put you in this situation.”
I cupped his face, brushing away some of his tears with my thumb. “Virgil, you did not put me in any situation, you were stuck with a needle, it was an accident. It’s happened to me.”
“WHAT! How could you have been stuck by an HIV infected needle and not have told me. We didn’t take any precautions, how could you have NOT protected me like that?” Vigil beat his fists against my chest. “Here I am so concerned of hurting you, infecting you, and you never showed me the same courtesy!” He banged his fists against my chest one more time before pushing me away and heading for the door.
I reached for his arm and gently pulled him to me. “I was 21, and working needle exchange. It was a couple of years before I even met you. There weren’t a lot of alternatives, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) was new, and luckily it was available at the local hospital. I had to do six months of PEP. I tested negative six months later and every six months after that. I knew for sure I was negative when we met, I don’t know why it never came up. I am sure it would have eventually. I was never keeping anything from you.”
I took him back over to the sofa, sitting against the armrest, pulling him down, so he sat between my legs and was leaning against my chest. I wrapped both my arms around him and Virgil leaned his head back, cuddling it between my cheek and shoulder. “Now, look you take four weeks of the PEP meds, we use condoms…”
“I hate condoms.” Verge interrupted with a pout.
“Tough.” I continued. “You get tested for the virus, your chances of seroconverting are low and much, much lower that you would transmit to me. You know all this.” He nodded against me.
We sat in silence until I fully felt he comprehended the situation. Once I felt he had calmed and was starting to have a rational perspective, I asked, “So, shall we discuss your punishment?” Verge nodded. “You are grounded until we know what your HIV status is?”
“And?” Virgil questioned.
“And, what?” I questioned back.
“You’re not going to spank me?” He shyly asked.
“No, I don’t think you deserve a spanking.”
Virgil sat up and turned towards me, crossing his arms over his chest. “Well, I don’t think I deserve to be grounded either. I was scared. I made a mistake; I don’t think you should lock me up for that.”
Ah, my drama queen. “What I think you need is time with me…” Virgil rolled his eyes at me. I supplied a firm swat to his thigh.
“Hey, you just said…” he was starting to get worked up again.
I gently placed my finger to his lips. “Let me finish, please. What I think you need is time with me, to be reminded that we are a couple, we love and respect each other, we share our feelings, and we comfort each other. I think that when you got scared, you forgot those things. So, you are going spend the next couple of months with me being reminded of and recommitting to those things we hold dear.”
“I know what we have. I love you. I just got scared. I shouldn’t be grounded?” He said with a pout.
“These next couple of months are going to be difficult for both of us, but especially you. I want to make sure that I am with you if you get really scared again. I don’t want to risk that you are off someone alone, the best way to do that is to require you to be with me when you are not at work.” Verge turned and adjusted himself so he was sitting draped across my lap. He leaned his head on my shoulder. I ran my hand over his smooth, bald head. We sat silent like that for a long time, reacquainting to each other’s smell, touch, and breath.
Verge eventually broke the silence, “I didn’t do a crappy job running away.” He stated firmly.
I let out a small laugh, “Virgil you kept going to work, you called and checked in with Syd—letting her know where you were staying, and did you forget what I do for a living—all reports of needle sticks run across my desk. Did you not expect me to know exactly why you were upset or where you were?”
“I didn’t think about the needle stick report.”
I tapped my finger on his head, “That is the problem, you got scared and stopped thinking.”
“I was thinking. Thinking how much I love you, how I was trying to protect you. I knew you would be worried,” his voice got a little quieter, “and angry, if you didn’t know I was safe, so I thought it was best to let Syd know where I was.”
I went back to running my hand across his head. “Thank you.” I said, as I leaned in and kissed him. It meant a lot that he wanted me to know he was safe.
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While Verge worked on calming down in the corner, I made dinner and set the table. “Virgil.” I called to him
“What?” he responded, he had calmed a bit, but not as much as I had hoped he would in 45 minutes.
“Dinner’s ready. Please, come join me.” I requested.
“I’m not hungry, can I please go to bed?” He responded.
“No, I would like you to join me for dinner.” I could hear him huff and he lightly stomped his way to the kitchen. When he reached the kitchen door, he abruptly stopped and began to lightly shake and tears began to stream down his face.
I walked over to him and gathered him into a hug. “Wwwwhy?” he asked, raising his head to look at the table set with our best linens and dishware, lit by candlelight, and to sniff at the smell of marinara sauce and warm bread.
I kissed him and then asked, “Why are you grounded?” Virgil began to lightly sob against my shoulder. Again, I asked, “Virgil, why are you grounded?”
“I need to remember that we love and support one another.” He whispered.
“Exactly.” I said, kissing him again.