IT IS a fear that must be challenged.
One morning a few weeks ago, I awoke with a feeling that I had learned something during my sleep the night before. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, replaying in my head the last five years -- the years of my sexual life. I had been careful, hadn't I? Sure I had, if careful means that I only slept with "respectable" girls -- girls who were smart, went to Emory and were from clean, wholesome towns. I didn't sleep with the easy ones. I never had a one-night stand.
Yet, all of a sudden, that morning, I knew I wasn't sure. I didn't always use a condom and I didn't always know the complete sexual history of my partners. Moreover, maybe they didn't know the entire history of all of their partners, either. After all, honesty isn't the most consistent hallmark of a college-age male. But it was that feeling of uncertainty that crawled over my subconscious, like ants on an apple core, always there, even if I managed to shake one off for a second.
And that's how I found the way to my doctor's office and asked how I could be tested.
"Why?" he wondered, concerned. I didn't know what to say. I could only shrug. "I need to know."
The statistics seem meaningless. I don't care how many people in this world have AIDS, or how many of them are young or old, or alive or dead. In my mind, people like us just flat-out aren't at risk. We don't get that. But that morning I thought I might. And I realized that if I did, I would die because of it. That it would attack me, and suck all the smiles and intelligence and future right out of me, faster than I could ever destroy it myself.
And so I was tested.
It happened on a Friday and they told me I could find out the results on Wednesday. Five days. Five days for the rest of my life. It's a clichM-i to say that "my life flashed before my eyes," and in this case, it wouldn't even be true. Instead, all the possibilities flashed before my eyes -- except they didn't flash, they lingered.
I made deals with God during those five days -- so many that I probably made some of the same ones twice. I promised that I would never sleep with anyone who hadn't been tested, and that I would have more respect for people's feelings. I promised I wouldn't lie again, wouldn't believe that being me was safe enough. And all I wanted in return was the right answer, the right flash. I begged.
Finally, I thought of how many people it would affect if the test came back positive. And then I thought of how it would affect me if it came back negative.
And that morning, when I heard the voice tell me, "You're fine," I cried.
I cried for the horrible fate that I avoided and for the wonderful fate that I encountered. I know there are others like me, because they are my friends. They are the girls I slept with and the guys I told about it. They are my classmates and fraternity brothers. They are the ones who read this and pass it off as something that isn't meaningful to them.
I can't make anyone go and get tested. In fact, I couldn't even make myself go. It was the doubt that made me go, nothing more. That 1 percent chance that the test would turn out positive existed, no matter how hard I tried to make it disappear. Perhaps that reality hasn't sunk in for everyone yet, but it will. Some day, some morning, after a wild night or a lost weekend, fear will stand on your feet and stare you in the face.
Those deals I made with God? I plan to honor them.
And one promise I made to myself was that, whatever the result of the test, I would use the experience to help others -- to make it known that no one, black, white, rich or poor, is invincible or immune.
This is my first step.
Sam Borden is a student at Emory University in Atlanta and was an intern for two months with The Sun's sports department.