It's been three years and six months since I found out I had herpes.
He said he didn't know he had it. Swore he'd never had an outbreak. Remained in denial that he had it even when I was near to tears every time I sat down or went to the bathroom, sick with the fiery, blistery pain of it. I went through all the phases, starting with the numb fear, the desperation to look up every site on the internet that went into detail about it. I cried about it, I felt lost about it. I went through grief, resentment, and finally found some form of acceptance.
He didn't believe he had it, but he said he wouldn't let it keep us apart. We were going to be together forever, he said. I believed him because there was safety at least in the thought of never having to face this evil thing alone. We were in love. I kept telling myself that when things started going bad. "We are in love." We could stick it out - we would stick it out because otherwise, I would be alone with it. The little dark dirty secret coiled content in the base of my spine. Alone with the virus. All alone to face the persecution of the herpes hype promoted by the uneducated masses, cruel in their ignorance.
Being alone with herpes is a terrifying thought.
It was not, however, a fear great enough to keep me from getting sick of the violence.
It's been two years and six months since I left him.
I've been single since.
Going six months prior to the break up, and another six months after it without an outbreak, I lapsed into denial. In lieu of Lord of the Rings, I kept it secret. I kept it safe. I kept it to myself and even from myself, turning a blind eye to it. I was just a normal young woman, vibrant and full of life, single in a new town. I partied. I met a guy I liked. We were swept into a strange, clandestine liaison. I fell in love with him. Sometimes I think he fell in love with me, too, but most times, just... no. Just no.
I had an outbreak a few months into it. It was triggered by the pregnancy I had just become aware of. The pregnancy he and everyone close enough to me that I could confide in for advice adamantly insisted I terminate.
Wholly crushed, I was a once normal, vibrant young woman, FULL of life that was about to end. Full of a virus I can never terminate as effectively. He didn't want me after I tearfully told him what I had. Why should he? He didn't even want the child before I told him about the herpes.
Herpes. The fucking word should be capitalized every time it's used in a written sentence. It should have its own sharp, haggard, blistering font. When spoken, it should be effected in a harsh, sinister tone, one full of hatred and ugliness and a kind of helpless, underlying despair. The word should be infused with the horrible, wretched, miserable futility it leaves in the hearts of those who have it, and with the fear, bigotry and loathing it evokes from those who are free of it, or think they are.
I was truly alone again, and a broken, miserable thing. There was no joy in my life. I abandoned the extinguished flame of hope in myself and dove headlong into a blind existence of alcoholic hedonistic tendencies. I drank every night. I went home with anyone who wanted me. Sometimes I told them, when I was still aware of myself and surroundings enough to remember. Sometimes I didn't, and I will ALWAYS cringe with shame and self loathing when I think back on those nights. Those poor, unsuspecting others. They may not have been anything to me but a source of fleeting pleasure, an escape from the twisted, dark and unforgiving depths of agony I was trapped in, but no one deserves that. It's how it happened to me.
Regardless of whether or not I told them, if it happened at their house, I left upon waking up. When I could manage it, I left without their knowing. When that wasn't possible, if they woke before I did, I was cool, distant, aloof. If they provoked conversation, I was blunt, bitter and cruel.
I burned bridges faster than others could build them. I was a tainted thing. I wanted no part of the goodness of others because there was so much evil in me. I would only corrupt them, spread my evil throughout the world.
I carried on this way for quite some time. If you have never been DRIVEN to lead this kind of lifestyle because of deeply rooted misery, you might have trouble understanding the strangely therapeutic effects of it. You see, if one lets it go on long enough, it completely and utterly deadens them. They give up on ideals like hope, love, acceptance and respect. When you really, genuinely give up on those things, it's a sickly empowering kind of liberation. Someone who was once vibrant and rich with emotional depth becomes cold, callous, and impervious to external stimulus.
By truly becoming the monster you perceive yourself as, you are imbued with some of its horrible strengths and invulnerability.
Eventually, though, I had to draw a line. I drew the line all over the place, until there was only room for me. I became a recluse. I kept to myself, I drank by myself, I stopped taking random men home or going with them. I pushed friends away. I broke my mother's heart with my indifference to her attempts to help me.
I ceased to live in favor of simply existing.
