Definitely Not Normal
After seeing myself by the harsh fluorescent lights of the bathroom, I set about finding some mental guidance other than Oprah. The DVD box set of her talk show had served me well over the years. But Dr. Phil didn’t have a guest appearance dealing with the mind-numbing, life-hijacking, all-encompassing irrational fear that I was dealing with. I know. I watched them all.
So I called Blue Cross/Blue Shield for a list of approved providers. My first selection was based on proximity (closest to my office) and credentials (Ivy League).
After knocking gently at the appointed time, I stood awkwardly in the dusky hall outside of the office, not sure of the protocol. Do I tap the door again? Do I go in? Do I leave? There was no waiting room and there were no chairs in the sparse hallway. I leaned against the opposite doorframe uneasily.
Suddenly she appeared and swept me into her windowless office, told me where to sit and led me through a frenzied conversation that was primarily about my mother.
According to her, I was full of rage. Over the course of 45 minutes, she determined that every one of my concerns was, in fact, related to uncontrollable, blinding anger. She said that I needed to find my voice, assert myself, scream my presence to the world.
I nodded politely for the rest of the session.
“Does this time work for you next week?” she asked, peering into her computer screen, stabbing unseen icons with her mouse. “Oh, good, I happen to have it open,” she confirmed.
“I’m actually not sure how my schedule will shake out. Hearings coming up for a big case,” I explained vaguely. “Why don’t I call to set up another appointment once I know more?”
I think we both knew I would never return.
Nothing my mother did caused this. I wasn’t angry at the world, I was petrified of it.
I realized right away that my problem was more intrinsic than extrinsic. The result of biology and genetics and science with just a sprinkling of environment to nurture the trait. Like having a good memory or patient demeanor.
The next closest therapist with a lunch-break opening was a reasonable, understanding woman who had a funky office and an edgy wardrobe. Alex. I have no idea where she went to school. Over several weeks, we talked about lots of things – my job, my history, my family, my fiancée, his job, his history, his family.
But I still couldn’t shake my fear of HIV.
“Just go to Planned Parenthood to be tested. Get it over with,” she advised.
The technician assigned to draw my blood at the clinic was middle-aged and looked like the stereotype of a lesbian gym teacher, with a relaxed manner, athletic build and short salt and pepper hair. She questioned me for a while, asking why I was there, what my risk factors were. I told her the whole story about the haircut and the scissors. She was very kind.
“That method of contact is just not how it transmits. It’s not a thing. I hug people with lesions all the time,” she reassured me.
As she donned gloves and drew my blood, all I could think was: I wonder if she hugged any AIDS patients today? If so, do you think she changed her shirt? Can you get HIV from getting an HIV test?
I panicked, but the needle was already in my arm. I threw away the clothes I was wearing as soon as I got home. I loved that cable-knit, J.Crew sweater. But it was tainted by the experience of getting tested.
Approximately 100 years later, I went back to the clinic to get the results in person. I wore a sweater I did not like nearly as much, knowing that I would probably have to toss it as well. I met with the same counselor and, with mercifully no fanfare or buildup, she showed me a form that read: NEGATIVE.
I was clean!
Or … at least I was when I got the test.
Had anything happened to me since then? Anything that would compromise my status? You know, aside from the test itself?
There was that guy with the hangnail standing next to me on the T. His thumb was pulpy and raw. We were holding the same railing, but I was wearing my leather gloves and gripped the metal pole several inches above his fist.
Yesterday, a teenager with low-slung jeans and beat-up black high tops spit on the sidewalk inches from my feet. It was absolutely intentional. I didn’t step in the phlegm, but it was close.
Then, in the bathroom at work last Monday, there was the waxed strip of a pantyliner sticking out of the stall receptacle. No blood that I could see though.
I was probably okay, I reasoned about each episode. But my own vigilance had saved me in those instances. I saw the danger and could take defensive or evasive action.
I’d have to be very, very careful to keep myself clean.
It would be exhausting.