By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Romances begin in all sorts of ways. Some are sweet. Some are strange. And some are ... well, a little bit of both. Take Lisa (not her real name) and me. We met at Kaiser Permanente on Geary. The Kaiser blood lab, to be specific. It went something like this:
Me [nervously]: That's, uh ... a really beautiful skirt.
Lisa [hesitant smile]: Thank you.
Me: My roommate would love that. Where did you get it?
Lisa: [relating details about the skirt, which I don't remember, for obvious reasons]
Me: What's your number?
Lisa [looking offended]: What?
Me: Your number. Your ticket thingy.
Lisa [looking relieved]: Oh. Sixty-one.
Me: I'm 54.
Lisa: Glad you're going first. I hate needles. Hated them my whole life. I cry every time.
Me: Yeah. This is not exactly fun.
We engage in awkward small talk. She's beautiful. I'm nervous. I can see she sees I'm nervous. But she doesn't seem to mind, and we actually have a lot in common. I'm a cartoonist. She's an illustrator. I'm trying (without much success) to be a writer. She's trying (without much success) to be a model. It's at this point that the Kaiser folks call my number.
Me: Hey, listen. Why don't we go in together? I'll distract you and you can distract me. Make it easier on each other.
Lisa: But they're calling your number.
Me: Let's just ignore it. We'll go in together. They can't stop us from going in together.
Her number is eventually called, and we march in like we're old friends. Nobody stops us. Being the gentleman, I volunteer to be needled first. Lisa's doing her job trying to distract me. She says she's a big fan of my Puni comic strip, but my illustrations really suck.
Me: That was pretty slick, Lisa. I didn't even feel the needle.
Lisa: No, I mean it. Your drawings really do suck.
OK, now it's her turn. Something in her face changes. She's about to cry. I hold her hand and tell some lame joke about our fascist president. She laughs, and then it's over. She didn't cry. In fact, she's wickedly happy.
Lisa [big smile]: That's the first time I didn't cry!
Me: The first time ever?
Me: Because I'm the funniest guy you've ever met?
Lisa [big smile]: Nope!
We leave the lab to get a coffee down the street. We exchange phone numbers and part ways. Of course, the subject of why we were in the blood lab never comes up. Not only because of a mutual respect for privacy, but ... well, neither of us really wanted to know.
So, we start up a "relationship," or whatever one calls it these days. And after a couple of months of seeing each other, the issue comes up again.
Lisa: So, what were you in the lab for, anyway?
Lisa: Where we met, doofus.
Me: Oh. Ummm ... Why were you there?
Lisa: It's not a big deal.
Me: No. Of course not.
Me: OK, listen. I'm safe. Very safe. But I haven't been, you know, 100 percent safe. 99.9 percent. It was an AIDS test. An HIV test. It's something I do periodically. You know, so I can sleep at night. I'm sort of neurotic. It was negative.
Lisa: So was mine.
Me: Your what?
Lisa: Syphilis. I was getting tested for syphilis. It was negative. Long story.
We sit in awkward silence for a few seconds. And then we bust out laughing. Jesus, this is funny. Really fucking funny. We spend hours talking about all the strange ways we've met past lovers. This one's the winner by a long shot. But we're not done yet.
Lisa: So, uh, there's one more thing.
Me: No, I think we've had enough already.
Lisa: After that day, you know how I didn't call you for a week or so?
Lisa: Well, I was actually planning on not calling you. We had such a nice meeting, such a perfect little moment, that I thought I'd sorta let it be. Let it be that perfect moment. Not ruin it, you know?
Me: Sooo ...what happened?
Lisa: Well, I had to call my doctor. To get the test results.
Me: Your negative results.
Lisa: Yeah. And we're talking. She's kind of talkative, my doctor. So I tell her I met this guy in the waiting room. She asks me your name, and I tell her, thinking nothing of it. And so all of a sudden she says, "He's negative. He's fine." Pretty crazy, huh? So, I decided that maybe the universe was telling me something ....
Lisa: Yeah, she looked you up.
Me: She told you that?! She looked me up on the computer and told you my HIV status?!
Lisa: Yeah. Bizarre, huh?
Me: That's so fucked up.
Lisa: Yeah, but if ....
Me: I'm gonna change to Blue Cross!
Lisa [demurely]: Well, whatever you do, just don't go getting any tests without me, OK?
Me: Oh, what is this, our little thing now? Some wine, a candlelight dinner, and then it's off to the clinic for a gonorrhea swab?
Lisa [batting her eyelashes]: That doesn't sound so bad.
Me: Well, I don't know ... Maybe you're right. But if someone asks how we met, what are we gonna say?
Lisa: Tell them the truth. Or better yet, tell them to call Kaiser.