It was dark in the basement apartment that night in December 2005. I remember it was a long basement. There was a bathroom at the end of the room next to the door out. The carpet was old, a dark brown color. It had been worn down so it wasn’t fluffy anymore. The walls were a dark color, fake wood paneling. The lights were off because we were watching The Grudge. The bed was just a mattress on the floor with a few blankets and the odd pillow. There were no decorations, just a few kids’ toys in the corner by the TV.
I was there with my high school best friend, Callie, her boyfriend, Ryan, and my boyfriend, Cody. I’d been seeing Cody for a few weeks. I was 17 and a senior in high school. Cody was 27 and worked in a car garage. I kept this part of my life separate from my friends, my family and everyone else close to me except Callie. This was our secret. This was my secret. Nobody would understand us, we knew that. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone.
I knew there was something wrong with Cody the night I met him. Callie had told me the night we went over there that he was sick and wasn’t going to get better. We met in the parking lot outside our work, smoking cigarettes and blushing. I think it was this that made me love him. I didn’t know what was wrong with him, but I knew it had to be bad. I had my assumptions but I wanted to hear the words.
Cody and I were lying on the mattress, my head on his chest. I could smell him, he always smelled like oranges and cigars. Neither of us were paying attention to the movie, Callie and Ryan were outside, smoking cigarettes, drinking Sparks and contemplating running away together, no doubt. Cody suddenly sat up and told me he had something to tell me. I knew by his tone that it wasn’t good. As we sat in the dark, I could see the light from the TV glinting, reflecting off the beads of sweat on his forehead, off his eyes. They were watery. I will never forget the first sentence out of his mouth.
In the following minutes I have never felt so many emotions run through my body, through my blood. Cody was HIV positive. I felt like my body had shut down and I was swimming. My heart sank into my stomach. My skin prickled, hypersensitive to every breath of air. It was a feeling that I will never forget. I stared at him, I had nothing to say. He proceeded to tell me how he got HIV. That he got it from an ex-girlfriend who made some bad decisions. Who came to him for a second chance and who took away his chance at a normal life. I was scared and angry. The only thought running through my head was he’s dying, he’s dying.
Our relationship only lasted a few months and mostly consisted of me sneaking away from work to steal kisses and talk about life. It was exciting and liberating to have a part of my life no one knew about, to have someone completely my own. My parents eventually read my journals and found out. When he told me he had HIV, it was the most painful moment I can remember. I will always remember the feelings I had, the tears and questions. I can see the room, I can smell him and I can feel the pain I felt. I can feel the pain he felt.
About a year later I ran into Cody again. On July 4th I was on a date with a boy from school. We went into Portland to see the fireworks. We ran across the bridge, weaving through the cars parked midway. We stood on the railings and kissed under the fireworks. We spent the following 3 hours battling the Max trains to get home. It was a hot summer and I wore a green short-sleeved sweater.
I heard my name and turned. It was like that moment when you are thrown awake by a bright light. It takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust. First there's the blinding white, then as the colors seep in, first red then orange and blue. It was like everything around him was blank. He sat there, a few seats away, grinning at me. He talked, asking how life was, how Callie was and if we'd heard from Ryan. I smiled and laughed, telling him I was heading to college in the fall. It lasted only three stops. Then he was gone.
I was left with hot skin, like someone had wrapped their hand around my arm and searing their prints into my life. As I sit here 3,000 miles and 7 years later, I can still feel the stubble on his chin, smell the orange and cigar smell of his apartment, hear his voice calling from the pay phone on the corner.
I think that was the first time I ever truly, whole heartedly, loved another human being.