When the hygienist asked the question, I was supine, riding the wave of the undulating chair, eager to have my teeth cleaned. It was my first appointment with a new dentist. I’m a freak. I’ve always enjoyed visiting the dentist. When my former dentist stopped taking my insurance, my common-law husband Michael said, “Try my guy, Dr. Flowers*. I’ve seen him for years and he takes our insurance.”
With the still-pristine paper bib chained around my neck, I stared at the fluorescent-cool ceiling like a baby waiting to be fed, lulled by the sfft-sfft-sfft air-cutting sounds my medical intake forms made as Lisa, the hygienist, flipped through them. The page flipping abruptly stopped. The room went silent. I glanced over at Lisa. She cut a lithe figure in her dental whites, her stiffened back to me. She was in freeze-frame staring down at the clipboard holding my papers, a George Segal sculpture. Not looking at me, she said, “You’re HIV-positive?” She asked the question in the register one might ask, “You’re a convicted felon?”
The comedian in me wanted to say, “No, just kidding! That’s the kind of thing I joke about all the time.” She had not placed that lead x-ray apron upon me—the opposite of a life vest, the way it sinks instead of buoys—but my chest caved like she had piled on 10 of them. I also had a déjà vu feeling of shame, the provenance of which I couldn’t summon.