I had a pulse but my heart was as dead as the child taken from my womb and as black as I have always imagined the Herpes that lives in my spine is.
I carried on like this for quite some time, too.
Then I met him.
Well, that's not entirely accurate. I already knew him. I had just never hung out with him outside of the bar environment. He was unfailingly warm, friendly, a natural conversationalist with a positive, if a little cynical, outlook on life. An optimistic realist. He was kind. In short, he was the exact opposite of what I had become, and he was everything I used to be.
I followed him home, already drunk, and after hours upon hours of conversation complimented with more beer, we went to his bed.
And he just... held me.
I woke up in the middle of it, knuckles crammed into my chin, knees shoved up to my chest, jaws tight and stomach clenched. There were nauseating waves of some unfocused but potentially lethal coursing through my every nerve ending. I wanted to wretch. I have never had such a potent, purely emotional dream. Nightmare. Vision. I had never before in my life 'seen red' until that night, and I haven't since. As the sensation passed, leaving me cold, bewildered and frightened, I felt him reach across the bed for me, clasping my waist loosely.
I had a startling epiphany.
I didn't want to be angry, wretched, miserable and broken anymore.
I sucked up to him like my life depended on it and, in his sleep, he pulled me even closer and rubbed his lips over my forehead in a half kiss.
It was a long time before I was able to fall asleep again. When I woke up, it was because he was getting out of bed and going to work. I watched him leave and then I curled in on myself. His dog jumped into bed with me and snuggled. I nearly drowned him in my sudden and fierce tears. And when I left that morning, hungover and feeling like I had been physically stabbed by several emotional blows at once, I felt sicker and dirtier than if it had just been another night of purely carnal indulgences of the most fleeting nature.
I avoided him and that bar for several weeks. When I finally ventured out again, he was there, and worse, he acted as though nothing had happened. I went home with him that night, too. This time, I braced myself for the cuddling and spooning, and forced myself to relax enough to simply enjoy it for what it was. I wasn't even sure what that was, really. It seemed powerfully symbolic of everything I had shut myself away from, closed myself off to. The things I knew that, as a woman with both Herpes and that black noose of an abortion around my neck, I could never expect to have again. It was symbolic of those things I had snuffed through months of diligent drinking and senseless, no-strings, no-breakfast-after fucking. It was hope, love, acceptance, respect, and security.
Above all, it was tenderness. And my black, shriveled, infected and broken little heart wept at feeling it again.
I struggled with it. I would spend a night or two with him, and then disappear, making myself physically ill with worry and fear. This wasn't what I wanted. I couldn't open my heart, or expose my secrets to him. I wasn't the only girl who was enamored with him, either. I started spending more time with his dog than I did with him. Poor dog. We'd go out to play frisbee, take long walks, drive out the road to the banks and sloughs, were I'd usually tell him my dirty secrets over and over again. Each time he listened, watching me with those uncannily attentive, alert and observant eyes. He's probably the only one I've ever met, or will ever meet, whose only response to me purging my darkest secrets was to lick my hand or face.
One night, when it was on-again, it went further than snuggling. It didn't get far enough that I had to tell him. We fell asleep, spooning close. The next time, it went far enough. We were both drunk. The sex didn't happen, but we didn't stop fooling around. In the morning, he untangled his limbs from mine and got up, ready for work, and left in the usual awkward silence.
I avoided him again for a while in my usual pattern. Sure enough, the next time I saw him it was like nothing happened. Our cuddles continued, and so did the fooling around. It was another month before the sex happened.
Or at least, before an attempt was made at it.
It didn't go very far. He bemoaned the condoms and I couldn't say anything. Did he remember me telling him about the Herpes? I didn't want to say it again. I couldn't tell him to go ahead without the rubber. I just laid there in agonizing silence while the two of us stroked each others arms, legs, sides, stomachs, each lulling the other out of that unbalanced state of lust and disappointment.
Sex wasn't attempted again. I had a bad experience there one night when I was over at his house the same time one of his other enamored gal pals was over. He turned down my drunken plea to share his bed with him, and no sooner had he tucked me in on his couch and disappeared into his room, the other girl got up and followed him in there.
