by Mat Edelson
Tavon Vinson just did not have time for this call.
The popular gay 18-year-old, class president of Edmondson-Westside High, an actor, an athlete … his life was too vital, too full, to have the gears suddenly stripped from an engine that loved running at full throttle. And yet the voice on the other end of the line was attempting to do just that. A doctor, an old friend, a comforting face that normally Tavon enjoyed seeing. But now, in this moment, in this context, he was disembodied, his tone somber, his words halting yet imploring. It was as though the cell phone was discharging volts of fear along with the message:
“Tavon… you need to come in.”
“My test, MY TEST! Tell me, TELL ME!” pleaded Tavon.
“I can’t. Not over the phone. Please, just come in and we’ll talk. It’s OK.”
“Look, I have a track meet to run tomorrow. It’ll ruin my focus if I don’t know. Tell me. TELL ME!”
This wasn’t a negotiation. The young man was desperate, consumed by dread. He’d always protected himself during sex. And he went for regular HIV tests. And he’d had no partners at all since his last test, so what was going on?
To the doctor, the cause wasn’t the immediate concern. The result was. It came down to compassion versus clinical guidelines. In the end, compassion won out. The doc couldn’t string this young man along, not for one more minute. And so, in a sentence, he forever changed the young man’s life.
“Tavon. The test. It … was positive.”
On the other end of the line, silence. Then screaming. Then cursing. And through it all, like a mantra against the torrent of pain, the doctor repeating, again and again, “I’m sorry, Tavon. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
The phone call ended. Tavon, in a daze, instinctively went to the place that had always brought him comfort. Across the field from his home was the track. As the sun set, he sat cross-legged on the infield, surrounded by the gravel lanes and chalked lines that had brought him glory.
And he cried.
And he cried.
“It could have been the flu, pink-eye, or hell, let me be stung by a bee.
But Oh no, I was so lucky...
I caught HIV.”
—From the poem “My Experience” by Tavon Vinson
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