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Nothing brings you face-to-face with your own mortality quite like coming face-to-face with the clear possibility of your own death.
It was the 90s, and although I was an adult with a young daughter to take care of, I was holding onto my youth, my long, bright-red acrylic nails digging in and grasping tightly, to the last vestiges of what I thought was my birth right—the freedom to live completely in the moment, without a thought or care to the consequences.
I was dating a musician, something I had promised myself I would never do. He was definitely not someone I would bring home to meet my daughter, but the perfect vehicle to take me on what I thought was my final care-free ride on the wild side. He played in local bars most nights and I was right there with him, partying like it was, well, 1999, because it soon would be.
Like COVID-19 was in recent years, HIV/Aids was the life-threatening demon everyone was afraid of, but at the same time refused to take the necessary precautions to avoid.
Inevitably, rumors spread through the local club scene that my music man had cheated on me and had been exposed to HIV.
I felt a lot of emotions that night, as well-meaning friends surrounded me, giving advice mixed with I told you so smirks. A cold numbness washed over me as I processed what we had all been led to believe was my probable death sentence. My anger over my philandering guitarist was the least of my concerns.
Waiting on the results of my HIV test was excruciating. So many thoughts about how I wanted to spend my last days passed through my over-active mind.
Who would take care of my daughter, and how could I make our final days together memorable? Why had I wasted my life on meaningless pursuits? Would I have time to still fulfill some of my dreams, like walking through the streets of Paris or writing the great American novel?
I remember the day I called to get my test results. The nurse at the doctor’s office placed me on hold with the explanation that only the doctor could share the results with me.
Of course in my already anxious mind, I believed that was because I had tested positive and was about to receive my death sentence. Pictures of not the life I had already lived, but the one I so desperately wanted to continue to live, passed in front of me as I waited.
Obviously, and thankfully, the results were negative, as I am sitting here telling my story decades later.
The lessons I learned during what felt like a lifetime while I held the phone waiting for those results have stayed with me ever since.
I became a more present mother to my daughter. I stopped taking my family and friends for granted. I became kinder and more forgiving. And I learned the freedom to live in the moment was still important, but the decisions one makes in those moments can affect your whole life and those around you in ways you can never imagine.
“To know that we will die means we must stand for something greater than ourselves in life. It is death that makes us human in the best sense of the word.” ~ Steve Leder, The Beauty of What Remains