His dog had followed him as well, and my only comfort that night was when the four legged angel came out with a huff at her entrance and jumped up on the couch to snuggle close to me. I woke up with the warm, furry body still close, and looked up to see his master staring down at me with something like pity in his eyes. Pity or sympathy, not that the latter would have been any easier to deal with.
He asked me if I needed a few cigarettes. I murmured a yes, and he left me with his parting gift. I pretended to sleep until she left. Then I made sure that I didn't see either one of them again for another month and a half. I even stopped going to get his dog.
On Valentines day, I got a message from an unknown number. Nothing special, just a forwarded message. I flew back my usual response to unknown numbers. "Who is this?" I don't know why I wasn't surprised to see that it was him. A part of me just knew before I had even asked.
He sent another message. Simple, just saying that he hadn't seen me in a while. I wrote back that I'd been busy, and to keep an eye out for me the next weekend.
I dreamed about him. In the dream, he asked me where I'd been and I said I'd been busy. He gave me this sad, knowing smile that let me know he knew I was lying and why I hadn't been out to see him, but that he wasn't going to press the issue. I woke up and tried to snuggle with my pillow. It was a laughably poor excuse for what I really wanted, but I wasn't in the mood to laugh. Imagine that.
I saw him the next weekend, and the weekend after that. I made no attempts to go home with him. He made no offers. On the third weekend, I asked. He said he couldn't, he really just needed sleep.
I stopped asking for a while after that. We saw each other at the bar, we talked easily, casually. He still gave me remarkable hugs that lasted longer than they should have. When it was closing time, we went our separate ways. Me to my lonely apartment, him to his dog, or his empty bed, or his other snuggling companions. Who knows. I wasn't asking. I wasn't even trying to find out.
I dreamed about him again. In it, he confronted me about avoiding him in my own way, and asked me to stay with him out at a cabin. In the truck, he put his hand on mine and said simply, "I love you, but you're not ready to hear that yet, so you won't." Obstacles kept coming up from then on out, keeping me from him, and the conversation I wanted to have with him. To tell him that in my own way, I was starting to love him, and I was ready to hear that he loved me. We never got another chance to talk in the dream. The frustration and hopelessness of it woke me up at 4am. At 4:30, just as I was beginning to drowse again, I got a text message.
He was asking me about DJing for the bar. I responded, and he asked, "What are you doing up?" The synchronicity of it all was too fresh and too close for comfort. I just told him I'd had a weird dream that woke me up. He asked me what about, I avoided the details entirely, even the nutshell version. I left out that it had anything at all to do with him. I just reiterated that it had been a weird dream, and left it at that.
He said that he was sitting on his deck enjoying a bottle of wine, and I asked if he wanted some 5am company. "You betchya!" So bone-dry sober, I drive over, and he greets me at the door. Touches my hair, offers me a massage as he pulls me into a one armed hug, rubbing my neck. He's drunk. Drunk and unusually forward with his advances. I ask him what's wrong.
Apparently, a lot was wrong. He spends the next two hours venting while I listen, one of the things I'm actually good at.
When he has all of his job and financial troubles off his chest, we spend the next two hours watching stupid, funny videos and cheering up. He's intoxicated by this point and exhausted. I suggest he go to bed, and on his way there, I get up and say I'll see him later. "You're leaving?" He sounded like he hadn't expected that. Like he thought I planned on going to sleep by him. I don't know why I didn't want to. I did, but I just couldn't. I told him that I had some things to do, and he sounded disappointed when he said, "Okay." I gave him a tight hug. It lasted a long time. I kissed his cheek and told him to rest well. Then I got the hell out of there. I took his dog with me and I got rid of some of the confused, negative energies I had bottled up with a game of frisbee.
I dropped his dog off quietly, went home, and spent the entire day on the couch, thinking thoughts I shouldn't be thinking. Like, if he's going through all of these financial burdens, wouldn't having a roommate help? And if having a roommate would help, why not a roommate who lives in a shitty hovel for an apartment and who would equally benefit from the arrangement by moving out of said hovel? A roommate like, I don't know, ME.
The next time I see him, I wait til I'm buzzing really good. And I come right out and ask. To my amazement, he's more than receptive to the idea. He's excited by it. We spend the next few hours on a giddy high, talking it out, addressing things as realistically as two inebriated people can. We even brought up the attraction angle. Saw no reason why the snuggling couldn't continue. It all ended with an enthusiastic snuggling fest.
