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I had a one-night stand in December with a woman who, once we were too far into things for a second thought, told me that she had been raped. She said she was clean, but when I didn’t hear from her again, I started to worry. I would wash my hands for too long in the bathroom and be afraid of touching my fly. So when Angela reported that Whitman-Walker Clinic was testing for free, I decided to quit hiding from God.
HIV and STD tests have two phases: They draw blood, then they take a urine sample. After the needle, I was waiting with a small group in a hall where the chairs faced each other. People who are about to pee in cups don’t want to make eye contact. But if we turned our eyes up the wall, we saw our own reflections in a plastic frame, and that was worse.
One man slouched against the wall in baggy clothes, with a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. He was flipping through Cosmo or something. Though he never looked up from the page, we all could hear what he was saying:
“Beautiful. Oh, so beautiful. Look at that swimsuit.”
“Yes, gorgeous, man. Mmm. Here’s a girl doing ‘jinjitsu.’ Oh, no, no, wait, it’s not jinjitsu, it’s—-what do you call it?—-It’s yoga. She doing yoga.”
“She look Spanish. How come a Spanish girl doing yoga?”
We started to laugh. The guy looked up and enjoyed our approval, then his number was called. He said, “Bingo!” and walked away.
A few minutes later, I was waiting on the results of my blood test, the one that would show if I had syphilis or HIV. Most everyone was still in line to pee, except for a young woman, and the man with the magazine. Of course, he came on to her.
“I can’t find the words—-to tell you—-how beautiful you are,” he murmured. “You Spanish?”
“Casada? That means, you married? You have a husband?” She nodded. “Is he waiting outside?” She nodded again.
With a voice full of conviction, he said: “I’d be right here. I’d be with you. You need me, I’d be with you. If I was your husband, I’d be right here, waiting beside you.”
Then he started to tap his foot and chant: “You got the upper hand, you got the upper hand, you got the upper hand…”
I wanted to roll up one of the spare copies of Out and smack him. Leave the poor woman alone. Don’t you think this is hard for her already? But because I was angry, I wasn’t thinking of STDs. I wasn’t feeling the horror of waiting for a number to be called, when that number could mean the end of sexual freedom or ordinary life.
And it didn’t. I was clean. As I walked away, I was grateful for this strange man: for his baggy clothes, his brusque remarks, his terrible flirtation. He had done us a service.