May 1, 2006

David gave me Chlamydia. I’m sticking with
this conviction.

I was sitting at my desk when it started—this dull pain behind my left testicle fading in and out. Before lunchtime I called my doctor’s office and described the symptoms. “A dull throb. It’s nothing too distracting,” I said. “I mean, I’m not in so much pain that I’m driven to saw it off with a rusty blade.”

The receptionist said that Dr. Cunningham was on vacation, that he wasn’t going to be back till next week. “Would you like to schedule with another
doctor for tomorrow or wait until next week to meet with him?”

I imagined myself, a week from then, with a swollen testicle the size of a bowling ball—something I’d have to heft forth in a sling tied around my neck. “Please,” I said, “I’d like the earliest appointment you could get me tomorrow.”

I avoid going to the doctor not because of any hospital phobias. I just don’t like going because I have been seeing the same physician that I’ve had since grade school. That is to say, I was still seeing a pediatrician. Whenever I check in for Danny Nguyen, the receptionist looks at the unshaven half-beard on my face and tells me the nurse will call in my son in just a few minutes. I sit in waiting rooms next to magazine racks filled with Highlights For Kids and Where’s Waldo?, while Disney’s Peter Pan is playing on the TV in a ceiling corner. I tower over the coughing children around me. And to pass the time, I crouch low to occupy the small table with the Fisher-Price learning toys. That’s me hammering scales on the mini-xylophone with rainbow keys while parents, chaperoning their toddlers, glare at me.

“Will 10 o’clock be okay, Mr. Na-goo-yen?” the receptionist asked on the other end.

“Yes. That would be great, thank you.”

“Okay, we have you down to meet with Dr. Steven Cho.”

Steven Cho?

This gave me pause. The surname Cho suggested Asian. Specifically: Korean. I’m not particularly attracted to Korean guys, but David is—something that I have taken to calling “a kimchi fetish.” I told David about the testicular pain and my appointment over dinner at my place. He asked for the water pitcher and I gushed about how significant this was going to be. It was going to be the first time I would have an Asian man getting paid to examine my genitals. I don’t believe in infidelity, but having watched enough pornos, it was fun to recognize the potential doctor-patient scenario.

At the dining table, wine glass in hand, the dialogue played in my mind. Me: sitting in my underwear on a vinyl bed with white paper down the center
like a movie premiere carpet. Dr. Cho: in a lab coat with a popsicle stick still in hand after telling me to say, “Ahhh.”

“Why, thank you for checking me out, Doctor Cho. I feel sooo much better now. But I’m afraid I don’t have any insurance …. How will I ever pay for this visit?”

“Oh. I think we both know how you can pay ….”

Cue guitar wonks.

“Well Doctor Cho, aren’t you going to examine … the body?”

I laughed out loud at my fantasy and David asked what I found so amusing. “You’re going to the doctor. I don’t know about you, but all the physicians I’ve ever had were ugly and old. Who said this Dr. Cho is going to be young and good looking? An Asian doctor? For all you know, you could be waiting on the examination table and in walks a man that looks like your dad with a stethoscope.”

The pain in my left testicle increased as it retreated into my body.

“That’s gross,” I said. “My dad?”

David smiled without teeth.

“Well, call me at work and tell me what the doctor says when you get out tomorrow. I don’t want anything to happen to my baby.” Then he leaned across the table to kiss me, scratched his crotch and began clearing our plates.

I have always referred to David as my boyfriend. I don’t like the term “partner.” Its non-gendered encompassing I appreciate, but it conveys images of lawyers and co-opt bakery workers. “He’s my partner” sounds as intimate as “This is my toaster.” It is the kind of sterility that I have come to identify in myself, but not in David.

David displays affection with an intensity commonly found in soap opera characters and people on hormone medication. He’s the one to initiate the linking of arms while walking through the mall, or hugging me from behind as we wait in line at a concert. He slobbers on me against the car like the Queen Alien from those Sigourney Weaver movies.

For our second-year anniversary, he drove two hours from Santa Cruz to my office, just to deliver flowers when I was in a meeting. Once, when I had too much to drink, I leaned over his bed at four in the morning and vomited my retainers into his wastebasket before running to the bathroom. He fished them out for me. At the time, I didn’t think about how David sifted through the warm, chunky pile of puke and washed my retainers off. My only regret was that they had to go back into my mouth.

David’s ardor makes me uncomfortable. I’m not used to it and can’t bring myself to follow practice. And my way of dealing with my discomfort, as always, is to deflate the situation. When I had to go to the doctor for my testicular pain, he asked if I was feeling all right and would I call him once I got out so he could make sure everything was okay. The day his doctor had diagnosed him with a fungal infection on his chest, we sat against a big stone lion at a shopping plaza, and into his ear I whispered, “I want to lick your infection.” He said that sort of behavior was grotesque, while I thought I was being simply obnoxious. It’s an anthropological experiment of my own: I say these things just to get a reaction and to examine this subject I have come to call my boyfriend.

