Important Notice: This series includes content unsuitable for individuals under the age of 16. The material encompasses, but is not limited to, strong language, drug use, sexually explicit content, suicidal attempts, and violent themes. Reader discretion is strongly advised.
Legal Disclaimer: The events and particulars depicted herein are drawn from the recollection, imagination, and personal diaries of Sarah Markham-Hall spanning the years 2001 to 2010. Certain scenes are fictionalized and dramatized for content and may not accurately reflect the true sequence or occurrence of events. Names and locations have been modified to safeguard the privacy of individuals involved. No harm or injury was inflicted upon anyone during the writing of this novel.
15 Months Earlier
The last thing on my mind, as I found myself in a compromising position with Mike Mitchell, wasn’t the physical act of having sex, but rather the curiosity about whether Mike would allow things to progress that far. It’s accurate to say that Mike Mitchell was my first genuine boyfriend. Granted, our relationship was quite messed up, but he was the first guy I can honestly say I had feelings for. I’m not certain if my feelings toward him were sexual in nature; nevertheless, I genuinely cared about him. In that moment, from Mike’s perspective, I may have seemed like nothing more than a self-centered individual who prioritized her values and opinions above all else. Perhaps, in a way, he had every right to hold that belief.
“Ann, please, stop,” Mike uttered as he pulled away and gently pushed me off him. “I can’t do this,” he admitted.
“Of course, you can’t,” I replied with a smile as I settled beside him on the bed. “The very idea of being intimate with me repulses you, and that’s completely fine,” I added.
“No, that’s not it,” he protested.
“Mike, you’re gay, and your life would be so much simpler if you just acknowledged it to yourself,” I said, wrapping my arm around him. “It’s okay,” I whispered into his ear, planting a kiss on his cheek.
After a long silence between the two of us Mike finally pulled away from my grasp as he turned to me and said those three words that would forever change everything. “I’m HIV positive,” he said. “Having sex with you does not disgusts me. I love you Ann Mathews, and if I could, I would take you in my arms right now and make love to you, but I can’t Ann, because I’m positive,” he explained looking down at his trembling hands.
Life remains inherently unpredictable. Even the finest education and upbringing can’t fully equip a person for the challenges and turmoil they may inevitably encounter. If someone had foretold that, by the age of sixteen, I would become entangled in the dark world I would soon find myself in, I would have laughed in their face. Until now, I had maintained a flawless academic record as a straight-A student, with my sole act of rebellion being that I kissed a member of the same sex. However, it was on the first day of my freshman year at Lakeworth High School that Ms. Kathy, my Freshman English teacher, shared the following insight: “High school transforms a person, serving as the foundation for the rest of your life. Your actions, the company you keep, and the memories you create in the next four years will shape and mold you for years to come. In essence, make the most of your high school experience.”
“Making the most of my high school experience? Is that some twisted joke?” I sarcastically muttered under my breath. When Ms. Kathy uttered those words in my fourth-period English class during my freshman year, I didn’t grasp the gravity of her message. However, she was undeniably accurate. High school indeed plays a pivotal role in shaping individuals. It’s the friendships, connections, and experiences that ultimately mold us into the people we become. If I had never crossed paths with Mike Mitchell, I am confident that the subsequent events wouldn’t have unfolded as they did.
“What?” I asked in utter disbelief. “Really?” I laughed. “They have now convinced you that being gay is an automatic death sentence?” I exclaimed. “Just because you have had sex with a man does not make you automatically HIV positive!” I stated in anger. “You are gay, Mike Mitchell! When are you ever going to admit that to yourself?”
“Ann, this isn’t some joke,” Mike said looking up at me. “I went to the doctor. I have HIV, and I got it from having sex with men!”
“You’re fifteen years old, Mike! Fifteen year olds don’t get HIV!” I yelled in both ignorance and fear.
“There are babies born with HIV!” he exclaimed. “And yes, a fifteen-year-old who carelessly had unprotected sex with a man way older than him is totally suspectable to contracting the disease,” he said.
“But how? Mike, this doesn’t make any sense! You have been gone from Lakeworth for six months and in those six months you never once mentioned that you have been sexually active with any man. In fact, all you have said the past six months is how you have been trying to de-gay yourself because God forbid you or your Christian loving family admit your true sexuality!” I said in return.
“When I went to visit my mom last summer I hooked up with this older kid. All it takes is one mistake,” Mike replied.
