Walking into the clinic you are directed by a man who knows what you’re there for, go into a waiting area and it’s time to fill out the “Fun Card”. I guess it isn’t that much fun really. But it asks you all sorts of questions about what kind of drugs you take and what kind of sex you have, which is fun. As you fill this out you will be hearing (and distracted by) the HIV educational video that plays on a never ending loop on approximately 200 television sets from 1993 all throughout this building. You meet a couple, they’re nice – but the guy is a bit of a goon. He doesn’t see why he needs to be tested, and his girlfriend explains the importance. Knowing your status is important. These people are cartoons; I am unmoved. The real trouble starts when they have the real people reenactments. You see, I am trying desperately to remember how many prescription medications I abuse – and meanwhile Trevor is anxiously awaiting his test results. I have no choice, so I join him. After breathing very heavily, and looking very worried – the doctor comes in. The entire clinic at this point is in a cold sweat eating their bottom lip and staring like a deer in headlights at the fuzzy T.V. – the anticipation is making my heart have palpitations. Trevor is negative! Relief. If Trevor is negative, so might we be. However, Trevor isn’t as careless as me and probably wears a condom when he gets a blowjob. Carol isn’t as uplifting. I don’t even like thinking about her. She gets…bad news, and deals with it very well. I watch that and I get sick to my stomach. Much better to focus on the paper. Yes just plug your ears with a newspaper or whatever soft object is nearby and casually return to your work. Exchange of body fluids is now being discussed by people in lab coats on the television, waiting for the disgruntled cartoon couple to loop back on, you’ll meet these people probably twenty times during your visit.
Once you finish filling out the “Fun Card” you go to the third floor and give your information to a very nice lady who gives you a number and two plastic vials for your urine. I like this part, because peeing into bottles is so repulsive and inappropriate – and yet sane doctors are asking you to do it! You’re now in the bathroom. Here you will find graffiti vandalism that reads “04/12/03 NEGATIVE THANK YOU JESUS!” and “Just remember, everything happens for a reason.” I don’t know how to react to HIV testing center graffiti so I just pee and take another Xanax – suddenly; remembering something else to check off on my long gone Fun Card. It’s okay though, because – like traumatic events, with memory you can use that wise adage “This too shall pass”. Leave the bathroom and deliver your vials to a rolling cart outside a nearby office. The urine samples will be used to test for such boring and inconsequential STDs as syphilis. You now go to a new waiting room. It’s such an odd place to be. Everyone around you is waiting to have their blood drawn because they know there is a possibility that their lives are about to change forever. Some of those people look like me, some of them don’t. Some of them are on their Blackberry playing Bejeweled 2; some of them are holding their head in their hands. And some of them are two 15 year old girls who are talking very loudly about their boyfriends’ dicks and laughing hysterically. That one threw me off guard. Here I am in my least favorite room in NYC and these kids are happily goofing off before their HIV test. I guess we all deal with it in different ways. Across the room are two dudes cruising. I’ve never thought that an HIV testing center would be a good place to meet men, but I’m a little old-fashioned. Soon, or rather in an hour and a half, your number will be called…maybe. The first few times you go this may be the moment you get nervous. Not me. I find this to be the most comforting moment. You now go into a doctor’s office and sit down in a big comfy chair, and give away your blood. In that moment, I am safe and someone is taking care of me. I watch the needle slide into my “fabulous” (as I’ve been told) veins, and feel pleasure from the coursing red liquid filling the little jar. It ends in 30 seconds. Now I start to sweat. Some people faint when their blood is drawn, I do not. One of my tag-a-long-testers fainted and she got a cookie. I never get cookies, so I wish I could faint. My anxiety rises, and I’m directed back to that awful room. Trevor is once again receiving good news, I feel slightly relieved. But no matter what, for the next hour, I am going to be sitting in that room thinking about how to handle my news and how to tell my family and what my life is going to be like. That’s why I prefer the clinic. One hour is a lot better than 120.