Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Absolutely nowhere.

Last Thursday, an associate of my mother's invited me to take part in a class on how to do home mortgages. Looking over the program brochure this man sent me, I saw within 30 seconds that I wouldn't be able to actually take this class, for it required that I miss work for three weeks. I quickly sent the man my regrets via e-mail.

"I appreciate that you invited me to take part in this, and I'm sorry that I have to decline such an opportunity," my e-mail stated.

I called my mother after sending it. She didn't know about the time commitment that the class required. She thought maybe that I could do something on the weekends, something that would move me toward a more profitable career dealing with real estate.

She's talked to me about a job change of this type for years. The home mortgage business has been very lucrative for her, and she's been able to profit a great deal from Gwinnett County real estate. Trying to get her family in on the windfall, she's offered to build me a house there so that I could profit upon the resale. She taught my stepbrother and his wife how to do work in home mortgages, and now their growing family makes a better-than-average middle-class living. She thinks I'd be happier in her business or any other business besides the one I'm in, and I don't know that she's wrong. She thinks I'm a people person, that I'd be a good salesman.

I could be a good salesman, though I don't think I should get involved at all in real estate. I mean, I don't own a house, don't really care to own a house, don't want a family and don't want the mainstream "American dream." I would suck at talking mortgages, for I'm not interested in the field at all. I wouldn't buy their product, so I don't think I would be a good salesman of it.

But for over five years, I've worked in a cube and garnered a meek wage. I've worked in a bookstore to supplement my income. I manage, but my credit's shot. I'm going absolutely nowhere with my career-track job, and working at the bookstore full-time would mean that I'd enjoy working there less and make less money than I currently do.

As for my writing career, it doesn't actually exist. I have a blog. I write essays. I do readings. I've never submitted anything to be published. I've started a million stories, a million novels, but nothing's broken through.

Last Thursday, I was supposed to meet someone for coffee to brainstorm over how I can go about finding a more suitable job. But, a couple hours before we were supposed to meet, he called to say that he was stuck at work and couldn't make it.

Last Thursday, I left my office, upset that the mortgage class fell through before I could even consider it as a new direction. Since I didn't have anywhere to really be, I decided to avoid the interstate traffic and take some side roads home. I traveled a mile down the first "side road" I picked, and I was stuck in a traffic jam.

So I pulled into the nearest parking lot, grabbed my copy of THE HOUSE OF MIRTH and headed into this strip-mall Starbucks for a grande iced mocha. I read the second chapter of the book, where main character Lily Bart considers her recent social blunders and then flirts with a man on a train. Lily doesn't really like the man she flirts with on the train, but she knows that she's getting older and running out of options. Men who are suitable to marry, she sees, are getting harder to find, so Lily thinks she has to act fast before all her chances are gone.

Last Thursday, I got my haircut. My stylist was named Guy, and he flirted with me from the moment I sat down in the chair, telling me that I was a favorite type of his: the cute guy who can't see that he's cute. Guy, 34, thin, mildly receding hair, silver jewelry, hair-salon-standard-black-outfit, good smile, had a spark to him. He laughed when I made a joke. So I kept talking to him.

As the haircut continued, Guy mentioned that a woman customer from earlier had asked his advice on how to pursue a man she wanted.

"I told her that she wasn't unattractive and that she could probably just tell him that she wanted him," Guy said. "The people I admire most are the ones who directly ask for the things they want."

To which I replied, "Would you like to go for coffee sometime?"

"Sure," Guy said.

Moments later, Guy was giving me an entirely gratitous post-haircut shampoo-and-conditioning that lasted about 15 minutes. Hot water. Massaged scalp. Scented conditioner. Guy kept sneaking glances below my belt to see if this was having any effect on me. I'm not sure how well the plastic robe covered me.

"So I'm free after 9 if you want to go to coffee," Guy said to me after one of the glances. And he lived in my neighborhood.

So we ended up at another Starbucks, this one outside the Disco Kroger, where we talked until they closed. I was about as cool-and-comfortable as I ever get, for, during chat, Guy would look into my eyes and liked what he saw there. Occasionally, in the right moments, there is a light in my eyes. It used to be there all the time.

"So are you HIV-positive or negative?" I asked him point-blank at some point after we were letting are hands touch under the table.

He was startled. And I sorta knew.

"Well, that's direct," he said.

"Ask the things you want to know, right?" I asked. "Better to ask you now than three coffees from now."

His face turned serious.

"It's undetected," he said.

"Oh, OK," I said. "What does that mean?"

"It means I test negative," Guy said.

"It's a yes-or-no question, isn't it?" I asked him. "But you said 'undetected.' That means something else."

"I've tested positive before," Guy said, "but I don't now."

"So they made a mistake?" I asked, unflapped, a little confused and probably not-entirely-grasping the situation on purpose.

Guy was giving me a sales pitch and didn't want to disqualify himself before the transaction.

"I don't know," Guy said.

"So you've tested positive before and tested negative since?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

I knew there is no cure for HIV. Somewhere in my head, I knew this, yet I still wasn't entirely certain of what this man was saying to me.

"So, when you tested positive, that must've freaked you out," I said.

"Yeah," Guy said, kinda laughing.

"So what happened that you retested as negative?"

Take a step back, and you'll see the whole picture, stupid. You're not really listening to what he's telling you.

"I'm not entirely sure," he said.

"Did they put you on any medication when you tested positive?" I asked.

"They put me on a cocktail," Guy said to me.

Take a step back, and you'll see the whole picture, stupid.

"And are you still on it now, even though you've tested negative?"

"Yeah," he said.

"But why?" I asked.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. You know why.

"Because I'm afraid it'll come back if I don't take them," he said to me.

"So then you're positive?"

Stupid, stupid, stupid, you know the answer to that question.

"I don't know what happened with it," he told me. "But my friends told me to think about this time as a sort of 'remission.' Like with cancer. The disease was here, but it's not now."

"OK, so new question," I said to him. "Are you a good kisser?"

"You'll have to find out," Guy said to me, smiling.

We ended up at his well-decorated condo, where I found out. It escalated to activity that remained low-risk.

But something in my head stopped me before it went further. Something different than the impulses that caused me to flirt in the first place. Something other than the career doubt and the dread that I'd been feeling all day.

The next day, talking to a friend of mine from AIDAtlanta, she helped me to decipher what his answers meant. I'm a bright guy, though, and I shouldn't have needed her help to see it.

Someone who tests positive but then goes on a cocktail and tests negative is considered HIV-positive. Though there is a lower risk of it, transmission of HIV is still possible.

I'm probably fine. I'm mostly certain I'm fine. I've read the statistics. I've spoken with people. I've checked stuff on the Internet. I've gotten over the melodramatic panic.

I still can't figure out what's going on in my head, though. I can't figure out why I would so heedlessly do something so impulsive and risky.

My day was bad, true. But, looking back over it, I am not really someone without options. I just can't see them right now.

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