F. Cade Swanson

For years after I came out
my mother would ask me if I was sick.
"You're too skinny," she would say.
It was an accusation more than an observation.
But my gaunt appearance
was not due to the sickness she imagined.

And while my gay drove me to be lean,
as if my self-doubt consumed all of the nourishment
my body needed,
it would be years before the virus she feared I had contracted
would appear
in my no-longer gaunt body.

Self-doubt had been replaced by comfort.
Fullness of parenting
Fullness of relationship.
Comfort opened up new vulnerabilities.

I welcomed HIV in,
delivered in a package of kindness and warmth,
an extra ingredient in a meal of validation.
I had eaten too much.

First step: confession.
I bring my husband to get tested.
I tell no one else.
Unsure if I could deal with their reaction.
Shame. Pity. Shock. Disgust.

Next step: acknowledgement.
It takes me more than a year to go on meds.
I was not ready to accept my new reality.
I was not ready to have my kids find my pills
and ask what's wrong.
Afraid of
"you look sick,"
The words my mom used to say to me.
Afraid of dying.

Final step: acceptance.
And so now I lift weights
And eat lots
And take my meds with meals as prescribed
And worry about bone density and kidney function
And cholesterol levels.
And worry about my kids.

And while the meds keep the virus in check
I secretly work to keep my illness

Still afraid perhaps of being too comfortable
Or too full
Because that didn't work out so well last time.