This story may occasionally include explicit depictions of sexual acts between consenting adult males. If you are underage or it is illegal to view this for any reason, consider yourself warned. If you find this material offensive, please leave.
This story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to people, living or dead, is entire a coincidence. As the author, I retain all rights to this story, and it cannot be reproduced or published without explicit consent from me. This work is copyright © 2014 by Steven Wells.
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John's Journey Forward
Chapter 02: The Support Group
I walked into the Aids Action Committee center in Cambridge at 6:50 on Tuesday evening. I had managed to switch my days off from work from Sunday and Monday to Tuesday and Wednesday so that I could attend the support group meetings. Mel had urged me to attend his particular support group.
My life was still in turmoil. I jettisoned Pedro's belongings from my studio apartment and changed the locks as Mel had suggested. With the help of an Aids Action Committee volunteer lawyer, I went to court to keep Pedro from contacting me. He had actually smashed my face in shortly after I threw him out of my apartment. Fortunately, Mel was there to witness the altercation. He still sends me annoying texts from time to time, but he hasn't come near me in recent weeks.
I am now settling in to a routine that includes frequent visits to my infectious disease doctor, Dr. Weinberg; a shrink, Dr. Juarez; and blood sucking lab workers. I have to admit, too, that I miss the sex I had with my former boyfriend—even though he has proved to be a real ass! So, my hand and I have become even better acquainted.
When I walk into the conference room, I am surprised to see Jake Masterson, my PCP's nurse, in the room chatting with some other men in the group.
"John!" Jake exclaims. "It's good to see you. I'm glad you decided to join us!"
I shake hands with Jake, "Hi Jake! My friend Mel insisted that I come. But, what are you doing here?"
"I am the support group leader," Jake says to me. "I will explain more after we begin our session tonight. And, I knew you were coming. I talked to your friend Mel a few days ago. She told me to call her if you didn't show up so she could `drag you Puerto Rican ass in here.' Those were her words, and not mine!"
"She is persistent," I suggested to Jake. "She won't take no for an answer."
"If you will excuse me, John," Jake says, "I should get this meeting running."
Jake makes his announcement to start, "Okay guys! Please take seats so we can get started."
All 8 men gradually took seats that are set in a circle. Jake continues, "We have a lot of new faces here tonight, so we should start from the beginning... All of us here in the room share at least one common bond: We are all HIV positive. This meeting should always be a place where you can freely share your thoughts and feelings not only about being HIV positive, but also how your status affects your relationships, professional endeavors, and any other important life events. So, do any of you have any questions so far?"
There were no questions, so Jake continued, "I am going to share my story with you. And, I hope all of you will share your story with all of our group members. You can elect to recount all of your journey or no more than your first name. It is up to you... I'm Jake Masterson. I'm a nurse at a major medical practice here in Boston. I'm 32 and was diagnosed as HIV positive 10 years ago. I had been thrown out of my family's home shortly after I graduated from high school because I was gay."
Jake paused for a moment before he continued, "I turned to prostitution to support myself, and I made a few mistakes. Male prostitutes who are bottoms and allow clients to have unprotected sex with them can make a lot of money. I listened to clients who told me they were HIV negative. So, I did make a lot of money, but I also contracted a disease that has changed my life forever."
Jake paused again. Everyone was listening attentively to Jake. He continued, "I was so grateful for the help and support I received from people in the healthcare field, I decided I wanted to become a nurse. I went to college and three years ago I finished the nursing program. I was hired at the medical practice where I now work shortly thereafter. I was lucky. I'm still alive because I am on medication that keeps this disease, which used to be deadly, under control. That is my story. Does anyone have any questions?"
A really cute guy, who was probably in his early 20's, raised his hand, Jake said "Yes. What is your question?"
"I'm Noel. I have a question about your family. What is your relationship with them now?"
