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The Ultimate Ego Battle

March 19, 1995

Fear... Everywhere I turn, fear greets me... I try so very hard to negate my own fear.  I know that fear is perhaps the most powerful force we have to deal with. I know from experience that there’s little that I can do to negate the fear of others.  All I can do is work with my own.  I know the fear of rejection.  That is my greatest fear.  It is probably the greatest fear of us all. Well, I suppose most people are more afraid of not existing even more.  I know that there is little room for fear in a relationship with me... at least no room for failure to face and challenge fear.  Failing to face and challenge fear doesn’t allow for true expression, for full being, for maximization.  Let me tell you the story of how my greatest fear, the fear of rejection, grew in strength:

There he was, cut off from his life force.  She had been his life force, his sustenance for some years now.  That sustenance was removed.  He was in a new place, no real connection, adrift once more and feeling his "alienness."

They met at a club, a place where lonely people tend to gather in hopes they could leave their loneliness behind when they leave.  It seldom happens.  They got along well enough.  They planned a get-together for the following week.  He would cook dinner and who knows... well he had to cancel due to an emergency, left a message that he would not be able to keep the rendezvous.  He stayed out that night, and when he returned the next morning she was in his bed asleep.  He didn’t go to work that day.  They romped. They played.  It seemed like harmless fun.  Two weeks later he felt sensations in his loins that he had never felt before.  He went to the clinic... his life had changed.  He was changed.  He was numbed by it all.

He sat in the room with that uneasy, don’t-know-how-to-behave sort of feeling that he got when he was not in control of a situation, when he had to wait for others to tell him what to do.  A doctor, two doctors, a nurse?  He can’t remember now.  All he remembers was that there were too many witnesses to his humiliation, to the death of the self  he was before that day.  “It’s no big deal,” they said, both in word and deed.  How could empty reassurances restore an unsoiled self?  At least he hadn’t felt soiled till then.  He was now damaged goods.

The possibility of rejection had always been there before, but before this day he could always rationalize away rejection; after all if they rejected him it was their problem, they just couldn’t see.  He could no longer use that rationalization as his weapon against the fear of rejection.  Now if he were rejected it would be for damn good reason.  It wasn’t their problem anymore; it was his!  Something was wrong with him.  You see, that harmless fun had left him marred with herpes!  How vile, how unclean he now felt.

Somehow, he managed to deal with it.  He doesn’t even remember now what it felt like, really, when he found out.  He guesses he was probably numbed by the whole thing.  Since then, most of the time it doesn’t break the surface of his consciousness.  I suppose that’s the only way he could continue to be who he was... although he was no longer who he was.  The major difference in his life was that he no longer felt free to explore possibilities with women, at least not without hesitation, without fear.  Before, he would venture unafraid, rejection mattered little; after all he was a great friend, he was bright, he was fun, he was a good lover, he was...(all attributes of the self he saw.  It seemed to be the self that others saw. Maybe he was deluded).  Only someone unable to see would not see how great he was.  Ha, I guess his comeuppance was long over due.

Since then, every time he meets someone who fans the flames of hope, someone with whom he wishes to share, he has to face the cold, hard fact, the realization that she would have ample reason to reject him.  He remembers the first time he told someone new, someone he cared for deeply.  It was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life!  It left him depleted, weakened.  He had faced that fear, waged a battle and emerged victorious.  He will be eternally grateful for her response, and he supposes now that only her response made it a triumph.  Yet he also thinks now that her response was not nearly as important as his facing the fear and his refusing to be dominated by it.

Years later, he realized that his way of dealing with his fear was still not adequate, and perhaps unfair to those he cared about being with.  You see, he would not share his “evil secret” until it was obvious that sexual liaison was likely in the not too distant future.  No need to expose that side of self unnecessarily.  But as he thought about it more he realized that all he was doing was delaying the confrontation with his fear.  He, more importantly, realized that it wasn’t fair to those he cared about because by the time he told them, they had already developed an attachment, a caring that might cause them push the ugliness aside.  Was he cheating them?

It didn’t matter that he now knew that the doctors were right, that it really wasn’t a big deal, at least physically (it most certainly is psychologically). It didn’t matter that outbreaks were rare, or that they may never resurface, the fact is he believed that people have a right to know what they are dealing with... don’t they?  “You don’t have to say anything if you use a condom,” some would say.  Yeah, he’s thought about that in desperate times, but knows he wouldn’t feel right about it.  Once, in an altered state (his excuse he supposes), he slept with a friend, A FRIEND, someone whom he cared about deeply, and said nothing!  He will never be able to forgive himself for that, although she was unaffected.  He violated his vow, and more importantly, violated the trust of a friend.  There is no absolution.  He lives with that knowledge.  It must not ever happen again he knows.

