"By the way,"
Renee said before she hung up, "you've certainly got a convenient memory when it comes to straight people with HIV. Have you forgotten about Damian?"
I had been foraging for food -- opening cupboards, peering into the refrigerator, unscrewing sticky jars with labels that had fallen off long ago. Now I straightened up abruptly. "I guess I did," I admitted. "Didn't you decide not to see him?"
"But it still counts," she replied. I heard her clicking a pencil between her teeth, considering. When it came to sex, Renee was one of the more open women I had ever met in my life. She never was at a loss for partners -- what with her straight blond hair, beautiful white teeth and strong body -- so when she'd told me about Damian of the HIV-Positive Fame, I simply dismissed her interest. Renee had too many sexual choices already; she wasn't going to risk her life to get laid, for heaven's sake. Was she?
"I still see him," she continued. "He's incredibly sexy. There's definitely something going on between us, some kind of sexual energy that's really rare."
"That's nice," I said, after a pause. What I really wanted to say, no, scream, was, "Are you plumb fucking out of your mind?"
I struggled to come up with a mental picture of Damian. Long blond hair, a few strategically placed tattoos, motorcycle, New York Dolls, the usual. A nice enough guy, as I recalled, but certainly not husband/daddy material for Renee. "How did he get HIV again?" I asked. "Through needles? Not that it matters."
"Sex. Lots of it. With chicks, incidentally."
"Uh, huh," I said, the imaginary gay male chorus in my head howling, "of course that's what he says."
"And you're sleeping with him because ..."
"Oh, I'm not sleeping with him," Renee said hastily. "Jesus! For a while there, I didn't even know if I should kiss him, what with that article about passing on the virus via deep kissing. It was on the front page."
"I saw it," I said. "Personally, I don't believe it. But then again, I'm not dating someone with HIV."
"Neither am I," she said. "We're just fooling around."
This seemed even worse. But here I was, espousing the notion that straight people didn't have to worry about HIV as much as the media would have us believe, so who was I to judge? "Well, can I just ask one simple question?"
"I know, I know. Why? That's your question. Believe me, I know." I could see Renee swiveling around in her office chair, gazing out the window of her second-floor Marin corner space, knitting her brow thoughtfully. She's part of a clique that I mentally refer to as the Bored Cat Women -- beautiful, sleek blond girls who respond to my constant intrusions into their personal lives with impassive round blue eyes, slightly irritated, as if I'd just disturbed their afternoon nap in the sun.
"Well, we don't sleep together, as I said," she began. "And I called up the AIDS hot line, and asked what the chances were for HIV infection from fellatio. Slim to none, they said, unless I had a cut in my mouth, and even then, there wasn't any proven case to back it up. And he is an amazing, amazing lover. You don't have to have intercourse to have fun, you know."
"Yes, thank you. Still, Renee. Christ. Why take the risk?"
"Because I honestly don't think that I'm in any risk. From saliva? I don't believe that deep kissing crap either. He's not bleeding all over me, and I don't get near his sperm. And you want to talk about risk? If anyone is at risk, he is."
"Is that so." I sat down on my kitchen floor.
"I'm lying on my stomach the other night. He's on top of me, and he's moving in and out of my thighs, you know, sort of like fucking but between my legs. I've already come a few times, but now I'm starting to want him to come, because it's getting late and I'm getting tired. And I like this position. So, it's getting really close, I can tell, when suddenly I feel this intense pull -- or tug, right outside my vagina."
"Tug! What does that mean?"
"I told you he's got a pierced dick, right? Through the shaft?"
"No, you didn't happen to mention that." I scrambled to my feet. "This is insane. You must be telling the truth, because you couldn't possibly make all this up."
"Well, you can imagine what happened. His pierce got caught in my pubic hair. And I didn't want to stop him, because you know, I wanted him to come and I'd already come so many times. But then it started to kind of hurt, and I thought, 'Fuck this, I don't come lots of times and it's no big deal, so he's just not going to this time.' By this point, he's stopped moving, and has realized what was going on. 'Uh, ouch!' I said, and we started to laugh. But then, I couldn't get him loose. The hair was really, really wrapped around the pierce. And I thought, Now what? Where are the scissors? Do I call for my roommate? Do we slide out of bed, and hop around, all connected like two dogs, trying to find the damn scissors, which I think are in a drawer in the kitchen?"
"I remembered that I had some scissors in my night stand," she said, clicking the pencil again. "I sort of rolled on top of him, kind of flipped him over on his back -- remember, both of us are on our backs now -- leaned over, rooted around for the scissors, found them and finally cut the pierce out of the pubic hair. And naturally, since I'm not a contortionist, I had to do it all by feel, I couldn't see what I was doing. And in the dark! So, now you tell me who's at risk."
She had a point. "I'm glad to hear this has a happy ending," I said. "But Jesus, Renee, what a way to level the playing field."