Dirty, Poz, Faggot, G.R.I.D: pseudonyms for the boy I don’t want to be. Gay-related. Gay-related. I don’t want to be gay-related. I don’t want to be human-immunodeficient either. I don’t want to be in this I.D. clinic reading Tiny Beautiful Things, a book of collected advice columns, a bible that replaced my bible, turning random pages as if I can divine an answer by believing I can find it. But there are no columns in this book for what I’m facing, no answer to the question parading through my head. Why didn’t I ask him to pull himself out? His desperate whisper: yearning panting pleading know the pleasure of filling another man’s body: Can I? Can I? Can I come inside? My answer, a mere stutter of an answer, the tug of his body on mine as I spoke some unspoken yes, yes, please, please, because there’s a cavity in my body. There’s a cavity in my body where I fill myself up with men so I don’t have to be


alone. And it’s a tiny, beautiful thing isn’t it: to be so numb when the doctor tells me I’ve tested positive, when we try to map the virus and who gave it to me and when, when she tells me the original symptoms would have felt like flu, so I need to think back and see if I can remember a time I felt sick without knowing why. And so I think back, and I talk about my twenty-eighth birthday and how I had planned a birthday trip to the coast before summer ended, and I tell her about how I got sick the day before I was supposed to leave, and I give her the same checklist of symptoms I once made for another doctor—the one who tested me for flu and COVID-19 and then COVID-19 again because it didn’t make sense for it to not be COVID-19 with symptoms of exhaustion, headache, nausea, my body cracking burning breaking beneath my fevered skin, and I am getting so tired of these questions: do you use protection during intercourse; do you use condoms; is that by choice; who did you have unprotected sex with recently; was it with a stranger; do you remember his name; did you have intercourse with him two or three weeks before you got sick; did you penetrate him or did he penetrate you; did you ask for his status; is there a reason you didn’t ask for his status. Some thick air slips between us when I tell her I just wanted to be


filled, and the doctor nods as if my feelings make sense—as if any of this makes any sense—and she tells me about how those flu-like symptoms are evidence that my body tried to save me—my body tried to save me—my body tried overheating, pressurizing, contracting, expanding, cracking, crafting walls with cells like bricks on sand to hold the infection at bay, and I feel some kind of warmth spread like butter beneath my skin because it’s another beautiful thing, isn’t it: how my body tried to save me, and yet I waiver at her words and steel myself for what comes next because I just want to run away, I just want to run away and become someone new. And when she asks me what I’m feeling I can only tell her I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what to feel or how to feel or if I can feel at all: my hands are numb, my feet are numb, this retracted circulation I inherited from my mother, and between my legs I twine my fingers to create the heat I crave, push my palms together as if can remember how to pray; I tell the doctor I don’t know how I feel, but I do know what I know, and when she asks me what I know, I tell her I know my body tried to save me—I know my body fought—I know my body fought my body—you say my body fought—and all I know if this is true—that my body fought my body—all this really means to me is my body—my body—lost.



Andrew Romriell is a Utah born writer, photographer, and teacher. His work has appeared in New Delta Review, Great River Review, South 85, Tinge Magazine and elsewhere. He was the recipient of the Vandewater Poetry Award in 2022, and he earned first prize in the 2021 Utah Original Writing Competition for a creative nonfiction book. When not writing, he can be found cuddling with his cat or reorganizing the living room furniture again.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore