The Renaissance by Tomi Thomas
It was 7th grade and a few weeks before my birthday. I had convinced my parents to throw me a party.
This beautiful Monday morning, I was sitting in my seat during class and uncomfortably waiting for the bell to go for lunch.
Something was off.
Something had been off since we came back from Navir’s birthday party. It was my first encounter with Indian food and for whatever reasons it didn’t sit well with my system.
I felt like I needed to go but it felt like nothing was there.
I was so pressed.
There was no way I was going to ask Ms. Daniels again. I had already asked to go twice and I knew she wouldn’t let me go.
My reputation had preceded me before I arrived in her class.
As she rounded up our American History lesson, I did not know that a defining moment in my identity was about to occur.
History in the making as some would say.
My stomach turned and growled, it was unhappy with me and I knew I needed to make it to the bathroom.
You can relate when I say, I continued to glance at the clock and the seconds just wanted to take their fucking time.
At one point, I felt like I was using my mind to control the minute hand on the wall clock.
Everything moved slower.
So I would look away and try to distract myself with the hope that time was moving along.
After what I thought was a few minutes, I looked at the clock.
Only two minutes had gone by!
I cursed under my breath.
Ms Daniels heard me and said
“Ashton, do you have something you would like to add for the benefit of the class?”
I frowned at her as the whole class turned towards me. I replied
“Nope. Nothing at all”
She turned and continued the lecture.
I heard a voice say
“You really have to go huh?”
I turned and it was Sandra.
I shyly smiled and whispered
“Yeah but you know she ain’t letting me out.”
She nodded, smiled back and said
“Hold on we only got a few more…”
The bell went off.
Everyone got up and began making their way out of the classroom. The halls quickly filled with students heading to fill their expecting bellies.
I was looking to drain mine.
I sat still as the room cleared but Sandra didn’t get up either.
It was now Ms Daniels, Sandra and I left in the room. Sandra looked down at me as she stood and said
I shook my head in the negative.
Her eyes grew wide and she tried to hold back and embarrassed smile.
It had happened.
All over my clothes and my seat.
I was not about to walk into the halls with that entire thing going on.
What Sandra did next would birth the friendship that we have now had for years.
She walked to the door, peeped into the hallway to see the traffic of students.
She returned and handed me her sweater and told me to wrap it around my waist.
I did and followed her out of the room.
Clean break into the bathroom; success!
About 10 minutes later, I heard a knock outside the bathroom stall.
It was Sandra in the boys bathroom.
Over the stall, she threw me a pair of shorts and a shirt from the gym class.
I don’t know how she got it but boy was I glad she did.
It took me about twenty minutes but I cleaned up and headed back to class.
I had missed lunch.
As I walked into the room, I noticed that my seat was not in my spot.
With a curious look on my face, I quickly scanned the room and noticed my seat in the back of the classroom, far away from anyone.
As I took a few more steps into the room, it dawned on me that I left marks on the seat.
Some kids noticed me and began covering their noses.
Then the whole class took notice and burst out in a collective series of laughter.
Sandra was the only one that didn’t laugh.
Even Ms Daniel’s couldn’t help herself and I couldn’t even blame her. If I was in the position, I probably would have done the same thing.
I stood there in shock. I thought I had made a clean break but I guess not.
I would become the laughing stock of the class for months and you know that 13th birthday party?
Yeah it happened but only a handful of people showed up.
My reputation and name had taken a hit but this one was easy to come back from over time.
But it sucked.
Nowhere near where my life currently was though.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to punch Wyatt and to be completely honest, I wanted to strangle Stephanie.
“You knew the whole fucking time?”
I yelled at Stephanie.
“You knew why I was slaving to fucking call you?
And you didn’t answer you piece of shit”
Everyone in the small waiting room glued his or her eyeballs at me.
I was so angry.
“Ash calm down.
You’re causing a scene”
Stephanie said to me as she motioned that I keep my voice down.
I think that only fueled me even more.
It’s annoyed me the more.
Who the hell did she think she was?
Thinking back to it now, I think it was all the frustration that had come from worrying about Raquel’s situation that caused me to go off.
I just spewed all my anger out.
“Causing a fucking scene?
I have been carrying this heaviness in my heart trying to warn you about what you may or may not have and you’ve been treating me like a fool.
Fuck you and this fucking scene!”
Wyatt stepped in front of her and said
“Can we talk about this in private?”
I scanned him from top to bottom and ignored what he said.
I turned around to look at Raquel who had her hand on my shoulder.
She was rubbing it in a circular motion and whispering that I calm down. I could feel myself heaving and breathing really hard.