"I still have no contact with my parents or grandparents," Jake answered. "I have a brother who is 2 years younger than I am. He and I are like best friends to this day. Once he managed to get through college, he severed all ties with the rest of the family. He and his wife are expecting their first child in a couple of months. He and his now wife were my biggest supporters when I found out I was HIV positive. If it hadn't been for them, I think I might have gone nuts! My parents, however, have no idea that I am HIV positive, but that will end in a few months. I have a book coming out shortly that details my experiences with being gay, thrown out of my family, and being diagnosed as HIV positive. I suspect I will hear screams coming from my hometown! Is there a reason you asked that question, Noel?"
Noel nodded his head in the affirmative, "Maybe it is my turn to talk. Then, you might understand why I asked that question."
"Okay, Noel," Jake responded. "Tell us about you."
"I decided I was gay in my sophomore year of high school," Noel began. "But, I managed to hide my feelings for guys until I was in college. No one in my family knows that I am gay. And, I didn't tell them because my mother is an extremely conservative born again Christian. She blames the world's problems on gay people. She claims that HIV is God's punishment for being gay."
Noel took a deep breath and continued, "In my quest to keep my gayness in the closet, so to speak, I haven't had the pleasure of having a steady boyfriend. And, one night, not too long ago, I got a little intoxicated at a bar and went home with this total stranger. We had unprotected sex that night. So, last month, I went for a routine physical. The doctor suggested an HIV test, and the results came back positive. I had unprotected sex with one fucking guy, and I'm now fucking sick...! Anyway, enough ranting... I still haven't told my family that I am gay let alone HIV positive. So, I guess you could say I am screwed."
"So, do you want to have a relationship?" Jake asked Noel.
"Yes," Noel answered. There was a little hesitancy in his voice. "But, I am afraid that my family will find out and disown me."
"Did you graduate from college, Noel?" Jake asks.
"Yes," Noel explains. "I have a degree in journalism. I write ad copy for an advertising firm in Boston at the moment."
"Do you have your own apartment?" Jake asked Noel.
"I've been looking, but an entry level job writing ad copy doesn't bring in big bucks," Noel explained.
I decided to speak up, "I think I am in the same boat. My family are conservative Catholics. I, like Noel, haven't told my parents I am gay. Now, I have other news."
"Maybe I should get this over with," I decided. "I have an associates degree in website design from Bunker Hill Community College. I still work at the UPS warehouse at night. I am trying to save money so I can get my BA, and maybe a job in website design. A year ago, after I met my boyfriend Pedro, we decided to get tested for HIV. We were both negative and decided that we were going to have a monogamous relationship. And, I did. However, last month I developed a rash on my legs. It was itchy as shit. Finally, I went to see my PCP a few weeks ago. He ran some tests, including an HIV test because it had been almost a year since the last one.... To make a long story short, I am now HIV positive. I told my boyfriend. My friend Mel was there when I told him. He is now accusing me of giving him HIV."
"Do you want to share anything else about your situation, John?" Jake asked.
"I think I have explained my situation fairly completely. I am still trying to figure it out myself," I answered Jake's question. "But, I am eager to hear what others might suggest."
"May I ask John a question... I'm Chris, by the way," someone else in the group spoke up, "you did not have sex with anyone but your boyfriend, right?"
"Yes," I answered.
"And, he is accusing you of giving him HIV?" Chris asked
"Yes," I quietly answered.
"Did you ever think it might have been the other way around?" Noel spoke up.
"It has been suggested by my friend Mel," I again quietly answer.
"What was your boyfriend's response, again?" Jake asked.
"He was basically angry with me," I replied.
"Were you not angry with him," Jake asked.
"No," I said softly. "I thought I was in love with him."
"You thought you were in love with him," Jake reiterated. "And, now?"
"I don't know," I responded. "I want to believe that I did not waste 18 months with him."
"It might be better to come to terms with wasting 18 months than the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself," Noel said. "Of course, I have been keeping my secret for close to six years... So, I am not one to point fingers."[Userphone1]
"Where do you live, John?" Jake asked.