I gazed at Mike, feeling as though time had slowed, uncertain about how to react. How does one respond when their fifteen-year-old best friend and ex-boyfriend reveals that they have one of the world’s most deadly diseases?
The relationship between Mike Mitchell and me was intricate right from the beginning. I had met Mike in eighth-grade choir at Lakeworth Middle School two years earlier. To an outsider, it seemed like Mike and I should have been THE couple—the homecoming queen and king, the envy of everyone even two decades after high school graduation. We had initial plans, aspirations for college and beyond. To be honest, if the concept of homosexuality had never entered the conversation, we might have grown up and grown old together, raised a family, and lived the picturesque life often portrayed in movies. Yet, reality reminds us that those idyllic lives are reserved for the big screen.
When I initially met Mike, we embodied the typical boyfriend-girlfriend dynamic. I’d characterize our connection as puppy love, as we were two young teenagers navigating the journey of self-discovery in this vast world. What distinguished Mike and me from other teenage couples was the fact that Mike was simultaneously involved in another relationship—with a guy named Dean Borr. He was a year younger than both Mike and me. We got to know Dean through Mike’s parents. Dean was a sweet kid, flirtatious, and always eager to explore new things. In the summer of 2001, Mike confided in me about his bisexuality. Prior to moving to Lakeworth in late 2000, he had his first sexual experience with a guy and said he rather enjoyed it. Mike told me he still liked me, but on the side he fooled around with Dean, and I let him.
Before meeting Mike, I had never encountered the terms homosexuality or being gay. I was raised in a relatively conservative household. Adopted at the age of one by my biological grandfather, Richard Mathews, and his wife, Judith, I was taken away from my drug addicted parents by the courts and placed in their care. I call them my parents because they are the only parental figures I’ve ever known. My biological parents had no involvement with me after losing custody.
I was raised in a traditional family environment with values that reflected those traditions. Despite my parents’ claims of being liberal Democrats who voted for Bill Clinton in both the 94 and 96 elections, many people perceived them as rather conservative. Prior to meeting Mike, my understanding of a family was rooted in the conventional idea of a mom and a dad. The notion that two men or two women could form a family was unfamiliar to me. As I delved into the meaning of homosexuality and discovered the dedicated culture surrounding it, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the concept. Homosexuality became a new fascination for me, akin to a drug.
While Mike grappled with understanding his sexuality, simultaneously dating me and seeing Dean on the side, I, in turn, developed an interest in women. Reflecting on elementary school, I recalled finding my female teachers more attractive than the male ones. Additionally, I remembered a time when Mike and I experimented on his bed, realizing that I didn’t enjoy it as much. The topic of homosexuality became a source of amusement for me.
As I reflected on the relationship between Mike and me over the past two years, my mind drifted back to December of 2001. It was during this time that, unexpectedly, being gay or bisexual—whichever term he was using—became unacceptable for Mike.
“So, any plans for Christmas? And spare me the story about visiting your mother in Georgia,” I remarked with an eye roll, as Mike, Amber Brooks, and I sat in the library of Lake Worth High School, gearing up for our first Christmas break as high school students.
“Ann, we need to talk,” Mike said with a serious tone. “I have something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it.”
“Oh, dear lord,” I sighed. “Please, if it has anything to do with you not being gay anymore, I don’t want to hear it,” I exclaimed. Towards the end of our relationship, it seemed that the only thing truly connecting us was our shared sexuality. I cared for Mike, I looked up to him, but if I were honest, the part of him I truly cared for and admired was the gay part.
Mike was raised in a deeply religious setting. Until 2002, he resided in Lakeworth with his father and stepmother, both devout Christians. A few weeks prior to Christmas break, he had come out to them as gay, and it didn’t go well. Subsequently, Mike found himself not only questioning his faith but also his sexuality.
“Look, if you don’t want to hear about my problems when I constantly listen to yours, then why are we even together?” Mike questioned.
“Well, if you’re going to have such an attitude about us, then fine. Why are we even dating?” I asked angrily. Mike and I had gone through numerous breakups in the past several months, and I had lost track of which number this breakup made.
“Oh, here we go again,” Amber said with an eye roll.
“This time, I mean it. It’s over, Ann! I want our friendship to endure, but a long-distance relationship will never succeed,” Mike sighed.
“Long-distance relationship?” I questioned, feeling perplexed.
“If you had let me talk earlier, I could have told you. I’m moving in with my mother during Christmas break.”
“What?” I exclaimed in pure shock.
