You have AIDS (24)
The nice thing about my newspaper job is that it gave my life some structure and purpose. Without it, I was adrift again. I depended on whatever food I could find around the house and whatever snacks I could find at friend’s homes, and both were highly inconsistent. I was always hungry, but I knew I couldn’t go back to shoplifting. I’d figure something out someday; I just had to make it to the next day and then the next.
Eddie and Ramont started getting into cherry bombs and other flammable items, so after school, we would set all sorts of things on fire and blow up mailboxes for fun. If we weren’t doing that, we’d read comic books outside of Ramont’s bedroom window. At the same time, he’d pretend to be in his room studying. Luckily we never caused any real harm to anything, anyone, or ourselves. Another stupid pass time we had was taking condoms that Eddie somehow got hold of and blowing them up into balloons that we’d then attach to people’s radio antennas on their cars. We liked to sit around and wait for someone to see them and giggle at their reaction. Our brains weren’t developed enough to know that all of this wasn’t cool at all, and none of us had anyone around to tell us that.
To avoid my mother, I recorded a tape for my answering machine that made it seem like the phone was disconnected when she called. I’d come home after school and swap out her message for mine, and then when I went to bed, put hers back. Interestingly, she never figured this out and always thought the bill needed payment and that our phone just didn’t work. This way, I could stay out most of or all of the night when I wanted to. On the rare occasion that she called, she barked some commands at me, acted motherly, and then hung up. I then wouldn’t see her or hear from her for days.
When she came home, I never knew what person was coming home. Sometimes she’d go home and she would be overly happy to see me. Then at other times, she’d come home and be so angry about every little thing and she’d toss me out of the house. To avoid her when she was home, I would go to bed early, but that didn’t always work. She’d wake me up or come at me in the morning before school.
The end of the school year came around and on one of these moments when she happened to be home on the weekend and I did too, I let her know that my school was having a prom and that I’d like to go, but I didn’t have a dress. I caught her at a good time, because she lit up, told me to get ready, and head to the truck because we were going to the mall to get one. That was way easier than it normally was when I asked her for something. Usually, the answer was no, but for some reason, she was really excited about seeing me dressed up. She asked if I had a date, and I didn’t yet. That was next on my list to figure out. I had a few ideas, but I really wanted to be asked by someone.
When we got to the mall, she found what she thought was the perfect dress for me. I decided I shouldn’t be picky, because she could change her mind. It was this peach-colored dress with ridiculously large shoulder things. She insisted that I also get heels dyed the exact same peach color to go with them. That was a thing back then. I don’t think people do that anymore. I looked like a pastry when everything was on, but it didn’t matter. What mattered is I had the appropriate thing you are supposed to have to go to the dance. Now, I just needed a boy. Too bad I didn’t figure out that you can take a girl.
Weeks went by and nobody asked me to prom. I had almost given up hope when at lunch, Aaron, my locker mate asked me to be his date. He was the last person I expected to ask me, but I was thrilled. He planned on picking me up at my place and we were going to walk to school for the dance, so he suggested, no demanded, that I wear my British Knights and not the heels my mother got for me. He also said it was way cooler to have sneakers on.
When the big night came, Aaron came by and picked me up as promised and he was sort of dressed up. He had a button-down shirt and some skater pants on. He looked great and he brought me flowers, which he promptly handed to me. The flowers were covered in dirt and some were fake. I looked puzzled and he said,
“Those are fresh from the cemetery. I just picked them”. As in, he stole them off of someone’s grave. There was something very Tim Burton about the whole thing and I found it romantic, so I clutched on to them with pride. They were the first flowers ever given to me and at that moment, it didn’t matter where he got them from. They were mine.
We chatted and talked all the way to the dance, and the energy between us was great, or so I thought. Aaron, the coolest guy in school and my best friend was my date. My mother didn’t argue with me about a dress. Could the night be more perfect?
When we got in front of the school and headed through the door, Aaron looked at me and said, “You look great. Just perfect. Thank you”. He then walked off for what I thought was a few minutes, but I didn’t see him again for the rest of the night. I still, to this day, don’t know where he went.
I sat in the bleachers of the basketball court watching people dance. I didn’t have anyone to dance with, so I decided I should just start asking people. I saw Charlie, my “ex-boyfriend”, and cautiously walked up to him.
“Charlie, do you want to dance with me”?
He was so tall compared to me. He looked down and said,
“When you get tits, yes”.
(Don’t get upset with Charlie, he was a young idiot then, and we are friends now. He’s very dear to me).
I couldn’t believe it. I walked back to the bleachers, threw the flowers down, and sobbed. I looked at my flat chest in disbelief and wondered if that’s why Aaron also left.