A year ago he decided he would tell people whom he suspected had an interest in intimate relations, even if such relations didn’t seem imminent.  Sure he told them, and of the three, at least one attitude changed.  He slept with none of them, though his confession only seemed responsible for that one case. He felt good about facing his fear, about not allowing his ego to interfere with him doing the right thing.

I wonder if I will ever get to the point where this won’t be such an ordeal for me.  Probably not without a lot more growth.  All my other flaws pale in the eyes of this one, because it is one over which I have little control (except through my state of mind; outbreaks are stress induced I’m told).  I can work on my other flaws, but this one I have for life.

Although it is extremely difficult for me to disclose this aspect of myself, I know that every time I disclose it I have fought a major battle with my fear and my ego, and have come out ahead.  I wonder how it is that I can manage to put my condition out of my mind until I absolutely must remember it.  Must be self-preservation.

November 2003

So many years after having violated the trust of a friend, of not really facing the fact that I never sought to right that wrong, I have finally, at least, admitted to that friend that I had betrayed her.  She was a much truer friend than I have been in her acceptance of the knowledge of betrayal without responding with any negativity.

The Taking Gift - June 2004

Finding out that I had contracted Herpes was without a doubt one of the most momentous moments of my life.  I imagine that must be the case for anyone who has contracted it…unless s/he had some worse fate befall her/him prior or post infection…and there are certainly many worse fates.  In my case, the physical symptoms of Herpes are less bothersome and painful than a hangnail, a stumped toe, or some other minor physical trifle.  Psycho-emotionally it was tantamount to losing a limb.

For years I had thought and even said out loud that I would be dead by thirty.  It wasn’t until long after I had emerged from the initial shock and the trance-like fog that contracting Herpes had produced that I realized I had been prophetic. The me that was, prior to contracting Herpes, had died.  As with the death of any loved one, the intensity of mourning decreased eventually, though it never fades entirely, and I remember that me with a fondness forever tinted with sadness.  Yes, finding out that I had “The Big H” was definitely as significant a moment as I have experienced.

But there are other significant moments related to being “Herpetic.”  In most of the stories I have read on yoshi2me’s site, the first “telling” seems to have loomed large in the lives of the infected.  Obviously, I was no exception.  But the first telling wasn’t my most difficult.  I first told the woman from whom I believed I had contracted the virus.  She was in major denial and we didn’t have any interaction after I told her.  I suppose that telling experience wasn’t very traumatic because I believed she already had it and I was, giving her the benefit of the doubt, merely making her aware that if she didn’t already know, she might want to be tested.

The second person I told was the only other woman with whom I had been intimate in the several months prior to contraction.  Perhaps it was because of my initial fog that I don’t remember it being that difficult to tell her…although it should have been given the circumstances.  She was tested and was negative.  Definitely a relief!  Then I told my long time friend and former lover, with whom I shared everything anyway, and I don’t remember that being too difficult either.  In fact several months after I told her, we lived together in a love relationship again. She too escaped.

The telling moment that stands out as the most difficult for me was when I had to expose my relatively new and yet unaccepted “defect” to someone with whom romance had been budding and sexual intimacy was becoming inevitable.  Only one moment of the entire stretched out scene remains etched in my mind…the moment after the telling.

We were both graduate students and had gotten into the habit of finding out of the way places to have lunch, to be together apart from others…this after a period of near hostility toward each other.  One of our favorite spots was on a second floor stairwell of the department building where very few seemed to tread.

I don’t remember if we had lunch that day, whether we were just hanging out in one of our favorite spots, or what.  My warped recollection tells me that we were there for hours and it wouldn’t surprise me if we had been.  I’d like to ask her now, but she has become one of the ghosts of my life, floating freely through the permeable boundaries of my conscious and unconscious selves, touchable only by the tendrils of my mind, tugging at my emotions at will. But I digress…so powerful is her presence still…

Surely I must have ruminated and agonized for days at least about telling her. Sleep surely must have evaded me during the days before as I tossed and turned in my angst and dread.  I don’t even know if I actually anticipated a specific response so great was the task of dealing with the possible rejection, with my potential loss of what had become a vital part of my existence…and hers.  You see, it wasn’t just my loss I had to fear, but hers as well.

I have vague images of pacing that second floor walkway near the stairwell, much like a newly caged feline probing each inch of its confines for a way back to the freedom that was as much a part of him as anything else…Sitting on the stairs, leaning against the railing, back-forth, up-down…words sometimes escaping their inner prison seemingly against their wills…and not even the ones that needed to be free…So caught up in my own struggle, I barely registered the concern? fear? puzzlement? she must have felt, bombarded as she was by the tangled emotions pouring from me.  Perhaps she remembers the words I used, how the maiming truth crawled from my quivering lips.

