Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dinner and Losing Sleep.

An old friend from Nashville is visiting Austin this week with two friends. They're all students at Bard College in New York State. We haven't seen our friend, S, in a couple years, maybe longer. We had them over for dinner tonight.

When J. and I lived in Nashville (1998 - 2000), we made friends early on with S's family. They went to our church. Her parents are a few years older than us, S was 13 at the time, and her sister was 11. Sometimes I find myself referring to the girls as "our friends' daughters," and other times I call their parents "our friends' parents." They came as a unit; it was more like being friends with a family than having individual relationships with them.

It was a great evening. I almost always find people in their twenties fascinating, but S and her friends are especially interesting, funny, smart. It's such a great age to be. Pretty often I feel like I have much more in common with people in their early twenties than I do with most people my age.

The food was delicious and easy, since I had everything ready to throw together at the last minute. Or, I should say, it was easy to throw everything together at the last minute, because I spent the afternoon getting everything ready.

We had a panzanella with grilled asparagus, fire-roasted red and yellow peppers, arugula, picholine olives, manchego cheese, with a spring onion red wine vinaigrette. And then pasta with green beans, English peas, and gremolata (which is garlic, lemon zest, and Italian parsley minced very fine) with parmesan cheese. Everyone ate heartily and had seconds. (Hungry college students.)

The panzanella was outstanding, I thought. I'd like to do that one again soon, just for us. I started with a recipe from Everyday Greens, but substituted asparagus for the artichokes and altered the dressing a little. The pasta was very tasty, but I wanted it to be saucier. I was afraid to add too much water, because I didn't want to dilute the flavors. I love the combination of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.

(I also thought the green beans were a little overdone and the peas a little underdone. J. would say I'm being silly, which, of course, is true, because the food was really very, very good. Still, I fret over the doneness of beans and peas. It'll be on my mind for at least several days.)

For dessert we had a store-bought apple pie with Blue Bonnet vanilla ice cream. I can't remember where the pie came from, but it was a great pie and there's still half of it left in the fridge.

I broke in the grill with the asparagus and peppers. We bought it last week at the hardware store, just a small, inexpensive table-top grill, no more than we need. It did a fantastic job, and I managed to get a nice fire going without using lighter fluid. Since I had such a nice hot fire still going after I'd done my grilling for tonight's dinner, I roasted some poblanos to peel and freeze for later. I like to have roasted poblanos around for sandwiches.

I didn't sleep at all well last night. I was running through tonight's menu in my head, over and over. I hate when I do that. Cooking, especially cooking for guests, is something I enjoy almost more than anything else I do, but for some reason it can also bring me anxiety. I want so badly for the food I prepare to be delicious, beautiful, perfect. Some of my most painful memories are of meals gone wrong, guests smiling and complimenting food that I know is not good. Humiliation, failure.

Speaking of humiliation, failure, and losing sleep, the other thing that kept me up last night was anticipation of my appointment this morning at the city STD clinic. This is the third time since I moved to Austin last fall that I have had to be treated for an STD. And yes, I know, I have been promiscuous lately. But Jesus, this seems really out of proportion. When I lived in San Francisco last year, I was having just as much sex, probably more, and I never caught anything.

By itself, it's unpleasant enough. Feeling morally corrupt, unclean, deserving of the punishment of the symptoms themselves as well as the unique discomforts of the clinic visit, all the things we're supposed to feel. It's hard to escape the neat God's-wrath justice of it. Have sex with too many people, and I'll make your penis hurt like a motherfucker. Show you.

But for me, the hardest part of the ordeal is the HIV test. No matter what you go in for, while you're there they want to take blood and run an HIV antibody test. Now, I just had an HIV test last week when I screened for the drug trial, and it was negative. So I shouldn't have been worried. But it's nerve-wracking every time.

I'm irrationally terrified of this test. In my head, as I try to sleep, I force myself to imagine over and over the moment of being told that I have tested positive, make myself feel that horror, make myself run fast-forward through the rest of my life with a horrible, stigmatized affliction, make myself feel the blunt, stupid shame of having a preventable but deadly disease, telling J., telling my family, taking on the pain and sorrow they feel for me. It's a fucking nightmare.

I put off my first HIV test until 1990, even though it was available years before that. Of all people, I should have been tested early. I moved to New York in 1981. I discovered the bathhouses in 1982, and I had a lot of unprotected sex during that crucial window: before anybody knew what AIDS was but when lots of people were infected. Back then, I justified my reluctance by saying that there wasn't much one could do. For a while, this was true. And back then (once we heard that "the AIDS virus" was transmitted sexually, around 1985) I was religious about condoms. We all were. No fucking without condoms. No question. That was just what one did. I was in a relationship from 1984 through 1989. My partner and I did not use condoms, but, when we had sex outside the relationship, we did. Neither of us got tested before we separated.

When I finally got tested, I was shocked when I found out I was negative. It didn't seem possible. I saw it as an undeserved gift. I had taken huge risks and avoided infection. I vowed to be safe always. If I had made it through my most promiscuous period in the early eighties in New York without contracting HIV, I owed it to myself to stay negative.

And that's a vow I have repeated to myself every time. Every time I have broken my rules, crossed a line, taken a risk I promised myself I wouldn't. Every time I contract some other STD and, while at the clinic, have to take an HIV test, I make the same deal with myself: "If I'm negative, I'll never do anything risky ever again." It's a bad deal. Any deal involving sexual abstinence is a bad deal. Sexual desire cannot be subjected to contracts.

This morning at the clinic they told me I didn't need to do the HIV test since I had tested so recently. They treated me for the other thing and sent me home feeling like a disappointing child.

I want to give up sex. For a while. I don't want to feel that feeling again.

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