Filling in the blanks

by Austin Hopkins, MS1

He tested positive for HIV.

He tested positive for HIV during a routine screening exam. He went to the doctor not because he’d been sleeping with other people, but because he wanted to know why he was sick. He didn’t use a condom because he trusted his partner when he said that he was only having sex within their relationship. He didn’t test positive for HIV six months ago, and hasn’t shot up heroin or been in contact with someone else’s blood. He didn’t believe it. He thought it must be a mistake, a cruel joke, a fever dream he’d wake up from, tangled in the sweaty, choking bedsheets. But he felt the splinters of his crumbling insides perforate his delusion and he felt the truth in a way that can’t be contained by the words of any language. He realized that his partner must be positive, too. He realized that somewhere along the line, a lie had been told and trust had been desecrated. He realized that his dreams and plans were changed, inevitably. He just didn’t know how.

He tested positive for HIV.


She asked for painkillers.

She’s had a migraine for the last three weeks. Her migraine arises in the afternoon, usually around 3:00 pm. Her migraine is debilitating; she passed out from pain yesterday. She feels it threatening to burst in her temple, a relentless thumping to the pace of her heartbeat. The pain seethes through her eyes, down her spine, settling in her joints. The light inside her dims as the pain trickles down, down, down. Her mother was diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma a month ago. She’s struggling in her classes during her fall semester of freshman year at her dream school, the one she’ll eventually drop out of because she can’t do it all. She’s had to take responsibility for her niece, who her mother had cared for, and for the medical bills that never stop coming. Her mother is unemployed and lives below the federal line, so the bills end up in her hands. Her hands then take money from strangers who use her body as a mechanism to reach an elusive high. Her parents don’t ask where the money comes from, they just take it and ask for more. The pain in her head, her chest, her heart, her core, her pelvis; it never stops coming and it always asks for more.

She asked for painkillers.


They have pneumonia. 

They are sixteen; they don’t feel that they belong within the strict boxes society has created for them. They were brave, they told their family their beautiful truth and they were punished: banishment into the outside world, the nasty world that spawned such sinful behavior. They were scared; they didn’t know what to do or where to go and then night comes with its heartless chill. They couldn’t find a warm spot on the street; they couldn’t find a shelter with a bed. They didn’t want to tell anyone else what happened—not that they had anyone else to tell. They fell asleep on a bench in the park that their father took them to on Saturday afternoons to play on the playground and they woke up the next morning with stiff joints, blue fingertips, chapped lips, dry eyes, and weakening lungs. They played a slow game of cat and mouse with the police officers that kicked them out of the places where they tried to rest. They got one free meal at the shelter a day but that doesn’t carry an immune system fighting off the attack of unrestrained winter. They coughed, they coughed, and they coughed some more, until things went black and they fell onto the piss-ridden concrete and then they woke up in the hospital bed with the nurse that asked where their family was and they couldn’t say. 

They have pneumonia.