“I had a fight with my dad and stepmom last night. Afterward, I made the decision to go live with my mother to straighten my life out,” Mike explained.
“What did you two fight about that was so crucial that you’re deciding to move away?” I exclaimed.
“I was on the computer playing Diablo. My dad wanted the computer, but I was in the middle of my game…” Mike began to explain the situation.
“You got into a fight over a trivial video game on the computer?” I laughed, interrupting him. “You have got to be kidding me!”
“Let me finish,” Mike said impatiently. “Next thing I know; my stepmom walks into the room and suggests that my attitude and disrespect must come with my sexuality. Then I get upset and say how being bisexual is affecting them, and that if they have such a problem with it, maybe I shouldn’t live with them.”
“You mean you finally admitted to yourself and your parents that you’re gay?” I questioned.
“After the fight, my stepmom and I talked, and we decided that moving to a different environment would be better for all of us. I called my mom last night as well and told her about my feelings…”
“That’s good. It’s about time you admit it to them,” I said, interrupting again.
“She’s going to help me out with them,” he continued.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“It means, with enough prayer, I won’t have these feelings anymore. I don’t like them. Being gay, bisexual, or whatever you wish to call it, is not part of God’s plan.”
“Oh, are you serious?” I exclaimed. “Why can’t you see it’s okay? If your God made you this way, then why would he want you to change?”
“That’s just it, Ann. God didn’t make me this way; humanity did.”
“Okay, fine!” I said, growing angrier at his attitude of a devout Christian boy. “You go live with your mother, the woman who hasn’t cared for you in thirteen years. Don’t forget, she’s the one who kidnapped you when you were a baby!” I yelled, referring to the story his dad once shared about how his mother tried to abduct him after his father gained full custody following their divorce.
“My dad talks nonsense! She didn’t kidnap me!”
“No, she just took you halfway across the country and changed your name for nothing,” I said with complete sarcasm.
“Ann, you just don’t want me to go! That’s all it is. Your own selfish reasons want me to stay.”
“Yes, Mike, excuse me for loving you and caring!”
“If you really loved me, you’d let me go.”
“Then go,” I said just as the bell signaled the start of the first hour.
Christmas break came and went, and as promised, Mike went to live with his mother thousands of miles away. Since leaving, Mike and I had engaged in numerous fights, all revolving around the same topics: his homosexuality and his mother. From my perspective, his mother had somehow convinced Mike that being gay was a horrible sin he must rid himself of. From Mike’s perspective, his mother was just trying to save him and cleanse him of his sins.
I never considered myself a religious individual. During my childhood, I attended church sporadically—maybe once a month and on major holidays—but I was never truly committed to it. I often found myself questioning many aspects of the Christian faith, making it difficult for me to fully embrace it. The moment I learned about the Christian religion’s stance on homosexuality, I promptly declared myself an Atheist. Consequently, Mike’s internal struggle between good and evil was something I couldn’t comprehend.
This summer, Mike returned to Lakeworth in an attempt to mend our seemingly irreparable friendship. However, I would soon discover that our friendship wasn’t the sole reason for his return. He also came back to share a profound revelation with me: he was HIV positive.
“You and I were in a relationship last summer, so that implies you cheated on me with this other guy,” I said, finally breaking the silence that lingered between us.
“What does it matter? I cheated on you with Dean Borr for almost the entire duration of our relationship right in front of you. That never seemed to bother you!”
“Well, that’s different. It’s Dean Borr,” I replied.
“How is that different?” Mike asked. “I thought you and I were just in a relationship for the sake of saying we were. Come on, Ann, we all know you and I were just a joke!”
“That’s not true!” I retorted. “I care about you!”
“Yes, you care about me as long as I fit into your perfect little gay mold.”
“Gay mold? What is that supposed to mean?” I asked with frustration in my voice.
“Ann, I understand that you want me to embrace being gay, and I acknowledge that you genuinely believe there’s nothing wrong with it. However, there is, Ann. I have HIV because it’s my punishment for having sexual intercourse with men.”
“What? Are you kidding me?” I asked once again, disbelieving the words that were coming out of Mike’s mouth.
“I’m HIV positive. If I had never given in to temptation, slept with men, and disobeyed the will of God, I never would have contracted HIV.”
“You genuinely believe that, don’t you?” I sighed, shaking my head in doubt. “If that’s the case, Mike, what about those babies born with HIV? Does God punish innocent children too?”
“No, He punishes their mother. It’s supposed to be a lesson learned.”