"By myself in a studio apartment in Central Square in Cambridge," I answer. "Why?"
"Just curious," Jake answered. "Maybe we should talk after this session, John."
"Sure," I answer.
The others went on to share their stories. Chris was next in line, "Since I am in the fray, here, do you mind if I share my story?"
"Please," Jake answered giving Chris the floor.
"I'm Chris, and I'm 35," the well-built, blond Chris began. "I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for about three years. I have a similar story to yours, John, but I might be considered the Pedro in my story. But, so far, my boyfriend has not tested HIV positive probably because I am the bottom and he is the top. And, lucky for me, my boyfriend has forgiven me for having sex with another man... well, I should say, men. I will never forget the night that I told Gavin—my boyfriend—that I tested HIV positive. After I told him I was HIV positive, he just took my hand in his and very gently said, `We'll get through this together, Chris.'"
Chris paused for a moment and wiped away a tear, "I asked him why he wasn't angry that I had unprotected sex with other men, and he said, `We all make mistakes, Chris. But, I love you, and I want to be with you for the rest of my life. We will probably need some help getting through this bump in the road, but we can't let this diagnosis destroy us.'"
Chris paused again and wiped away another tear, "John, I understand it when you say you think you love your boyfriend because Gavin still loves me. But, I think the difference is that Gavin and I were not angry at each other. Pedro was angry at you for putting him in a position of being the offender. That didn't happen to me. Does that make sense to you, John?"
"Yes," I answered Chris's question. "I understand. And, I'm trying to put my feelings of being hurt by the man I thought I loved me behind me. You and Gavin are lucky. You both love each other and want to be happy together. I think I am beginning to realize Pedro did not really love me like he said he did. I am beginning to realize that Pedro used me. He used my body to get his sexual release. He used my apartment for a place to hang his hat. He used my emotions so he could cheat on me without remorse. Thank you for telling us about you and Gavin, Chris. It really helps me, for certain, to know how two men didn't let the diagnosis get in the way of their love for one another."
I walked to where Chris was sitting. He stood and we hugged. I returned to my seat. As I sat, I wiped away several tears.
"What do you do for a living, Chris?" Jake asked.
"I am a website developer," Chris explained. "I started my own business two years ago."
"Are there other who would like to share their experiences with the group?" Jake asked.
A guy raised his hand. Jake gave him the floor, "Yes. What is your name?"
"I'm Bobby," the exquisitely handsome black guy began. He was probably older than most in the group. "I was diagnosed nine months ago. My story is not exactly a happy one. I had been in a relationship with a guy for five years. We had planned on being married next year. But, he went ballistic when I told him I was diagnosed as HIV positive. He threw me out of the condo we had just bought. I found my clothes outside the door of our condo the next day. He had changed the locks. He also shut off my cell phone because we shared a cell account. He drained our joint checking account so I had no money. I started drinking heavily and used up what little money I had on booze. I didn't go to work because I was hammered. I was fired. A friend found me wandering the streets and got me into a rehab program to get me sober. He graciously paid for the program. I was released from the program 30 days ago and have been staying with my friend. I found Aids Action Committee and they helped me get treatment for HIV. I just started taking medications about one week ago. So, here I am... sober... getting treatment... living on my friends sofa... without a job... on welfare... But, at least I am alive. Thank you for listening."
"Thank you, Bobby," Jake said as Bobby ended his description of his journey.
After the other men in the group had finished sharing their stories, Jake ended the meeting, "Okay, guys! I think this was a very good start for our group. I hope that all of you will consider the other members of the group are here for the same reasons you are—to find support from your peers. I encourage you to share your contact information with others of the group. But, I will not list the names or information anywhere. I only note the number of people who attend these sessions. So, you can be assured that your privacy will be protected..."
Jake paused for a moment before he continued, "I have only one other sermon to deliver. All of you have only recently started taking antiretroviral medication. That means, your infection is not under control at this point in your life. It will be, but not yet. If you have sex with another man, please, please use protection. Even if you are having sex with another HIV positive man, you can still pass—or contract—other infections or conditions."