Because we are so different I am often amazed we didn’t explode upon first contact. When he wanted a romantic night out to see Finding Nemo, I suggested the zombie movie 28 Days Later—saying, “It’s exactly like Finding Nemo only the talking computer-animated sea creatures are replaced with the living dead that feast upon the living. It’s cuter than Finding Nemo.”

A month after we began dating, when I realized that he was gullible enough to stay with me, I asked David the three questions I require of all my suitors: 1) Have you ever committed an act of incest?; 2) Do you have kiddy porn?; and 3) You are not allowed to write me any love poetry. The first two, if the answer is Yes, are grounds for immediate dismissal. The third, while not really a question, is something that is necessary to ensure my respect. The first man I ever dated wrote me a love poem that is also the worst poem I have ever read in my life—a little literary atomic-bomb that will fester in my brain until the day I die with its ending line: “Please don’t push me away /Open yourself up like a female ejaculation.”

David leaned forward in his chair with a raised eyebrow. “So,” he said. “You’re not a romantic, I
take it.”

I wouldn’t say I’m an antiromantic. I’d just rather have someone carve my name into their forehead with a fork over boxes of chocolates.

When it comes to professing affection I shell up and de-evolve, preferring to grunt and knock on things like a caveman. We were in bed one night, me on the outside while he took the wall. “I love you,” he said for the first time. We had been seeing each other for the past six months, physically being together at least six out of the seven days in each week. No less than 144 days. I lay still, pretending I had fallen asleep, and he waited with the air, and then turned off the lights.

I have seen toilet paper commercials where Love is used to describe the product. What meaning could the word hold for me after someone has wiped his ass with it? In most other cultures, you don’t tell your mother or your father that you love them. The only time you employ such a weighted word is when you’re trying to talk someone into bed. David wasn’t trying to do that, so his “I Love You” had whisked through me so quick and dart-like, and left me unbalanced.

I swung my legs, sitting in the cold examination room. When Dr. Cho walked through, I was struck
by how young he looked. He appeared no older than his mid-to-late 20s. His black hair was shortly cropped and beneath glasses, his nippy eyes complemented a smooth jaw and fluffy cheeks. He was hot and had dimples.

“How are you doing today …” he said, looking at my chart. “Danny?”

His voice was slippery and tasty. I couldn’t tell whether I wanted to mother him or to fuck him.

My next thought circulated to include the danger that this man was going to be poking around my nether regions.

Porno scenarios may seem appealing, but on the grand scale of embarrassing moments, popping a boner in the doctor’s face when he’s trying to do his job is somewhere between wetting yourself in public and hitting on someone with fresh dog shit pungent and clinging to your shoe. It shows lack of sophistication and control. When Dr. Cho asked me to please remove my pants I thought of Star Trek Klingons and goose-stepping Nazis—anything to keep myself from being aroused. It was a concentration akin to tightrope walking and it made my molars throb.

“Well, I can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong,” Dr. Cho said, removing the white mask that was shielding his nose and mouth. “Oh, you can pull your pants up now Danny.”

“Huh?” I exhaled, opening my clenched eyes.

“I was just saying you don’t seem to have anything that I could see is wrong. We could do a urine test to see if you have gonorrhea or chlamydia, which I doubt. It’s worth a try, though. Tell me, are you and your sexual partner monogamous?”

David and I have been monogamous. Both, we agreed, were allowed to check out other people so as long as it never went beyond playful flirtation. This is one of the reasons I took such a liking to him. He had an attitude of openness, one that eclipsed his insecurities—a trust I could not have taken the initiative with.

When we first met, David and I were living with our exes. I was living with Morris, a Burmese man. After our breakup we remained roommates until Morris met a Chinese-Vietnamese guy named Hugh. The two had a lot in common. Both shared experiences of immigrating to the U.S. in their late-teens, an attraction to the color green, and, eventually, the agreement that my ass had to move out. The ordeal brought out the worst in me and a week later, before carrying my last cardboard box out the door, I told Hugh and Morris, “You two can have your fob love.”

This all happened at the time David and I began dating. I soon found that David shared creepy similarities to Morris: including a huge gap between his big and index toes, and shelves upon shelves collecting Celine Dion and I Love Lucy paraphernalia (an automatic sign of trouble). It was as if I upgraded computers—still the same brand, but superior in its appearance and functional English language capabilities.

David was living with a man named Aaron he was with for two years until Aaron cheated on him with God knows how many people, for God knows how long. When someone cheats on you, it’s best not to continue the relationship. The faithful partner will always have arsenal to wave over the cheater’s head. Arguments will never be won and guilt will be milked to the fullest extent. That’s what I would do. So it angered me that David didn’t emulate the same tact. While I knew David and Aaron’s relationship was purely friendly, I was offended. Here I was getting kicked out of my own house, while David had a secure home with his former lover. I’m an emotional leech, and felt it was only fair that as my boyfriend, David should share in my misery of being kicked out upon finding someone new.

