“Well look at that, you have mono!” the “doctor” at my college’s health services exclaimed, all too cheerily. “WHAT.” I started hyperventilating. “HOW” and “OH MY GOD DON’T TELL MY MOM” were just a few of the thoughts swirling through my head. Still hungover from the night before, as I was many of the nights of my very hazy freshman year in college. My tongue still stained with shades of deep purple from sharing a handle of sugary UV Blue the night before; a former trashy, favorite vodka, now poison to me. I was no stranger to getting sick. My immune system has never been up to snuff and I’m really allergic to cats.
But this was a different disease, one I was foreign to. I always thought mono was something only extremely promiscuous girls with tongue rings in my high school got. A type of cooties you got from kissing boys by the canal and swapping spit with teenage biddy after teenage biddy in a clockwise cycle.
Yet I still got mono. I like to think I got it from sharing drinks, shot glasses, bowls, it was inevitable. And still very possible to get it through other means, especially in my friends circle at the time. Turns out, I must’ve found out a bit too late, because within the week I was diagnosed, almost every one of my friends had caught mono themselves. Sluts! Apparently, mono wasn’t so uncommon for people in their first semester of college, especially for formerly sheltered and recently out and proud gays such as myself. I sat on the weird roll-out paper on the patient’s table, trying my best not to move. Every crinkle of the paper seemed to scream “WHORE,” “SLUT,” “TROLLOP” (I don’t know what “trollop” means).
But hadn’t I been…good? Or at least kind of good? Sure, I had been meeting new people, spent many an evening being drunk and silly after a night out at the shitty underage clubs or sweaty Allston house parties. I had my fair shares of playing 45 minutes in Heaven Overnight…but I was by no means a “slut.” I was a freshman. I was trying things out, trying people out, like clothes in a dressing room. A good man is like a good pair of jeans. You have to try on all different kinds to see what you like best. The best ones fit you right and compliment you. And they make your butt look good.
Having mono was sorta awesome at the time because I lost a ton of weight and got to miss class, as well as nap a lot. But when you email your professor explaining why you weren’t in for an exam and she responds “Oh, that explains why you’ve looked so bad lately” AND SHE’S BASICALLY CALLING YOU UGLY, you know you’ve hit a new low. Sure the steroids were great, but they also told me I couldn’t drink or kiss anybody good-looking for like a month. Two things I was not at liberty to give up at the time, which is probably how I got mono in the first place.
BUT ANYWAYS, I spent a few weeks in my misery, drowning in Gatorade and Yoplait, as did most of my friends who I infected with my slutty germs. Another weekend was approaching and I had ENOUGH. I was not about to miss out on another night out, lecherous social virus or not.
So you can imagine my amusement when this guy I had previously been with, Stevie, asked me to hang out. We had hung out a few times earlier in the year when I was more disease-free. We met at a party in Brighton one year, at an apartment like many others that I had went “klepto” at and stole all their alcohol when no one was looking, pouring it into empty water bottles and stuffing them into my faux leather messenger bag. Freshman behavior.
I remember the first time we met. He walked up to me, his short blonde GI Joe buzz cut, an immediate turnoff for me, stood out in the crowd. And his head was kind of square shaped, I felt I could sit my glass on top of him with ease. But I admired his confidence. He came up and started talking to me about just casual stuff: my roommates, my major, anything to get a conversation going. Boring talk that somehow led to us making out on the back porch while a game of beer pong resumed just inches away. The next few nights with him after that included getting incredibly high and not much else. When he asked me to come over to his cluttered North End apartment this time, I wasn’t expecting much else. Truth is, I never really found myself attracted to him, but he asked me to come over so frequently that I felt, maybe, bad. Obligated.
I think deep down I knew it was wrong to go over, knowing full well I was still sick and that I didn’t really have any strong feelings for him, but I couldn’t help it. I was going stir crazy with my isolation and needed some adventure. I hadn’t seen him for a while and remembered him still being really cute, funny, and there was a certain “dirtiness” to him that I had never really been attracted to before, but now found enticing. He wasn’t like other prissy, snobby gays I had previously encountered. It wasn’t a refined style or personality but it was something…wild, and seemingly dangerous.
The bedroom reeked of weed. His mattress simply lying on the floor, no frame to support it. It was lined with one plaid, white and blue sheet, yet somehow I still lost a sock in it. The TV glared an old episode of “George Lopez,” a show I hated. I knew I shouldn’t have been here. Not only was this guy not my type, but I was hating every second being in this bedroom, and I didn’t know if I was still contagious or not. I said “what the hell” and took a chance.
A few days had gone by and I didn’t return any of his texts. I didn’t care to really expand my relationship with him anything more than friendship. I hadn’t really heard from him at all until I saw his most recent tweets and Facebook statuses discussing how sick he was feeling, how he thought he had mono. Oops.
I gave Stevie mono. I felt like I had passed on a life threatening disease and I was responsible for all of his family’s pain and suffering. As bad as I felt, I passed it off as a woeful indiscretion. After all, Stevie hadn’t contacted me asking me directly if I gave him mono, so it wasn’t really any skin off my nose. Plus I decided if he ever did, I’d share some of my steroids with him.
About a week after Stevie’s illness surfaced, a new one of mine did. I noticed them, coming out of the shower one day. Red rashes and raised bumps, almost like bee-stings, all over my arms, torso and legs. I was about to throw up, as I of course was quickly under the impression that I had contracted some sort of strange STD I had never heard of. One that you probably could only get in a third world country, as these rashes were WHACK. They became extremely itchy and unsightly and I wanted to die inside in so many ways. I thought I would have to call Stevie and be like “Hey, sorry for giving you mono but I actually think it might be Super AIDS, and we might have to go to Indonesia for a cure, lol bye.” But another trip to health services turned up a few answers.
First they said “Uhh…I think I know what this is….” then “Oh my God, WHAT is the name for it!” and then finally they told me it actually was just a skin condition that was a side effect to the mono. They said I was perfectly fine and that just “cosmetologically” it was an eyesore. UHM HELLO DO THEY KNOW ME. MY COSMETOLOGY IS ALL I HAVE.
So I ended up passing on mono, probably knowingly, to a friend. And so I ended up thinking I got a strange STD from it. It happens, right? I’m still friends with Stevie today, but I only see him every so often because he goes to a different school and we’re kinda not in the same friend circle. And I have to admit, it’s always a little awkward. I don’t think he wants anything more than a friendship, and of course neither do I. His sheets still smell, I’m assuming. But I couldn’t help feel a little burned from it all.
Maybe there was something there or something could have been there, but I blew it all in a moment of weakness, and probably got a really bad skin rash because of it. I still felt bad about the whole thing. The whole time I was thinking how dirty and unkempt Stevie was, how he seemed like a nice guy but not the kind I could expect much from. And then it turns out, it was ME who passed along to him a very embarrassing virus. My first real life experience with shame. Who knew one little social disease could cause such an outbreak? I guess what I learned from it is to not go opening my mouth where it doesn’t belong. Because no one is immune.