I found out last night that someone close to me is HIV+.
This person ("Peter") and his partner ("Sam") have been together for about 4 years, so presumably Peter acquired the virus before he met Sam. Peter is in his mid-40's, so he was a young gay man during the early days when HIV/AIDS was killing so many and the medical community was helpless to stop it. Sam, on the other hand, is not quite 30, so he grew up in the 1980s and became sexually active in the early 1990s, by which time everyone knew that HIV was transmitted through sexual activity and that the use of condoms could greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. Sam told me last night that even though he and Peter had only had "safe" sex perhaps 5 or 6 times over the course of their 4+ year relationship, he is not HIV+, at least for the moment.
Horrible as it may be, my first reaction was, "How stupid could you be?" As a young gay man in the early 1980s, Peter had a front-row seat to the carnage of HIV/AIDS and knows first-hand what the disease can do. Sam, on the other hand, learned about "safe sex" as part of the birds and bees, and can't say he didn't know that the risk existed and how to reduce it.
When I asked if he and Peter were going to take proper precautions at this point, Sam said, "Well, it depends on what we're doing." Again, I was incredulous. I can't imagine doing anything to hurt my husband. If I knew that I could potentially expose him to an ultimately lethal virus, I would do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I do not understand why Peter would not insist as a matter of course that he and Sam use condoms so that Sam does not get HIV. And why is Sam so lacking in the instinct of self-preservation (never mind common sense) to insist on this for himself? I don't understand!
When my husband and I were dating, before we had sex, we talked about our respective sexual histories. In our case, each of us had been in only one other significant relationship and had only slept with one other person. Furthermore, as frequent blood donors, we had been tested for HIV and had always tested negative.
Are we unusual in this regard? Don't other people do this before they hop in the sack without a condom? I guess I am just naive, but I would have assumed that Peter and Sam (1) would have had some discussion of their past sexual histories and (2) used a condom until they had (3) both tested HIV-negative.
I know that what is done is done. The past cannot be unwound and rewoven into a new present. And the future cannot be known, so all we can do is mindfully and with lovingkindness live in the present moment, which is really the only moment we have. But that said, I do not believe that one should blindly and recklessly live in the present moment without regard for the consequences of one's actions. And in a way, that looks like what has happened, and is happening, for Peter and Sam.
I feel as if my reaction is compassionless, and I feel bad about it. But right now I feel less sadness and more of a swirl of incredulity and anger. I want the best for Peter and Sam. I love them both. I do not want them to suffer. But I cannot help but look at this situation and think that these two men have not done what they reasonably could to avoid the pain of this situation.
. . .
In my own experience, the period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one's life. ...Through a difficult period, you can learn, you can develop inner strength, determination, and courage to face the problem.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama