Chelsea Clinic, October 3, 1995

by

06/23/2019

Neighborhood: Chelsea

It took two weeks for my first HIV test results to come back. Naturally, as I waited, I thought I was going to die.

For two weeks, I ate Ben & Jerry’s and sang along to a Discman on the streets of Manhattan. I spent each night on a different barstool and serenaded strangers about the price of my poetry school.

I listened to “Waterfalls” every day.

I deserved this, I thought. It was my Saturn return, my thirteenth month in a Crosby Street sublet. 

For two weeks, I steered clear of the dopey dirges of Silverchair or Bush, the shitty ditties from Hootie or Sponge or, God forbid, anything from Pearl Jam. Me and TLC stuck to the rivers and lakes we were used to.

The morning finally came. I put on tight jeans and shaved one last time, kicked broccoli florets down Broome Street, and plank-walked uptown to the Chelsea Clinic.

I had just started creating myself, I thought, and today it ends.

It was a Wednesday, the morning of O.J. Simpson’s verdict.

Each storefront TV had an O.J. standing and facing the jury. A cloud of the same sound came from car windows and taxi cabs, radios blaring. Someone shouted NOT GUILTY from a rooftop. A wall of O.J.s rolled their eyes in relief while all the Johnnie Cochrans rubbed his shoulders.

On the way up Broadway, a man inside an Italian restaurant shouted “bullshit” over and over, and someone outside The Wiz said “this is payback.” Two women in business suits smoked on a Cadillac hood.

A bear of a man who had drawn my blood met me again at the clinic.

He was gentle and wore a yellow sweater. I remember bracing for it, and he showed me the word, “negative,” on a slip of paper. We almost hugged. He told me to stay safe.

Later, I sulked over a cappuccino inside Big Cup cafe. The world had just stopped and lost a half billion dollars. Water usage across the nation dropped because people didn’t want to go to the bathroom and miss the verdict. I got off scot-free.

With people dying all around me, I thought maybe this isn’t about me.

***

Daniel Nester is an essayist, poet, writing professor, erstwhile literary journal editor, reading series curator, and Queen superfan. He is the author most recently of Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects. More about Daniel and his work is at https://danielnester.com/

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