The “Friendship”

I was a little over a year in Atlanta and was not only feeling the city and the clubs but also myself. I met Brock and his crew through my best friend at the time. Thinking the friend of my friend is a friend, everything was cool. Brock worked in the music industry in Atlanta, which was still blossoming into the black entertainment mecca of the United States.

He was the “I got you man.” Any club, restaurant or lounge you went to with Brock, he would say, “Yo, I got you.” Meaning you didn’t have to pay for anything. Straight Ball’n. I would take Brock up on his “I got you” offers every once in a while, but I have never been comfortable with another man paying my way. Brock’s superficial materialism wasn’t me but he was still a cool dude. Something else that was noticed later was Brock’s affection for lighter complexioned black men. I didn’t know it at the time but this afforded me a space in his entourage. Brock’s cousin Tee also had a thing for light skinned men. Not necessarily odd, many darker men like lighter and vice versa.

Single; I was open to date, entertain and sex freely and Tee sparked my interests. He was masculine, gainfully employed, attractive, had his own town home, and was mobile. So when I found out Brock was secretly playing match maker with Tee and I, I was down.

Tee and I had a good time while I was at his place. I smoked, we laughed, cracked jokes, etc. It’s was getting late. I was down for sex if he was down. After the heavy petting preliminaries in the bedroom, it was time for intercourse. Right as the tip touched the eye, I stopped. I had planned for this occasion and had supplies. I got out the bed went over to the door knob where my book bag was hanging and pulled out a condom. All is good.

Many men in their early or mid-twenties are still kids. We’re like teenage boys and we talk about our sexual conquests. The same way I had shared with my best friend about Tee, Tee had shared with Brock…it was to be expected. A few days later when I visited Brock’s massive home following my sexual encounter with his cousin, there was a strange air about him. It was kind of jovialness mixed with anger and “I told you so” sarcasm. There were odd general questions, kind of, concerning what did I think of Tee’s home, his furniture, his kitchen, etc. Materialistic questions as if to convey, “his stuff isn’t better than mine.”

As we made drinks his questions turned more judgmental or accusatory as to why I had sex with Tee. My mid-twenty self was confused by the tone of questioning so he begins to elaborate. He explained, not only did Tee have a boyfriend; he was getting over a bout of hepatitis. Wow, I had no idea about a boyfriend but Tee did mention hepatitis. I know hepatitis is a disease that impacts the liver but it didn’t register with me that it can also be transmitted as an STI.

“Dude, it was just sex” I explained and no harm no foul because I used protection. Brock replied, “Well that’s good because that nigga got HIV anyway.” Wait…What?

The Fallout

Wait what? I now have questions. I’m thinking, come on Brock, we been hanging tough now for months. We’re home boys. Why would you hook me up with someone who is HIV positive and you know he is in a relationship? So I ask him.

The response was very matter-of-fact. He replied “No, he wanted to holla at you, you wanted to holla at him, I just connected the dots and gave you two each others phone numbers with both of yours permissions. The rest was up to yall. Yall set a date, met up and had sex. I had nothing to do with it.”

True, but Brock knew of his relationship and obviously knew or suspected an HIV positive status. Why wouldn’t he tell me? After a couple of weeks, our friendship became more distant. It finally ended when he temporarily moved to LA and we for the most part stopped communicating with just a few calls here and there.

I spoke to Tee via phone on two other occasions. The conversations were very dry. Years had passed since our first post sex phone call. I was no longer living with a roommate and by this time, I had my own apartment. During that last conversation with Tee, I made sure to mention what Brock had told me many years before about his boyfriend and HIV status. He told me Brock was hate’n and the info Brock shared was all lies. No matter, I never spoke to Tee again. Hearing his voice brought up a forgotten rage.

There was a hatred and rage that built after Brock told me about Tee’s supposed HIV status. After a couple of days I found myself plotting to kill Tee. I came up with an entire plan the entailed me going over to his house, strangling him and setting his town house on fire. My murderous revengeful intent was the result of my thoughts about HIV. I’m old enough to remember when HIV was an AIDS death sentence. That fear of death from sex was real. It influenced me to become consumed with, “he tried to kill me by giving me HIV so imma kill him.” If it was true that Tee was HIV positive and didn’t tell me, I felt like it was attempted murder. I needed to kill him before he infected and possibly killed others. I’m glad I grew and moved on.

