Sunday, October 14, 2007

Disclosure and Risk

A couple years ago:

It was a bright day. I was on my way home to my apartment building. I was in a cynical mood about people who had chided me repeatedly while acting nice.

There were moving boxes on the sidewalk in front of my building, and more boxes piled haphazard around a small blue hatchback with so much stuff in it you wouldn't be able to see out the back window. The gate and front door of my apartment building were propped open.

As I walked through the front door, a man coming down the stairs from the second floor landing peaked from behind the large box he was carrying, and said cheerily, "Oh, I never got to meet you," with a smile.

I said, "Yeah, OK."

He kind of snort laughed, "Yeah, OK?" And then said with mixed sweetness, "Like, 'Yeah, OK, I never get to meet you?' or 'Yeah, OK,' you want to come up and have a glass of wine while I finish packing?"

I walked up the stairs past him there holding the box. (I'll call him Michael.) I got to the second floor landing and went into the open door of his studio apartment without saying anything, and dropped my backpack on the shiny wood floor. This apartment got more light than my apartment does.

There was no furniture. There was a full, open, closet. There was stuff and books, and more boxes, packed and empty all over the room. I didn't know his last name or anything about him other than that he always felt fresh. Nice smile, clear eyes. Agile. The alcoholic woman on the first floor below him had told me, randomly, that he liked my boots. I assumed he was gay.

He came into his apartment several minutes later, jacketed arms free, and paused, unsurprised. He exhaled, "Well," with a smile, closed the door behind him, and walked to the kitchen. I heard him take glasses from the cupboard. I guessed he saved the kitchen packing for last. I heard the refrigerator open.

He walked back into the room and said, "I like your boots," and went back into the kitchen. I said, "Thank you," through the wall.

The corked popped. Some shuffling.

He came back into the room like a waiter with a bottle tucked under his arm, two glasses in one hand, and a plate of cheese with red wax peel, and a knife in the other.

He set a "table" on one of the packed boxes, and pulled two others up to it.

I sat down and crossed my legs.

He poured our glasses. We cheered to nothing.

We talked about his moving out. He was going to LA. We talked about his work, and the building...the landlord, the woman downstairs, and Everett. Nothing about me. He was going to drive down the coast. There were problems with his storage unit...two trips...too much stuff....

He poured me another glass of wine and got back to packing. I got up and sat down on the floor, boots crossed, with my glass, and interviewed him, prompted by his objects. Why do you have that? Was that book good? Why so many text books? Are you Catholic? Why do you have a red feather boa hanging in your closet?.... I learned a lot about him.

I was enjoying the wine, and not helping, and the active imbalance of disclosure. I am used to being romantically disqualified by men in my life, (with one wonderful, long-term, infrequent, faraway exception). I don't try to meet new ones. And I'm used to people knowing more about me than I know about them. I can't simply answer, "What do you do?" without being more deceptive than I want to be, or revealing more about my health than I want to disclose. And most of the people in my day-to-day life, actually, are health care providers who know very personal things about me, who I know next to nothing about.

But then Micheal abruptly stopped his sorting, and answering, stood upright, and said, "Well, now what about you?"

The wine and cynicism made me bold to say, "I don't want to say anything about myself."

He said, "Why? Are you hiding something? Is your life a secret? Are you...HIV-positive, or something?"

I found out later that the woman on the first floor had been going through the trash for years, and had collected all kinds of information about me, including the medications I take. I realized, then, that she probably had told him I was HIV-positive, like she had told me, "The man above me likes your boots."

I said, "Yes," believing that he didn't know.

He came over and kissed me.

to be continued...

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