Six months ago - "Oakley, are you okay?" The nurse rubbed my hand. "Say something, honey. Take a deep breath. Breathe. You'll get through this."
"The next step is to make a plan of what we're going to do next," Dr. Jefferson tried to console me.
I had no words, no immediate emotions. I was an empty void. I could hear them talking, but it sounded like I was underwater, and their voices were muffled. Looking straight at Dr. Jefferson, his mouth was moving, and no words were coming out. Truthfully, I don't know if I was just not comprehending or if my brain had shut down. I sat there waiting for God knows what.
The nurse reached out to me, and I remember collapsing into her arms and letting out a sound I didn't recognize. It was the sound of heartbreak and despair mixed with anger and hatred. That sound rose from my gut and seemed to escape from every orifice of my body. She tried to hold onto me as I slid to the floor. Dr. Mathis sprung from the corner, and with Dr. Jefferson, they tried their best to scoop up my jellied body, but I kept sliding through their fingers like the puddle of jello I was.
"I did everything you've ever asked of me.” I sobbed, trying to sit up on the floor and make sense of it all. "Everything from eating right, and taking medicine, blood work, and more medicines. I've been poked, gouged, and turned inside out in the name of science and good health. Everything! How, Dr. Jefferson, did I develop AIDS on your watch?
You promised if I followed your directions and did everything you told me to, I would have a long healthy life, of good quality. That was a bunch of crap. You sold it to me, and I bought it like a sucker. Do you realize you just handed me a death sentence? Now, what are WE going to do? We ain't gonna do nothing. You're going to keep on living your life, and I am going to get sicker and die."
"Would you like me to call your mother?" Dr. Jefferson asked. "You should have someone here to comfort you, or at least talk to."
"No!" I screamed. "I don't want you to call my mother, and I surely don't want to talk to anyone about it."
"Oakley, I don't advise you to keep this to yourself. You need your support system."
"Dr. Jefferson, I'm seventeen years old. I don't have to tell my parents, and I don't have any partners. This entire conversation and new diagnosis are between you, me, your nurse, and the fly on the wall of a doctor in the corner."
With the little energy I had left, I stood up, grabbed my backpack and jacket, and made my way out of the door.
"Oakley, wait," Young Dr. Mathis said. "I know you don't know me, but I have to say something. I really think you're looking at this all wrong. You've not been given a death sentence, but a unique opportunity to get ahead of this diagnosis and still live your best life."
"You're right," I said, turning to him. "You don't know anything about me or my medical history. Thanks, but no thanks for your two cents."
"Give her some time," Dr. Jefferson said. "We're here for you when you're ready."
I bolted from the exam room, running past the elevator. Instead, I made my way to the damp, stank stairway. As soon as the heavy door closed behind me, I sat down and laughed like a fool. Mama used to tell me about an amusement park attraction she loved as a kid, Laughing Sally. She was a huge electric lady in a glass box, and she laughed loud and hard, cackling. I imagine that's how I looked, leaning forward, slapping my knee, then raring back to laugh harder. There was nothing funny about the news I was given, but I couldn't control my laughter. And after a few minutes, the tears dried up, and the laughter stopped.
Standing up, I fixed my clothes, wiped my face, and straightened my hair, and then I walked down two flights of stairs to the lobby of the building, across the sparkly floor, and out the double sliding doors.
"Hey, watch out!" a boy yelled. "You should pay better attention to where you're going. If you hadn't bumped into me, you probably would have walked right out into the street, gotten hit by a car, and died a gruesome death."
I didn't say a word, just continued to walk to my car. Unsure of what to do next, I sat there for a few minutes playing over and over in my head what happened. Before the next wave of emotion hit, I started the car and drove home, I think.