Today marks 37 years since I was infected with HIV. It seems a bit improbable I suppose that I can pinpoint the date of my infection with so much accuracy and certainty. Particularly since I cannot give you the precise day in 1985 when I actually found out that I was HIV-positive (an expression, incidentally, that didn't exist at the time). It was sometime in July of that year but that's about as close as I can get.
I was fortunate in a number of ways. I have or at least have had a pretty good if somewhat selective memory. But the most important piece of good fortune for me was that in 1978 I was recruited into the New York arm of the study for the Hepatitis B vaccine. From 1978 to 1984 I was subject to quarterly blood draws. The vaccine was, as most people know, quite successful. So much so in fact that midway through the study was unblinded and all participants, including those like me who had been receiving a placebo to that point, were given the vaccine.
Unlike San Francisco, where UCSF used the information gleaned from their arm of the vaccine study to do important research on the progression of HIV to AIDS, New York didn't conduct any HIV-related studies on their Hep B vaccine cohort. However they did test your blood samples if you asked them to do so. Summer of 1987 I was back in New York and filed a request. A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating that my first HIV-positive specimen had been drawn on May 29, 1981. I made some assumptions and traced my original infection to sometime earlier that spring even though I had had no signs of infection during that period. In fact I recalled having been unusually well that spring. Still, someone I very briefly dated that spring did later turn up, first HIV-positive; he later passed away. I assumed he was the one to have infected me. lace up wedding dresses
So the matter rested until perhaps ten years ago. And that's when it struck me: Sometime around December 15 of 1980 I'd come down with the flu. At least that's what I assumed I had and nobody at the time would have told me different. As far as anyone knew back then there was no HIV and no AIDS. And condoms were for heterosexuals.
I got really sick. Vomiting, high fever, aches and pains, lethargy. I was out of commission for a good ten days. But let's go back a bit further. After going back from DC to New York for Thanksgiving one of the guys I had been seeing broke up with me. He was upset about not being the only guy I was seeing. That Friday evening, December 5th, I went out and picked a guy up. Small world: he knew the guy who'd just dumped me. This is Facebook so I'll exclude some pertinent details though one detail you'd assume would be there is absent. Let's say that I had problems with gum disease at the time and leave it at that.
The hookup didn't result in anything lasting other than a casual acquaintanceship. However we did run into each other and had some mutual friends and a few years later it came out that he did in fact have HIV. So, putting it all together I realized that that one-night stand on December 5th changed my life in a profound way without me realizing it at the time.