The waiting room is painted a harsh white. Motivational posters line the wall, and pamphlets promoting safe sex litter the table. Soft voices and muffled crying can be heard throughout the clinic. Grace ignores much of this and clutches her mother’s hand. Mother rubs her back and whispers soft loving words into her ear. Weeks ago, Grace would have basked in the attention, but today she is numb. She has to be.
She trembles in fear and her mother whispers “Think about something else Grace.” Her mother’s voice is calming yet stern.
He had been the bad boy everyone tried to warn her about. While she was on the honor roll and hustling to her honors classes, Bryan could often be found anywhere but in a classroom. She was in the Honor’s Society, Debate team, Volleyball team, and anticipating running for class president. They had none of the same friends or hobbies, but as fate would have it their paths crossed, at her church’s community bowling party no less.
He took a liking to Grace the moment he met her. She was different from the other girls that usually caught his interest. She was soft spoken, she never wore makeup and she was always modestly dressed. Other boys ignored her but; Bryan noticed the green in her eyes, the smoothness of her caramel skin and her sweet disposition. He liked that he had to work to get her attention.
Grace refused to acknowledge him initially, but one “Hey Beautiful” too many finally wore her down. Within months they were inseparable and Bryan talked her out of her virginity. Within months after that she was pregnant with their first child. She was determined to get through high school, but long gone were the days of honors classes. Grace managed to get her diploma. On graduation day she posed proudly for pictures, with Bryan and their TWO children.
“Grace?” She looks up at the nurse. This is it. There is no turning back. Her mother gives her hand one final squeeze and mouths “Be strong” Grace is still numb, the pep talk is unnecessary and falls on deaf ears. She is determined and walks with purpose through the doors, into surgery.
The positives are the only thing that she needs to motivate her. This is the only way to save her life, not only from disease, but from circumstance as well
Her mind wanders.
After graduation, and after the babies, they had moved to public housing. It was the only option as neither had a job. He promised that he would do better. She watched him do just the opposite. He barely held down a job or a hustle. Grace was still determined to make something of her. She enrolled in school. Classes combined with life proved to be too challenging. In high school she was not worried about babies, house work and a part time job, so she struggled and finally gave up. She decided that she was going to build a future with Bryan and go back to school when the kids finally started kindergarten and head start. Before she knew it she was pregnant with their third child.
It was during that pregnancy that it became evident that Bryan was cheating on her. He would disappear for days at a time. Telephone conversations became hushed abbreviated affairs often in the bathroom or on the stoop. Soon he began to only appear for showers and the occasional sleep over.
“Grace, go ahead and get undressed. You can put on the gown and be seated on the table. We’ll begin in about ten minutes.” The nurse patted her shoulder and exited. Grace undressed slowly remembering.
He stumbled home one week. He refused to touch her, or help with the children. He spent much of his time staring at the walls and smoking blunts. When the calls came, he ignored them. Grace is scared of him for the first time since their relationship starts. Something is wrong.
The paper crunches under her when she sits. For the first time she smells the antiseptic and her stomach turns.
Bryan disappeared again. This time it was different. Something was wrong. She felt strongly that another woman had caught his attention, perhaps for good this time. The waves of nausea overtook her eventually and she made an appointment at the clinic. She was there for a pregnancy test but when they offered to test for STDs and informed her that they now performed rapid HIV testing she accepted.
Thirty minutes into her visit, the clinician and what appeared to be a counselor of some sort appeared. The counselor took her place next to Grace, and the clinician put on her somber face. Grace knew she was pregnant, but there was something else.
“Grace. You have three children already so you probably realized you were pregnant before you came in today. Have you had any other unexplained symptoms?” Grace’s stomach felt like a million butterflies.
“No MA ‘me, just the usual nausea.” The clinician smiled sympathetically.
“Grace, there is no easy way to put this. You HIV test came back positive. At this point I need you to go to the hospital right away for testing….” Grace was no longer listening, the bottom fell. Her miserable existence had just become unbearable.
“Grace, go ahead and place your feet in the stirrups. We’re going to get started. Relax for me. The nurse will start your IV.”
Grace relaxes her whole body easily. There is not a tense moment about her decision. The procedure may be a different story, but she still relaxes and takes a deep breath. She feels the sting of the needle and the cold as the medicine moves through her body. She starts to drift and feels the speculum being inserted.
Grace was devastated. The positives were the end all for her. She is fed up.
The locks are replaced.
The phone number is changed.
The utilities are taken out of his name.
His name is removed from the lease.
His clothes and personal items are packed and donated.
In the time it took to complete the parting, Bryan never attempted to contact Grace. He simply never came back home. Grace did the only thing that was left to do, she called her parents and poured out her heart, and asked for forgiveness for the first time since she had been a sophomore in high school. Her parents were forgiving and rushed to her side. Although religious they accepted her choice, and helped her prepare.
Grace and her parents wept through the writing of her will and living will. Wept during procedures to give them legal custody of her children. They wept together when the health department eventually called and informed her that Bryan had AIDS. Now her mother sat in the waiting room.
The cannula was inserted, the pregnancy destroyed. The cramping begins. The pain is welcomed.
“Grace you did great. We’re going to use gauze to slow the bleeding, and wheel you to recovery. “
Instead of the usual tears of regret, Grace sighs in relief.