The next weekend, I asked him if he still wanted me to move in, and if the first of the next month was a good date. He brought me home so we could talk about it.
"I don't even know if what we have - whatever that even IS - should even be continued," he said, "as we both know it's never going to actually go anywhere. I'm just being honest."
I was floored, but I managed to say, "Brutally so, but yes, you are being honest."
He looked at me like he was a little flustered, apologetic and annoyed all at once. He went into a list of all these things about me that he loves, why we'd make a great couple, then he says, "...but I can't forget what you told me that one night."
That's when my stomach felt like it was twisting itself into ten million knots that my heart wanted to fall into. "What did I say?"
"That you have Herpes."
The word sounded unintentionally but unimaginably cruel coming from his mouth. It felt like a Judas kiss, like a knife in all my tender places; what was left of them, what his easy, comforting and not entirely sexual intimacy had slowly begun to regenerate. I wanted to tell him to take those damn words back. I wanted to tell him that if he really thought all of those wonderful things about me, then he would have done some research and found a way to be comfortable with the idea. But I didn't. I kept myself, just barely, from crying, and said, "I understand that, and can respect it. But it hurts. This whole fucking Herpes situation really just hurts."
He saw the tears I was doing my best but poorly at best to keep at bay, and he tried to come close to hug me. I stepped away from him. Asked him in a voice tight and crackly with barely repressed emotion to please not touch me right then. I knew if he did I would shatter, just shatter, and dissolve into nothing more than a salty residue from my tears. Not even the Herpes would remain. Linked to me like a sinister, obsessive lover, it would fade out of existence with me, clinging on for all eternity.
He let me vent this time. I got it all out. I told him everything. All the pain, all the statistics, all the hopeless, useless fury. The rejection, the fear that I'll be alone forever. The self hatred, the general opinion this stupid world has of people like me. People who were just like them once before the Herpes came and fucked everything up. The eventual withdrawal into myself as some self dependent, loveless and absolutely hope-less life form. We walked the dog and I talked. We got back to his house and we went out on the deck and I talked. The sun came up as I talked with tears running down my face and snot in my nose and my voice barely intelligible. I talked until all of that horror, all of that dark, nasty, biting and overwhelming shame and despair was out there, naked, open and exposed for what it was. And when it was finally all done, all said, I looked at his blurry shape through my tears and apologized for the rant.
He said, in the tenderest voice I've ever heard, "I'm still waiting for you to let me hug you."
I started crying all over again, even as I laughed, and he hugged me close, then wiped my face.
We went to his bed that morning and we snuggled. In the afternoon, he had a pounding headache and a sore back. I gave him a long massage and even rubbed his scalp, temples, ears. When I finished, he said he wanted to take a nap and we spent the entire day in bed. Close as lovers. Close as friends.
It finally came to an end. He rolled out of bed and pulled his distance around him. I made myself scarce and went home. It was cold, quiet, and painfully lonely. I cried for a few hours, then sent him a text thanking him for letting me vent, cry, and swear. Thanked him for giving me space when I needed it, and hugs when I needed those, too. Thanked him for being an amazing and honest friend.
I think I hate emoticons now as much as I hate Herpes and abortion. As much as I hate myself for these things and the effects I've let them have on my life.
I haven't seen him since. It's been a few days. I haven't heard from him since, either.
It's been three and a half years since my life began a steady, plummeting and inexorable decline.
It's been three and a half years since I contracted the Herpes virus.
I don't know how many more years will pass before hope rears its hideous, gnashing, sharp toothed little head in my terribly sore, horribly mangled little heart again.
I do know I'm not looking forward to it.
People expecting a moral to this story, or some insightful, dawning realization that things are never as hopeless as they seem, will have to suffer with the fact that there simply isn't. Sometimes life is painful. Bad choices can lead to an inescapable prison of the self. Some hurts don't go away. Some hurts are like the Herpes of the soul.
Maybe there is a moral in there, somewhere in the bruised and broken spectacle of pain to be found between the lines. Finding your moral isn't my issue to deal with, quite frankly. I've got my own problems to come to terms with, and my own heart to systematically shut back down.
Not to mention a font to create for Herpes.