Jake again paused, "Now, please take time to get to know the other members of the group. I think you will treasure some of the friendships you build here. Thank you for coming, and I hope to see you here next week. Stay safe."
On Wednesday evening, Mel and I went out to our favorite Thai restaurant to talk.
After we ordered and had our appetizers in front of us, Mel focused our attention to the support group, "So, how was the meeting last night?"
"It was really a remarkable experience," I began. "I now know that I am not alone in this. I know others are going through the same mind fucks that I am going through. As a matter of fact, I think I am actually one of the lucky ones. I don't know if I could say that if you were not my friend."
"Thanks for saying that, John," Mel began. "But, I think it is your emotional strength and positive attitude that is putting you where you are now. In other words, you are finally taking care of you! Is anyone in the group boyfriend material?"
"It's too early to tell, Mel," I answered sheepishly. "One guy is in a relationship that didn't self-destruct after the diagnosis. One guy's boyfriend threw him out and the guy ended up drinking heavily and losing his job. But, at least, a friend came to his rescue and got him into a rehab program. He is getting his life put back together with the friend's help. There was this one really, really cute Hispanic guy, but it is too early to tell. His name is Noel and we agreed to get together for coffee sometime this weekend."
We continued to talk about the other guys in the group.
"And, how is Jake?" Mel asked.
"He is an amazing guy," I answered.
"Did he tell you about his life during the group meeting?" Mel continued probing.
"Yes," I answered her question. "Why?"
"I only asked because he has told me, during one of our many conversations, how he contracted HIV," Mel said with a smile on her face.
"I can't imagine a family throwing away their gay son," I explained. "Although, I am afraid I might be in the same boat. Noel thinks he is in big trouble with his born again evangelical Christian mother. How can there still be such bigoted people in 2015?"
"Religion and politics have a funny way of affecting people," Mel answered.
"Getting back to Jake," I explain my thoughts on Jake. "He is a remarkable person who has accomplished a lot in his life after a very difficult start. He is an inspiration to me, at least, and, I think, for others as well."
"Let's change the subject," Mel continued after our meals were served. "What are you going to do with the job front? I know you are staying with UPS so you can save money for college, but are you looking at other possibilities?"
"I think my associate's degree is not going to land me a high paying job in the tech world," I explain. "So, I think I am going to Northeastern next week after work to pursue options there. What do you think?"
"I think that is an excellent idea," Mel enthused. "And, whether you like this or not, networking is the key to getting a job in a field where you have little experience. What about that guy from the support group who has his own website development firm? Chris isn't it? If he doesn't have a position with someone who is an entry level person, maybe he knows someone!"
"I've thought of that," I reply. "However, I don't want him to think I am using my HIV status to get a job!"
"He sounds like a reasonable person, John," Mel explains. "I'm fairly positive that he would be willing to at least talk to you about possibilities in the field."
"You are probably right," I continue. "He seems to have his head screwed on correctly. I was especially moved by his boyfriend's outlook on Chris's HIV status. I don't think many people would have been that forgiving. I might try to talk with him after next week's support group."
"Have you thought of talking to MIT and Harvard?" Mel asked. "Your grades in high school and at Bunker Hill were terrific!"
"How could I possibly afford MIT or Harvard?" I asked incredulously. "I can barely afford to pay my rent and other bills!"
"Most of the people, my dear man, are getting significant financial aid at both Harvard and MIT," Mel explained. "As a matter of fact, I know a guy from the financial aid office at Harvard. His name is Peter Marcus. I want you to promise me that you will talk to him before you make any commitments."
"Sure," I answered Mel. "What have I got to lose? Besides, I could walk to school!"
I met Noel at Starbucks in Central Square in Cambridge on Saturday after I finished my shift at UPS. Noel had found a table before I arrived. He was reading e-mail from his laptop.
