Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The weight of the wait.

"The waiting is the hardest part."
-Tom Petty

How do you feel about the term, "You've got no choice?"

Is it accurate? You've always got a choice, right?

Except when you've got no choice.

Sunday night, my brood and I gathered around the cretin cube to watch the latest installment in ESPN's superb 30 for 30 series, entitled, "The Announcement."

The show chronicled the story behind Earvin "Magic" Johnson's 1991 revelation that he had been infected with the HIV virus. Through personal accounts both past and current, Johnson's tale of humiliation, ostrecization and ultimately courage, painted an image of a flawed man whose behavior led to his condition, yet who chose to regain his footing and represent the human face of HIV.

During commercials, I tried to explain to my kids what a huge event this was, how HIV/AIDS had predominately been considered a "gay" problem prior to Johnson and how many didn't understand how the disease is transmitted.

More personally, we discussed consequences.

Before the press conference and the lights and cameras and public displays of support, before the public fallout and ignorance of his fellow players, Magic Johnson had to do something else:

He had to tell his wife...who had just learned she was pregnant with their first child.

Johnson described the drive home after his doctor had informed him of the diagnosis. Time stood still as he traversed the streets of Los Angeles; disbelief, shock, overwhelming guilt.

How could he tell her? He sat in the driveway for seconds, for minutes, for hours. He really wasn't sure how long.

Most of us haven't born the responsibility of inflicting that magnitude of pain on a spouse or partner, yet we've all had moments where we've wallowed in the quicksand while waiting to break some news which we knew would rock someone's world.

Agony, unbridled agony.

Again, I don't wish to compare any obstacle I've ever faced with informing my wife that I'd been unfaithful, had contracted the virus which causes AIDS, and oh yeah, there's a chance that she and our percolating child may also be carrying it.

Nope, not even close.

Yet everyone can recall a few occasions where, after churning sleeplessly, they compelled themselves to initiate a conversation which would undoubtedly result in emotional trauma to the recipient.

I vividly recollect breaking up with my college girlfriend. It was one of those relationships which lasted about twice as long as it really should have, and finally I awoke one morning hell-bent on doing the deed.

Feeling buoyant and confident with my new found resolve, I bounded out of my apartment that morning. Yet, after playing out the scenario endlessly while riding the bus to her neighborhood, each step closer to her sorority eroded my spirits and compounded the dread. By the time I had stepped up to the oaken door of the female-filled mansion, my legs shook beneath me.

To exacerbate my anxiety, I was told that she was still in class and to "go ahead and have a seat in the living room. She'll be her in about twenty minutes."

By the time she walked through that front door, I was a quivering jar of testosterone preserves, so I just blurted it out in the foyer: "I want to break up."

Then it got ugly. She clung to me, weeping and sobbing and causing a huge scene in this very public area. She screamed, she pleaded.

Her sorority sisters looked on, their eyes burning homicidal blow darts into my forehead.

I pried her fingers off my neck and triceps and backed out the door. She stood there, wailing. I turned, walked, jogged and sprinted away.

Not a good scene. Usually, the anticipation of such a situation proves to be worse than the actual event...but not in this case.

Things did eventually work out. She tracked me down the following Monday outside one of my classes and we talked about it in an empty classroom before parting ways with considerably less fanfare.  I think she's married now, with a couple of kids and living in Texas or something.

As for Earvin Johnson, he's an HIV survivor and an ambassador who has continued to promote awareness and education about a disease which affects so many. The real hero, however, is his wife Cookie, who stood by him in the face of so much humiliation, judgment and uncertainty.

And her unborn child? His name is Earvin Johnson III, he's nineteen years old and both he and his mother tested negative for the HIV virus.

All of us, at some point in our existence, must step onto that emotional on-deck circle where we take a few practice swings before stepping up to the plate.

My advice is to swing at the first pitch.

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