The four of us walked out of the waiting room and into the hallway.
We reached the end of the hallway and Stephanie spoke first
“Ash, I didn’t answer your call because I felt guilty. I thought you wanted to get back together and I was guilty about how I left.
And Wyatt and I started getting serious.
I’ve been swamped with work and all… I am sorry I was avoiding you and I’m even more sorry that it was something this significant and I couldn’t be there for you.
I’m truly sorry”
I had been angry for so long that I didn’t’ appreciate the apology in the moment.
But the words hit my ears and then my heart.
I eased up a bit.
My shoulders dropped a bit. The feeling of anger began to fade as I looked at Raquel and back to Stephanie.
“It’s whatever now.
I just wanted to make sure you knew your status and you were being safe.
That’s it. I was trying to get you back or anything else.
I was genuinely worried that you may have gotten something from me…”
“Ash, I’m fine. I got checked out less than a month ago when I went for my annual checkup and I’m clean.
But I truly appreciate you worrying about me… It’s comforting”
I was relieved in a way.
I guess on some level I still cared. Besides, us breaking up should never be a death sentence for her.
So I asked what was the obvious question
“So what are you guys doing here?”
The answer was had me speechless.
Wyatt responded and said
“I’m the one that’s positive”
What The Heck Man!
My mouth opened by itself and I just stared.
We all stood there frozen.
The tension in that circle of four of us was palpable. You could touch it.
You could hold it.
But I bet nobody would ever try to experience that again.
It was awkward and real.
What Wyatt said changed a lot.
Stephanie obviously already knew but that frankly blew all our minds.
Thankfully the doctor came with good news to interrupt us.
Raquel was not HIV positive.
We both let out a sigh of relief but the niggling question was there. How did Wyatt and I become the positive ones?
Through the process, there have been dark days, tolerable days and “okay” days but never hopeful days.
The only friend that I felt understood my situation was Sandra.
So she was the only friend I had that knew what I was going through.
During our freshman year of college, Sandra came out to her parents as “bisexual”.
She was immediately ostracized and pushed out.
Her parents ridiculed her and suddenly, she was the laugh of their community and extended family.
But she fought through and maintained her identity while learning to love herself alone.
Sandra got it.
Raquel? Not so much but she was trying.
I decided to give her space after the test ordeal, so she could decide what she wanted going forward.
I came over to Sandra’s that evening and I sat on the kitchen counter sipping from a glass of wine as she prepared dinner
“the shock on all our faces was evident.
I was blown away”
I said as I took another sip from my glass
“Like Steph is clean and Wyatt is the one positive.
So I naturally started thinking, how did I get it?
Who have I been with that he has too?
Because I for sure have not been with him. No offense to the gay community.”
She smiled as she slid the lasagna tray into the oven and said
“Like, I was stumped because it’s just weird you know.
And Steph being clean?
Like I could have sworn I got it from her. She’s the only one I went raw with.
Man, I’m just mind blow.
I’m just trying to make sense of it. And so far, I’m at a loss. “
I paused as Sandra turned and said
“Ash, come here. I got something to tell you.”
She motioned at me as I got down from the counter and followed her into the living room.
I sat on the couch and placed my glass on the coffee table.
I straightened up and looked at Sandra
She seemed uncomfortable but still present.
I noticed her swallow hard and then she said
“Ash, you and I have been friends for many years. And I love you dearly.
You have always been a rock for me.
I want to thank you for always sharing with me but I think it’s time, I tell you something’s about me”
A look of seriousness came across my face as she continued
“You have been with me through some of my toughest times and been a rock for me.
So I am sorry for coming out late with this.
I hope this does not affect our relationship. Because the last thing I would ever want is for us to change how we are or for me to lose you entirely.
But Ash, I am HIV positive..”
No matter how hard you try. You cannot imagine how my face looked.
“And I gave it to Wyatt… but this was before I knew my status”
I couldn’t put the words together?
One of my best friends
How had she been carrying it this long and in treatment and I didn’t know?
I truly felt like a failure.
But if you were wondering Sandra and I hadn’t been having sex.
We had always been really good friends but nothing more.
When Stephanie and I broke up, we got closer and had sex a few times.
But then realized that we would be better off as friends.
I was suddenly covered in anger.
“How could you have known and not told me?
Even after I told you about the girl carrying a baby for me.
You are wicked, Sandra”
I got up as she began to cry and I was crying too.
It had come from the unexpected place.
The last place I would have looked.
I felt like I had been kicked in the gut.
“You and Wyatt?
Oh my fucking gosh. And you weren’t going to say anything after all the times I have brought up his name and said I hate him?
