GETTING AN HIV DIAGNOSIS CAN, oddly enough, result in a loss of friendships. Personally, a lot of my friends became uncomfortable around me after I got my test results. My constant sadness bummed them out and they weren’t comfortable with it. But those who stuck around to help me through the hellish nightmare had a new-found place in my heart.
Zach and I met through a mutual friend and developed our own camaraderie fairly quickly. It seemed natural since we made each other laugh hysterically and agreed on practically everything. And when I got my HIV diagnosis, it somehow came as no surprise that Zach was one of my biggest supporters. After all, he had taken an entire course on HIV in college.
A few weeks into my diagnosis, I called Zach crying, once again terrified of my own new-found sense of mortality.
“You aren’t going to die,” he said. “When you go on meds, you’ll just have to stick to them in order to have a long and healthy life.”
“Yeah,” I sighed out some relief. “Plus who knows? I bet they’ll find a cure in my lifetime.”
“Oh no, that won’t happen,” Zach said abruptly. “HIV is a virus and viruses cannot be cured.”
I couldn’t believe what I just heard. My resurfacing optimism immediately took a nose-dive. I tried to challenge him on it because frankly, it just didn’t make sense. Why would scientists be searching for a cure if, as a fundamental scientific rule, viruses could never be cured? But when I pushed back against Zach’s discomforting words, he became frustrated with me. Our conversation became an argument. If anything, I just wanted him to understand that saying such a thing doesn’t help console someone. When he refused even that much, we simply had to agree to disagree. From then on, I decided not to rely so heavily on Zach for support.
A few months later, my future partner, Luke, and I began getting very close. As we stepped into relationship territory, I felt a sense of hope and security in life. Zach didn’t see it that way.
“You can’t date him,” Zach said, practically giving me an order. “He is HIV negative. You’d always be putting him at some kind of risk. How could you do that to someone?”
But I pushed back again and explained that Luke and I had met many other mixed-status couples who completely made it work, especially while being undetectable.
But Zach just let out a condescending laugh. “Scott, remember: I took an entire class on HIV for a whole semester in college — you’re just going through a crash course. I think I know a bit more than you.”
With what seemed like the billionth reminder of this damn class, I lost my final nerve. Remembering that Zach had a few years on me, I asked him when exactly he dropped out of college. He estimated that it was about eight years ago. That would have been back in 1999, still an uncertain time for HIV and AIDS.
This gave me more relief than anything he’d ever said. The field of HIV treatment had advanced at rapid pace, offering new knowledge and hope on a nearly monthly basis. How could he think his 8-year-old knowledge could still hold true for someone like me? I asked him never to contact me again and hung up the phone. He tried calling back but I refused to answer, immaturely stealing that last and final word. And just like that, I ended our friendship.
I realized that Zach was only a great friend as long as we saw eye-to-eye. The moment I disagreed with him, I got a wrathfully opinionated lashing. His need to be right superseded my need for comfort. And perhaps Zach’s desire to be “too supportive” was just as difficult for me to cope with as those friends who weren’t supportive enough.