Because he’s not prone to jealousy, it’s noticeable when David gets paranoid. After he moved to Santa Cruz for school, we stood in his new studio apartment, its shag carpet and heating vent acting as set. “How will I know you won’t cheat on me?” he asked. I said, “I give you a quote from Showgirls—the greatest comedy ever: ‘Everyone’s got AIDS and shit!’ Why would I want to cheat on you?” He understood the joke, but the way he sucked on his tongue and tensed the curled fingers in his lap showed a dread inside him that was warm and wriggling. We were entering long-distance territory for the first time. I blamed David’s anxiety on Aaron for cheating on him. I also blamed Aaron when Dr. Cho woke me one morning with the results of my urine test.

Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I knocked the phone holder from the nightstand and groaned into the receiver. I felt half-comatose when Dr. Cho said I had shown up negative for gonorrhea, and was fully alert after he said, “But the chlamydia test came out positive.

“Which means that your partner has it too. I could give you the sample package of the medication, so you and your partner won’t have to spend money. Just one dose of the meds and poof! It’s done!” Dr. Cho was boastful, sounding cheery. As if it was his pleasure to give out fistfuls of chlamydia medication, a Santa Claus of sexual transmitted diseases.

“Oh don’t be embarrassed,” he offered over the phone. “It’s one of the easiest STIs to get. Four million people each year in the U.S., you know. Lots of people have it and don’t even know.” I imagine a house party gone out of control—a Woodstock proportion festival where all us chlamydia-infected people mosh around in celebration of our common bacteria, holding us close.

I shook David who was snoring like a garbage truck. “Anh, wake up. We need to go to the doctor.” He blinked his eyes rapidly and smiled up at me and stretched under the sheets.

When I told him the news, he was just as surprised as I was, stammering out, “How could …. For how long …. How did this happen?” Then, “Why would it take so long for the symptoms to show? Well that explains all that itching lately.”

Sitting up in bed, he rubbed his feet through the blankets. He looked scared. And I reacted the same way I always did when frustration hovered.

“If you lie with dogs, you will get fleas,” I said. “You probably got it from that slut Aaron.”

David’s continued friendship with his ex was something I held against him like kryptonite:

“Em, you said you were going to vacuum your living room over the weekend,” David would say.

“So …. You fucked Aaron.” This was my universal rebuttal for everything.

“What does Aaron have to do with vacuuming?”

“So, you fucked Aaron.”

“Oh god, never mind. I’ll do it for you.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, Aaron fucker.”

I had been punishing David for his infidelities. He had never cheated on me in the normal sense. Rather, I condemned him for having someone before we ever met—unfaithfulness in reversed chronological order. “How could you hold that against me when I didn’t even know you then?” he’d say.

It’s hypocritical, but I felt justified. He should have waited all his life for me. Who doesn’t want to find something so new and fresh that they could lay claim to from the moment of discovery? It’s a greed best savored when we consider the capable joys of Firsts. The first person you ever kiss. The first person you have sex with. The first person whose hand you link your fingers into and say, despite yourself, “When will I get to see you next?” I wanted all of this and felt robbed that David couldn’t offer me any of them. I, likewise, couldn’t offer him the same. But I’m not talking about me—I’m talking about him and him and him.

“You know where the chlamydia came from, right?” I said, poking him in the stomach as he zipped up his pants. “Me sleeping with you is like sleeping with those millions of guys Aaron cheated on you with.” Then he popped.

“Why do you always have to make fun of everything?” David’s voice was assertive and climbing. “You always take things too far. You don’t know when to stop. Why do you always have to make me feel guilty?”

I blinked. When he turned his head to me, I diverted my eyes toward my bookcase—the two rows of books as our only audience, with their spines to us.

“Whatever,” he sighed after a moment. “Just don’t write about this. When should we go pick up the medication?”

Leaning your head on someone’s shoulder on park benches, coming home to a bouquet of flowers on your bed, kneeling on one knee and offering a ring in the rain—these are for well-meaning, well-to-do signs of devotion. But they’re too easy. By saying, “When should we go pick up the medication?” David broadcasted a solidarity I was never prepared for. It suggests that even in sickness, we were in this together.

Real devotion is when you reveal with all honesty your remorse. Acknowledging that someone else’s misery can be abused like a biological weapon, which you send as a shame bug that multiplies once the joke implodes in the other person’s ear. So I apologized.

I could see David and I going to the doctor’s office together. I would rub the back of his head and straighten out a cluster of his tangled hair with my fingers again and again, until I moved on to another area of his head. After we get the pills, we would go across the street for ice cream cups at the creamery and a cup of water each. We would pop the pills in our mouths and wash them down with tap water that tasted like rust, emulating a pair of high school teenagers in a ’50s diner.

I sat on the bed in my room with David and brought his hand up to my nose to smell in his smell. “Above all things,” I said, “if I had to get my very first STI, I’m happy that I got it from you.” Then I waited for him to laugh and shake his head, and wondered what would happen afterward, once he did.

Danny Thanh Nguyen’s work has appeared in the journal Salt Hill and the anthology The Full Spectrum. “Davydia” is part of an essay and short story collection-in-progress entitled Engrish Lessons.

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