A Pill I Still Remember

ნატალია ავალიანი / აპრილი
I made some of the notes about the start of the HIV treatment later on. The stories are told the way I remembered them. Perhaps my mind has exaggerated some things, but accuracy is not the goal of the text. Big part of the thinking at that time was based on misconceptions.

— Are you here for the Covid test?

— No, you know, I…

— AIDS? — she interrupts me with a whisper.

— Yes — I say, barely audible.

— Over there, at the end of the corridor, the door is open — she points with her hand.

I walk and stop in front of an open door, a patient is sitting in front of a nurse in a white coat.

— Close that door — says the nurse when she sees me. I move my hand towards the door, the patient appears in front of me in a second, stares at me with bloodshot eyes and closes the door.

— Come now! — She sees the patient out and calls me, — Close the door if you want.

I close it.

— Well, what brings you here?

— You know, I…

She asks for my last name and starts digging through the documents, not stopping.

— You have a strange last name, I’ve never heard of it. are you a Khevsurian?

— No, you know…

She lifts her glasses up to her nose and looks into my eyes.

— You’ve had unprotected sex.

— No, it’s been a long time…

— How not! What is the virus doing in the blood then?

— You know, last year only once…

— With a man?

— Yes.

— It would have been better if you didn’t have it.

I don’t know what to say, I crack my knuckles.

— Perhaps, — I finally say.

— Now you will go up to the second floor and take an additional test, room 316.

I go up to the second floor, open my fist, my hands are white. I knock and enter.


I don’t remember those days very well. I soon found out what my HIV status was.

— It is a big pill, it will be difficult for you to swallow. Drink a lot of water with it, the doctor warned me.

They gave me huge white pills enough for one month and released me. Those pills were rattling in my breast pocket, and maybe, when I looked at the people passing by, I even thought that the noise gave me away.

Taking the first pill was like a ritual. I already knew about the possible effects, anxious dreams, dizziness, weakness, changes in the mood, other minor or major side effects. I put the white pill on my hand, looked at it, looked at the inscription, put it on my tongue, tasted it, and I even felt disappointment that it was not bitter. The pill changed sides when I swallowed it, and scratched my throat, drew its own silhouette on the walls, and disappeared into the tract. I remember that moment clearly to this day.

At night, I dreamed of distorted, terrifying versions of reality, I woke up wet sweating, when I got out of bed, the room turned before my eyes, and for a second I even thought I was still dreaming. I spent the next days lying in an armchair, I was not in the mood for anything, and even the slightest noise annoyed me so much, I thought I would not be able to control my behavior and words and I would ruin everything with my friends, who did not stop trying to help me. I said a lot of bitter words. They probably remember the rudeness, but nothing has changed. I got every side effect of the medicine. It was bad luck.

The fact that I considered myself a cliché — “a queer who got the virus” did not help me feel better either. [Misconceptions, lies about the connection between the virus and sexual orientation are powerful to this day].


Two weeks passed like this. At first, I started rewatching movies about HIV and AIDS I had already seen. I started with Longtime Companion — the movie that gave me initial knowledge. The story of the friendship and love moved me again, mutual care and losses affected me once more. I also remembered other movies I had seen — Philadelphia, Dallas Buyers Club, Angels in America, 120 Beats per Minute and many other bad and good works. But I didn’t watch anything beyond Longtime Companion until the end — every movie bothered me somehow, like I was being cheated.

Mutual care was similar in all these films, but over the years, even from a young age, my mind caught and remembered the weakness of the body, the fading away of it, the despair, the hopelessness of people invisible, insignificant to the political system, the expectation of death and the inevitable death that united almost all works.

My, our perception is still fed by the faces, news, experiences of the 80’s. Maybe we even know clearly that the storm has passed, most of the myths have been dispelled, and we know that it is wrong to fear that the virus spreads by sharing dishes, kisses, living together, or however silly it might sound, by mosquito bites. However, the “black plague” settled in our minds, and our anxiety is decades old.

I let go of the movies and sat down to read from the pages of various publications, research organizations, and read a few blogs here and there — numbers, numbers, numbers again and information about side events, campaigns that are gutted out, and the experiences of people with a positive status are only seen in the background, rarely.

What is the daily life of an HIV-positive person, what challenges do we face, how do we change and shape our self-perception, which should no longer be relevant today, what is today’s fear and what should you expect if you decide to talk openly or share with the people around you — everything was overshadowed by the “more interesting” general information.


“You’re dangerous”, “it’s a shame”, “don’t set your foot in our house again”, “people will hate us”, — and many other things my aunt managed to say during a 10-minute video call. From word to word, my heartbreak changed into peace. Finally, I hung up on her calmly and sent her to the list of blocked people. It was on that day, when after a month of thinking, I decided that I had nothing to hide.

When I downloaded dating apps again, I also listed on my profile that I was HIV positive and my levels of the virus in my blood was undetectable.

Undetectable = Untransmittable

Half of the messages were status questions — “How long has it been?” [I don’t even know why it matters], “How do you feel?”, “What are the symptoms?”, “You can get it even during protected sex, right?”. I answered all the questions in a throughout way, explained the lies and truths, and at the end of the conversation, I encouraged them to still protect themselves during sex and/or to get enrolled in the PrEP program. I still remember one person who wrote me — he was 21 years old, saying he wanted to have sex, but hadn’t had it yet, because he was afraid. I hope my multi-text conversation about anxiety created by past perceptions and social stigma helped him.

I remember two other guys. I was texting one of them at the time when I found out about my status, and we went to the cinema once. The news didn’t change anything, but he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t reply to unopened messages for days, how hard it was for me to even have casual conversations with people. We ended the relationship with two long messages. The second guy appeared months later, I told him about the status on the date, and when, after the first cautious reaction, he used the word “illness” in the conversation afterwards, I realized that I didn’t have the energy to tell him more, to point it out to him.

The pills were first white, then pink, now they are blue — once, the virus developed resistance to the medicine, but I immediately took another pill and suppressed it again, the second time they just changed the packaging, but who cares about the design of the pill?! In this process, I thought more about my health, I started to observe my body — I was able to recognize the hints made about reactions, rebellion, processes taking place in the body (or maybe, I just think so).


How many idiotic things I thought about because of the perceptions I had. Some of them still appear — some as laughter, some as disappointment, and taking the pill in the evening is just a routine. There is a bedstand (actually, a chair) next to my bed, a bottle and a large glass of water are on it. Before going to bed, I put one pill on my hand, put it on my tongue, drink a lot of water and think, how good it is, thanks to my blue friend, that if I can’t fall asleep soon, I won’t be able to sneak into the kitchen like a criminal in search of a snack — you can’t eat before or after taking the medicine.