I got up and along with my heavy eyeballs. I walked out of the door.
I couldn’t believe it.
I had gone to Sandra for everything.
Hope, security, companionship and more hope.
Dumping my heart out to her, all my worries and even my pains. Yet she knew this whole time.
She knew every step before I even knew.
I was broken.
I completely detached from the whole world.
The drama that occurred from my fallout with Sandra really got to me.
I was emotionally drained and tired.
I didn’t know whom to trust anymore.
I continued to keep to myself., just going to work and coming home.
The friend you trusted turning out to the creator of your problems.
Weeks began to pass by and then they turned into months.
My emotional life was dead.
Social life was non-existent and I was losing connections with people.
One day, I heard a knock on the door.
I looked through the peep hole and it was Raquel.
She smiled as I let her in.
“Ash, your place is a mess.”
I picked up clothes and I apologized
“I’m sorry. I haven’t had anyone over in a while”
She ignored what I said as she tiptoed through the living room.
Stopping behind me, she placed her hand on my bended back and I turned.
She moved her hand to my face and said
“Ash, are you okay?”
I looked down to the floor.
I wanted to cry
She then said again
I looked up at her and said
“I’m okay. Hanging in there.”
“This is hard and I cannot imagine how you’re feeling but I need you to pull it together.
It is 2015 and being HIV positive is not a death sentence.
I know there are unique things you have to experience but we will be here to go through it together”
I looked at her for more of an explanation. She smiled and said
She smiled wider as she said
“I just came from the doctor and the baby and I are doing fine and perfectly healthy.
You and I have already made one healthy kid. And he or she is going to need their father. We don’t need any more but we have work to do.
Work for and on us.
But what I am trying to say here is, I want to be with you if you want me.”
I nodded as my eyes began to swell. She rubbed my face and hugged me.
Just like that, I felt a piece of me being put back together.
She let go and walked into the kitchen as she said
“Have you eaten?
Let me make you something.”
She opened the refrigerator and it was empty.
She flashed a questioning look at me and suddenly we both broke out in laughter.
She told me to head into the shower and she was taking me out to eat.
I looked at her for a few seconds with a big smile on my face.
Before I have to come and shower you”
I laughed and headed into the bedroom.
It was going to be a long road to us being okay and functioning properly but I had her with me.
With her, I wasn’t alone.
I reached my beside and my phone lit up.
It was Linda.
Slowly, I grabbed my phone and hit the “ignore” button.
My FreeFall had just been halted.
I wasn’t about to knowingly jump off another cliff into the unknown.
Getting to be with a supportive woman in Raquel meant the world.
I knew my status; I was positive but going back into the hole that got me here?
I walked back into the living room and Raquel was looking at her phone.
I stood and smiled there like someone in love for the first time.
She looked at me and said
She asked with a smile on her face
I walked up to her and said
Stigma can be overwhelming.
It is a social construct but powers that affect the emotional, physical and social aspects of people’s lives.
Being HIV positive is certainly not a death sentence in 2015 but there are many things that come from it.
The way people perceive you, interactions with you and some limitations once may have.
I highlighted Raquel’s initial reaction to Ash’s news.
Most people would act the same.
It can be scary but we can still be present for those who need us.
It is not just HIV. Skin cancer, mental health issues, emotional and spiritual problems; they all need that support system.
FreeFall highlights some of the issues that come post heartbreak.
The need to fill a void.
Sometimes the void is filled with things that we know are unhealthy for us in the long run but temporarily satisfies needs.
For Ash that was sharing his body for some, it is their safety, their heart, their dreams.
A relationship should not define you.
You should not lose yourself because of a failed relationship or situation.
Sometimes we fall.
It can be healthy and humbling to be dropped from a place of comfort or pride.
Back down to earth
The fall can be important to your growth but the people that catch you can be just as important as falling.
Always have a safety net of people you can really trust and ensure that they can hold you up.
You never want to fall and expect to be helped up by someone who is already broken, it won’t work.
Ultimately, there is a lot in the FreeFall series.
Be kind to people. Do not judge them because of their situations.
I hope you enjoyed the FreeFall series.
Please FIND OUT WHAT YOUR STATUS IS TODAY.
Knowing is always easier than regretting.
Till the next series, it’s been The Wordsmith of the handle for #WhatTheHeckMan
I love you all. LEAVE ME COMMENTS!!!!! SOME OF YOU HAVE BEEN SLACKING LATELY. 😂 (Don’t point fingers at me! I’ve apologized 😊😊)
Thank you for reading and commenting. You are highly appreciated.
New Series is out on Saturday
© 2015 #WhatTheHeckMan