Ten years on Steve talks about the relationship that changed his life in a letter entitled ‘Dear M,’
This is a letter I never thought I would be able to write, indeed, it has taken me almost 10 years to get to a point where, finally, I am able to say your name and not feel as though a blade is cutting into my heart.
You’ve had, to date at least, the biggest impact of any of my prior relationships and I am starting to come to terms with the way things panned out.
Writing this letter did not turn out how I expected, but is, perhaps surprisingly, a very accurate reflection of how I feel.
It starts with a thank you. Does that surprise you?
When we met, I was 18, you were in your early thirties if I remember correctly? I was working in a gift shop in the town where we both lived and, though I knew I wanted to try getting in to teaching, I had no real drive.
You and I first met when you came in to the shop, we then started chatting online and a short time later, started dating and then sleeping together.
It’s been nearly a decade, but I can still remember our first kiss. I remember the way your stubble felt against my cheek, I remember your lips, your voice and your deep brown eyes.
I also remember the sex. It was passionate, it was fiery and it set the bar high. With you, my body became a guitar that you strummed, riffed and in the end, played.
It came as no surprise to me, when I found out that you were also sleeping with friends of mine. I’ll admit I was surprised you didn’t think I’d realise. The gay scene in our town was, to say the least, small, – you must have known that we all knew each other?
I had known for a while that you had a sexual appetite even I would struggle to satisfy and I knew that, in the long term, ours was not likely to be a relationship that would endure, but it still hurt.
Whether you intended it or not, I learnt self-respect in that moment. I realised that I didn’t deserve to be messed around with, or lied too. We split up, but stayed in touch.
Then, within a few months, I was diagnosed with HIV. Knowing you had messed about, I had gone to the clinic just in case, – I wanted to get checked out. It was then that I learnt about my inner strength.
My diagnosis also drove me to pursue my goals, – I sought out work in schools – I learnt how to be resourceful and to grab opportunities as they arose.
Somewhere along the path though, I got lost, I became afraid. That meant that I made poor choices, I ran away from my family, my friends, I isolated myself because, though I knew how to handle a change in my life, I didn’t know how to live with it. – so, I hid away until I could make sense of it, and so that I could have time to learn.
I lost some of my strength through fear and uncertainty and it took a good few years before it came back. But, with my friends, my family and with love I found that strength again.
So here I am. I’m now nearly 30 myself, I have a job I love, I have found deep reserves of resilience and perseverance.
So I want to thank you, not because I owe you anything, but because of what happened, I learned a lot about myself. My life changed, but, ultimately, it has changed for the better.
I may never understand what happened, or why – and I may never understand why you were never honest with me, or your other sexual partners, – I know some of them fared much worse than others at what followed. I may never understand that. But as I get older, I am realising that I don’t need to understand it, – I just need to accept that it happened.
I wanted you to know that I forgive you, because without you and without the HIV, I would never have pushed myself, further and harder to get to where I am. A place of safety and security.
You changed the course of my life and even though we were together a relatively short time – in the years that followed I learnt so much about myself without ever realising it.
Ten years on, I can say that time heals even the deepest wounds and though there are scars that will never heal fully, you just have to strengthen the rest of the body around that scar. I am stronger.
I may not owe you my life, but I certainly owe you for helping me change its direction.
If we ever meet again some day, I may even be able to look you in the eye.
(You can follow Steve on Twitter as @SteveoftheMarch)
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