Back then, I wasn’t cool with everyone in Brock’s clique. At times it seemed like they were on some Hollywood shit… partying, pop’n bottles, weed, cocaine, ecstasy. Years after Brock’s and I friendship ended. I bumped into Alex, a member of the entourage (Brock’s best friend) in a club one night. It was odd because I hadn’t seen Alex in so long…and he looked, different. “You here by yourself, where is everybody?” I yelled over the loud music. He replied “we’ll talk later.”

As the night wears down, I find him and let him know I was leaving. He offers to walk me to my car.

Outside on the way to my car we have light banter and I finally ask, “So how is the crew?” He stops walking, so I stopped. He begins to tell me everyone in the circle has passed away; Tee, Brock and the rest, all gone.

The last conversation I had with Brock, he told me about his boyfriend (a very attractive industry model) passing away in his home. I felt Brock just needed someone to talk to because we hadn’t spoke, in what seemed like forever. Brock told me he wanted his boyfriend to be comfortable and he explained in detail his boyfriend’s final moments on earth while at his bedside. I didn’t ask how he died because I had my suspicions. His death I knew about but what about everyone else?

“How is everybody, just dead…how?” I ask Alex. “HIV” he says. As if a faucet is turned on, I begin to cry. It was horrible. Deep uncontrollable sobs. Alex rubs my back and begins to cry. Having just come out of the club and under the influence, I have the courage to ask. Viewing his appearance, I ask Alex, “Do you have HIV?” He replies “yes.” We continue to cry.

After composing myself I exchange numbers with Alex to keep in touch. I knew I was being untruthful. There was a reason I never wanted to be chummy with him in the past. Alex was very messy. The gossipy type and he and others had been arrested a couple of times for check and credit card fraud. Because of this, I rarely interacted with him. Yes people change but I hold mental grudges. I didn’t want to know if he was a better person.

Looking Back

On my drive home my mind begins to deduce. Wait, all these dudes are dead and all from HIV? When I got home, I was able to find their obituaries online. Of course I didn’t know positively they all died from HIV, technically this is hearsay; nonetheless the three young men I knew, Brock, Tee and Brock’s boyfriend had passed away.

Brock knew Tee had HIV. That’s what he said. He said it frankly to me. Alex told me directly that he is HIV positive. My mind wonders…“what the fuck is this?”

Did I escape some type of scheme or plot? Was the night that Tee and I were together supposed to be my initiation, the catalyst to be indoctrinated into some weird brotherhood? What is the explanation for this? How does an entourage become extinct from HIV?

Alex called me weekly for about a month. I never returned his calls. I found out later he committed suicide.

Even though I have no concrete proof that Brock in some way was hoping I had unprotected sex with Tee, thinking back to his comments, his demeanor and attitude, I feel there is truth to my hunches. Thinking objectively and critically, a part of me thinks I understand the why but the part of me that is empathetic to the human soul, hits a wall of befuddlement as to the why turning into a how.

The part that I think I understand falls in line with the same reason I think Alex committed suicide. The stigma and stress of HIV and just living with the virus can, in some cases, have a serve impact to the point one doesn’t see a bright side to existing. The gay community can be very materialistic and superficial as it pertains to masculinity, femininity, appearance, status, wealth, age and whether someone is “clean.”

On the other hand, some HIV positive people (not just gays) can and do purposely and casually infect others. Maybe in their minds, “someone gave it to me and didn’t care or disclose, so I’m going to give it to others.” Would this mindset exist if it wasn’t for the stigma attached?

At 38 years old, I’m an HIV negative black homosexual man. That night with Tee, in that single sexual instance, my story may be different today. Yes, it was my responsibility to protect myself. I succeeded but what about all the others who didn’t? What about the willfully knowing who set out to infect others? Do they bare any responsibility? Do they get an automatic pass because it’s up to the others to protect themselves? What about the man who becomes HIV positive from sexual assault? What about the psychology and testimony of an HIV positive man dealing with stress and stigma?

HIV no longer being a death sentence shouldn’t mean more men are nonchalant about becoming HIV positive or nonchalant about infecting others. Due to the unfortunate statistics as it relates to HIV infection rates within communities of color, I think these diverse dynamics and scenarios should be explored.