What remains clear is the image of me leaning against the concrete banister of that second floor breezeway, my head against her breast where she had drawn it, saying, “My poor, sweet T,” or something to that effect.  I’m sure I clung to her in relief, gratitude, love, desperation, shame, and whatever else I could have felt at that moment. She took in stray cats, and she took me.  I loved her then. I love her still.

But I started this not so much as a “telling story,” but a “giving - taking” story.  I suppose the full impact of the latter can’t be fathomed without the context of the former.  It wasn’t long before we began living together.  It was about two years since I had contracted Herpes.  In my twisted form of denial, I hadn’t done much research on the subject.  In my arrogant ignorance, I believed I could discern when an outbreak was imminent, and I told her when we should abstain.  I don’t remember how long we lived together, not using condoms, before she received her lifelong gift from me.

As with most trauma, it seems my mind fogs up the details a bit. I have an image of her laying on the mattress, probably in major pain (I remember it as serious discomfort), and me doing an “examination” before pronouncing my “pre-diagnosis.”  Now, so many years later, I can only imagine the soul-wrenching, all encompassing piercing of the pain I felt at giving this gift to someone I loved and treasured with every molecule of my being.  That pain is as she is herself: a ghost barely glimpsed, felt, but more a memory of feeling.  I can only imagine her sense of betrayal, violated trust, fear, pain, and who knows what else.  She either showed very little of the above, or once again I have blotted those dripping emotions from the pages of my consciousness… but then that was one of our relational issues…it was a struggle getting to much of what she truly felt.  Ah, but that is more digression.

I’m sure we went to the doctor together. I’m sure she handled her “life-sentence” with outward calm (or maybe she was completely distraught and I have buried that as well…immense and unbearable pain seems to have its way with my mind), we continued on loving and being and having the same struggles we had before.  Again, my timeline is hazy, but I believe it was several months before I went off to pursue my studies on the opposite coast… about as physically far away as we could be.  Although we talked about it for a long time (weeks? months?), I don’t think she believed that we were truly going separate ways indefinitely.  Surely her mind did what it could to negotiate immense and unbearable pain as well.  We exchanged letters, talked on the phone.  I came back to visit a few months later. That was her goodbye I believe. I don’t believe it was too much longer thereafter when she told me that we would no longer be in contact. Although my heart could not accept it, the memory of how she told me of throwing out unopened letters of a previous love, wouldn’t let my mind disbelieve.  It has been 10 years since we last communicated.  I have communicated with her mom a few times since then, even stayed at the family’s. That too was a long time ago. I loved her then. I love her still.

As much as her decision ripped a whole in my being, I cannot help but understand. She did what she had to do to be as okay as she could. How could I begrudge her that?  Any pain I felt was mine to claim.  I had earned mine. Had she?  It is one thing to give someone such an undesirable gift…but it is another thing all together to leave her holding that gift, without your being there to commiserate, to share whatever pain there might be, to protect her from having to write a telling story…that’s one of the things she did so beautifully. Write. Does she have a telling story or has she kept it a secret? Surely her golden heart wouldn’t permit that. Has she ever written her telling story?  Not sure her pride would allow that.

Yet still, there was another, another dear love who, years later, “demanded” the “gift,” and I foolishly, immaturely, with full knowledge, complied.  But that’s another story...

Until recently, I have approached my relationships being primarily conscious of what I wanted to share, to give. My receiving has been mostly in the giving.  It has taken me years to accept the fact that, in the face of my viral condition, my giving can so easily lead to taking.  What value is there in giving so much gold that it only weighs down the recipient?  What joy is there to be had in giving a gift that would be returned if at all possible? Is it any wonder that I shy away from intimate encounters.  Is there any mystery in my reluctance to engage despite desire?

I don’t have a “happily ever after story” like so many others who have shared their stories openly.  I can’t blame that on Herpes though.  The responsibility for that rests with me, my desires, expectations, values, etc.  Yes, Herpes changed my life and the lives of two women I have loved and still love.  But the stories of so many serve as reminders that “happily ever after” is greatly influenced by your ability to accept and treasure yourself, by meeting someone who accepts and treasures the full you-Big H and other foibles included, whom you accept and treasure in a similar fashion, and with whom you are relationally compatible.   My inner turmoil will continue as long as I have the beliefs,  values, and desires that I have currently.  Learning to accept that turmoil, to make peace with it, is only one of my life’s challenges.  As large as it has loomed and continues to loom in my life, I do know that life is way bigger than the fact that I contracted Herpes and shared that painful event with others I have loved.  For me, life itself is incurable.


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