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Cheating Death

Cheating Death

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I am dead. Well, I guess dying is a bit more accurate. And no, this is not an attempt at being melodramatic about the fact that I am infected with an incurable virus with a deadly legacy (although my thoughts do tend to lean toward the dramatic; it took all my strength not to use the word plague). In fact, my death has nothing to with HIV. I boast a 700-plus T-cell count and an undetectable viral load. I have no 'buffalo hump,' no sunken cheeks, and no tingling in my toes. I have been on medication for almost two years now and have never suffered from diarrhea, loss of appetite, or strange and vivid dreams. I could very well be the poster boy for living well with HIV; except, of course, that I'm not. I am unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and unmotivated. I'm brilliant, handsome, healthy, and useless. I find myself constantly looking out onto this perfect world of light, color, movement, and magic and still not discovering anything powerful enough to drive me to action. Aimless. Lost. Dead. I think there is something missing, some existential question that hasn't yet been answered. Two years ago I was in a hospital bed at 5P21, the historic AIDS ward in the Los Angeles County hospital system, surrounded by the ghosts of my GRID-infected brothers, my confused and scared mother, and some guy who had let syphilis reach his brain. I had dropped down to 150 pounds, was covered in lesions, was left with a T-cell count of only 82, and had a multitude of 'curious' infections playing throughout my body. I was homeless, spiritually bankrupt, addicted to crystal meth, and dying of AIDS. I had never felt better! And no, that is not an attempt at sarcasm (although my banter does tend to lean toward homosexual wit; it took all my strength not to use the word fabulous). It was like a switch had been flipped, and now that I was dying, I finally had something to live for. There was a shift in my perspective, and I became perfectly flawed, beautifully broken, a priceless masterpiece made more precious by its cracks. And after ignoring strong recommendations for almost five years, I took my medication. I took inventory of who I was, who I had become, and who I wanted to be. I invested in my life and the lives of those around me. I asked for help, and I prayed. I prayed a lot. And as I embarked on my journey to becoming better, it became the best time of my life. If my life were made into a film, this would cue the rehabilitation montage of somber doctor visits, tear-filled conversations, and nights of fighting the cravings with clenched fists until finally there is nothing but laughter, smiles, and me standing boldly with my back against the wind. As the pills worked, so did I. I began to write and perform, I volunteered, and I even joined a gym. I felt like my own personal 'Fight AIDS' campaign. I wanted to prove that we could win. And I did. But now what? Two years later I'm running on automatic. I am complacent, uninspired, and no longer fighting for my life, so I've started to die again. But this virus has taught me some things--some tricks at cheating death. I wonder if they'll work as well if I use them for living life. Saucier is a writer, performance artist with a focus on theatrical activism, and blogger (MySpace.com/BeautyInMyEyes) who lives in Los Angeles. Through workshops and performance, he cultivates his personal histories in a public voice that echoes themes of gay minority identity, neopositive perspective, queer faith, and the crystal meth epidemic.

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