Somehow she’s become the statistic: one in six women. Somehow her life has split into two: before July 3rd and after July 3rd. She took a test two weeks after it happened, then at one month, and then at three months. The technician told her she’s pretty much in the clear and most positives show up by twelve weeks. But she wants to be sure so she’s here for the six-month.
This test is accurate, right? she asks.
Very. The technician pricks her finger and places a droplet of blood into the eye of the Rapid Test.
And now: the waiting room. Now: he’s just sensations and parts: red eyes, tattooed fingers, the pleasure she feels guilty about. On days like this she still smells his cigarettes and she still feels the weight of him. He’s no longer a man. He doesn’t have a face. He is something she survived. If only she could throw it into the fire like dead leaves, twigs, garbage. But she forever has the small white scar—a starburst on her forearm—from his cigarette. Must be his trademark, the police said.
Today’s hits play over the speakers. Moody teenagers scroll their smartphones. Young couples enter and exit with birth control prescriptions. She feels her 35-year-old self disappearing. She rubs her silver cross between two fingers. She prays.
She wants the test to be kept private. No insurance companies. No potential employers digging into her medical records. No family members coming across personal documents. No one needs to know if it turns out positive and the clinic allows such anonymity. She can’t imagine not having this hidden option. She can’t believe protestors tried to shut down the clinic, graffiti the clinic MURDERERS!, bomb the clinic into oblivion. They refuse to hear her or see her or know her. They never think of women like her. They never consider the survivors.
You can live a full life with HIV, the counselor said before the first test at two weeks. Most live a normal life span with the drugs they have today.
I can’t handle this, she said.
It’s a fragile virus. It doesn’t mean you contracted it even if he is positive.
She has to wait fifteen long minutes in the waiting room. She tells herself regardless of the results, she’s still the same woman. She has the same name, birthday, parents, friends, dreams.
She’s called back into the exam room to talk about the results.
Everything’s fine, the technician says. It’s negative.
The walls pulsate neon and her eyes turn hot and spill tears onto her shirt.
Will you need counseling?
No, thank you.
The technician hands her a tissue. She thanks the technician and checks out of the clinic. After it happened she decided not to press charges against him. She just wants to move on from the attack, the clinic, the protestors. She just wants to get into her car and drive away.
Like it never happened.
* "Clinic" was previously published in Chicago Literati, December 2017.