Aaron was right, and I’m glad I didn’t wear those heels. I walked the many miles back home alone. In the last few days of school, I didn’t talk to Aaron much and decided it was better if we never discussed it. I was afraid to find out the reason he left, so I never asked.
I started dating one of Aaron’s friends, Jason Hale. He was a very sweet guy and I’d go out with him after school and hang out with Aaron. Aaron seemed to like that Jason and I were together and never talked to me about the whole date thing. Jason really liked me and well, I just wanted to be liked, so he was sweet enough.
A week or so after prom, and the last few weeks of school, my mother became quite mercurial again. A really bad fight in which I had to call the police, landed me in a girl’s home. My mother called me while I was there and told me to be ready in one hour from her call because I was moving to Oklahoma to live with my grandparents.
I panicked. I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. The only person’s number I knew by heart was Sarah’s, so I called her and luckily she answered. I told her that I was being sent away and begged her not to forget me. She gave me her address and I promised I’d write. We got off the phone and I tucked the address away in my pockets. At the girl’s home, I only had the clothes on my back. Nothing else.
My mother showed up in her truck and we drove in silence to Phoenix, which is a few hours away. I can’t tell you what time of day it was, or what day of the week, but I remember the trees receding and the landscape becoming bleak, with Phoenix slowly coming into perspective. I was going to fly, and I’d never been on a plane before. Any time I went to Oklahoma, it was by car. Flying was incredibly unusual.
At the airport, my mother handed me two tickets. The first was to get me on a plane to Denver and then I was supposed to transfer to a plane that would take me to Tulsa where my Grandpa was going to pick me up. I didn’t have any money and I had one suitcase, which I checked. My mother packed it.
When I got on the plane, I was terrified. Everything about the experience was horrible, except for the free drinks and snacks. I filled up on as much of that as I could because in Denver, I was going to miss my connection and never look back. I didn’t plan on going to Tulsa.
When the plane landed in Denver, I got out and paced around quickly thinking through my options. I didn’t know anything about Denver and the airport was so large. It was bustling with activity. So, I decided to try to find my gate and sit there and think until some sort of answer, some sort of sign came my way. If I walked out of the airport, what was next for me? How would I eat? Where would I start? Where would I go? Would I just fail and get returned to my mother?
The outcomes of every decision I was about to make looked like I might not survive, so I decided that for now, I was safe with my Grandparents. I could hang out with them until I sorted out what I’d do in life or what I’d do next. At least there’d be food and lots of it. That was no longer a concern once I got there. Their fridge was always stocked and my Grandmother had a fresh hot meal on the table every single night. There was no way I was going to go hungry there.
So, I got on my connection. When I got off that flight, this was before 9/11 happened, my Grandpa was waiting for me at my gate. He took me to get my suitcase and drove me to Eufaula. The drive was pretty benign. We stopped for his favorite roadside hamburgers and got in kind of late. Grandma was at home with some pie and warm treats for us. She gave me a big hug. I still didn’t know why I was there, or how long I’d be there, but at least I’d be safe.
Before I was allowed to retire to bed, which was my sister’s bed before she went to college, my Grandfather wanted to go over the house rules that I was to obey while under his roof. When my Grandfather spoke, you listened, or else.
“Cyan, you have AIDS”.
“I, uh, what? What does that mean”?
“You’ve been with boys and you have AIDS”.
“What does that mean though? How do you know? When did this happen”?
“Look, I just know that you need to follow these rules and be careful. Do not use my bathroom, our toilets, our soaps, or our razors. I set up a shower for you out in the garage, and you are to use that. There’s a toilet for you there as well. You will wash your own dishes and your clothes. Your sanitary stuff needs to go into the trash pile to be burned. Do not hug me or your Grandmother anymore. We don’t want it”.
So, I was sent away because I have AIDS? I thought about when it could have happened. Was it when I held a boy’s hands? Was it when Jason tried to kiss me? Was it from Aaron’s dirty flowers? When did it happen?
“Will I get over it”?
“From what I’ve read, you’ll have it for life and you may not live long. So, you shouldn’t have touched boys”.
“But Grandpa, how did I touch them”?
“Don’t get fresh with me, your mother found condoms in your room”.
“Oh, that! Yeah, I made balloons out of them and it was really funny Grandpa, I tied them to people’s cars and…” I trailed off when I saw he didn’t care.
“Look, Grandpa, if you think I’ve had sex, I have not. You can take me to the doctor and they can determine it; I mean, Mom has already done that, so I’ve been through it. They will tell you”!
“You shut up now”.
His face was red. He was so angry, so I asked if I could be excused and went to my new room. I opened up my suitcase and hoped to find comforting things in there that would make me feel connected to my friends. Well, I did. My mother packed my prom dress and my shoes and nothing else.