“So a baby born with HIV is a lesson? How cruel and messed up does that sound? How can you even believe in something as twisted as the Christian faith?” I asked with anger. “So now what?” I sighed. “Now that you have HIV, what are you going to do? Does God have some plan laid out for you?” I asked sarcastically.
“I pray. I pray that he forgives me, and I spend the remaining time I have on this earth devoted to him.”
“Answer me this, Mike. What kind of God gives a fifteen-year-old HIV?” I asked angrily. “If your God goes around giving HIV to teenagers and babies, then I don’t ever want to know your God.”
I sighed in frustration as I rose from my bed and walked out of the room, heading into the computer room down the hall. I switched on the computer and pulled up my livejournal. My usual routine was to write a short recap of the day’s events in my online journal every night. However, tonight I was at a loss for words. Instead of creating a new entry for the day, I navigated to my July 2002 archive and reread the entry from the night prior—the night before I found out Mike was HIV positive.
Wrote On Saturday, July 20th, 2002
These past couple of days have been quite interesting. Yesterday, Mike, Amber, Alley, and I went to watch ‘Eight Legged Freaks.’ It was a pretty intense yet cool movie. After the movie, Mike came over and spent the night, resulting in one of those memorable nights. The thing about Mike is that he’s funny, one of my best friends, and a cool guy. However, simultaneously, he can be ignorant, disrespectful, selfish, and an annoying little brat.
We kicked off the night playing cards with my mom and dad. It was a fun time filled with laughter and good-natured teasing. I enjoyed that moment; I was genuinely glad Mike had come over for the night. After the card game, we moved to my room where Mike expressed an interest in painting. So, he painted while I sat on the bed and observed. (I’m not much of an ‘art’ person.) Nonetheless, we engaged in some of those extended, deep conversations.
Some of the things he says simply astound me. In my view, there are TWO facets of Mike.
ONE – The devout Christian who, in his belief, deems only straight, white, Christian, and male individuals as the truly good humans in this world.
The SECOND Mike: The gay/bisexual (whichever label he prefers) who has sex for the pleasure of it. Who doesn’t care about feelings only pleasure with a guy. And the gay/bisexual who loves fucking Asian/black/Latino- Anything BUT white. Now if you ask me that is VERY hypocritical of him.
Those are the two different Mikes. One day he is Christian loving, next he is men fucking. Now you tell me how messed up that is??
Anyway, we were seated on my bed engaged in a conversation about politics, the war, and world peace. He asserted, “There will always be wars happening somewhere every day of our lives,” based on his belief derived from the Bible, suggesting that world peace is an unattainable goal. I don’t share that view. I believe that someday all wars will cease. Despite our differences, I hold onto the hope that wars will eventually come to an end. It’s individuals like Mike who leave us with no hope. If you desire something strongly enough, pursue it. Who cares about what the Bible says? We need to nurture hope and strive for peace in the world; otherwise, life seems pointless.
We also discussed Bush. I expressed my aspiration to see a black, woman, or gay president someday. Mike countered with THREE points: ONE, there will never be a gay president, even if gays can get married; TWO, a woman will never be president because men prefer superiority over women; and THREE (which infuriates me), there will never be a black president because whites will NEVER work for a black man. I hope someone proves him wrong in his lifetime. I hope we do have a black president or a woman (while a gay one might be less likely, I can still hope). In any case, I just hope someone refutes his statements. Mike has no right to make such assertions. He isn’t black, and he’ll never comprehend the experiences of being black, a woman, or gay. Yes, Mike is gay, but he lacks respect for the LGBTQ+ community. He laughed in my face when I shared the story of Matthew Shepard. He holds no respect for anyone except whites, Christians, straights, and males. He simply doesn’t care, and that’s what infuriates me. He talks too much nonsense!
h, and then, I told him he was ‘femme’ (because he is), and he claimed it’s because he wants women to like him. So he chose to be femme. ONE: You don’t choose to be femme; it’s reflected in your attitude. TWO: Personally, when I see a femme guy, I automatically assume they’re gay (which he is, but he’s too ignorant to admit it). Three: He mentioned being femme to avoid becoming like his dad, a selfish, disrespectful, ignorant person. Mike is essentially his dad but with a more feminine demeanor. Perhaps he needs to acknowledge that he is his dad’s child. Anyway, I just needed to express all this. Not that I would ever tell Mike personally because I have the respect and dignity as a human being not to say these things to his face. I write it down to get it off my chest.
Well, I better go. Will write more later!