"Hello, Noel," I greet him as I found my way to his table. "How's it going?"
"I'm good, John," Noel answered. "I'm glad you suggested meeting for coffee. I think I need a diversion from my fucked up family this afternoon. Things were getting a little tense at home. My mother has been getting on my case about not having a girlfriend. I think I am getting close to being homeless unless I do some fancy footwork here."
"Just don't let her push you too far," I answered. "I have had some of the same questions from my father. I am just really vague about my living situation. I just keep telling everyone that I'm too busy at work making money for college, and I don't have time to pursue a relationship. Of course, I am NOT living in their home. So, I have that advantage."
"How did you keep them from finding out about your boyfriend?" Noel asked me.
"That's the part I really didn't like," I answered Noel's question. "I went to family functions alone. He went to his family functions alone. I didn't invite my family to visit my apartment—with the exception of my twin brother. He's actually my best friend—and he's gay, too. So, we have a story to tell our parents when we are ready. Hopefully, there is strength in numbers."
"My cousin in New York City is gay, too," Noel admitted. "He and I commiserate about our fate when our mothers find out about us."
"How old is your cousin?" I asked Noel.
"He's my age, 23," Noel answers. "We are both equally neurotic about our families finding out."
"And, then, I have Mel," I tell Noel about my friend. "Mel works in the HIV healthcare field. She has been my rock getting through all of the tests, telling my boyfriend, kicking out my boyfriend, and getting me to attend the support group. She is my best friend. She has been my best friend for years."
"I have a friend like that," Noel added. "Actually, it is my cousin in New York City. His mother is my mother's sister. We share our gay stories and our fears about being outed to our families."
"How old is he?" I asked Noel.
"He is one year older than I am," Noel explained. "Jason is the lucky one. He went to New York after he graduated from college. He's an actor and a singer. He's been in a few shows recently, but he works as a waiter in a restaurant in the Hell's Kitchen to make ends meet. His boyfriend is a recently graduated attorney who just started working for a fairly large law firm."
"Do you have siblings?" I asked.
"I have two brothers," Noel expounded. "Larry is two years older than me. Ben is two years younger than me."
"And, they are both straight?" I asked.
"As far as I know," Noel answered. "My older brother Manuel is married with twin boys. I've always wondered about my younger brother Jorge, but I think he is just being a Metrosexual. I could be wrong. We'll see how things play out. At some point, I have to come out!"
"Does your mother provide any financial assistance?" I asked.
"Nope," Noel answered. "I take care of myself, and I save some money every month so that when I do find a place, I can move in without asking for assistance."
"Then, you shouldn't worry about her reaction," I say knowing full well I have the same problem. "Although, I should take my own advice. I should grow some balls and come out to my family."
"Maybe we could form another support group," Noel suggests. "We could convince Jake to start a coming out support group for gay men afflicted with weird, conservative families."
"We should talk to him," I answer. "I somehow think that there might be a huge market, especially among Hispanic men, for a support group. We could call it `Gay Men Afraid of Coming Out to Conservative Parents.'"
Noel and I continued to talk and get to know each other for another two hours.
Finally Noel spoke up, "I need to get back to my nutcase home. My mother will ask several thousand questions about me meeting girls. I will spend my time trying to avoid her questions. Such fun!"
"If it gets ugly," I began, "I would let you stay at my place. It's small, but it is safe."
"Thanks," Noel answered. "I'll keep that in mind! It might save my mind!"
To be continued...
I hope you liked the direction that "John's Journey Forward" is taking. I would like to hear from anyone who reads this story.
I would enjoy hearing your comments about this story. You can write to me at MaWriterBoy@yahoo.com.
This is my first posting of my third story on Nifty.org. Please also see:
Sam and Chris in the college section
Life with Tim in the authoritarian section (Please note, this story is not for everyone because there are several scenes depicting Master/slave and BDSM relationships. So, if you are not interested in this activity, please, please do not read this story.)
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