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  • Juliet Anonymous

CHAPTER THREE - A HARD TRUTH

Before this goes any further, there’s something you need to know about me...

I like you. I like you a lot, and I’d really like to see where this goes. But, there’s something you need to know before that can happen. Do you want to sit? I do…. Thanks.

I have herpes. I’ve had it for over ten years now. It hasn’t been much of an issue for me in my every day life, but I understand how that could be cold comfort, what with the stigma and all. My ex husband and I didn’t use condoms - kids… obviously - and he never got it, but I do have it, which means, obviously, there’s a possibility you could get it. This is a lot to think about... probably more than we’re ready for at this stage of the game, but I needed you to know that before things progress. Yeah, yeah... of course. Go take some time to think, and let me know what you decide.


This is the conversation I need to have with any person I even consider wanting to be intimate with, for the rest of my life. It is gut wrenching and awful, but I have to have it. Because, you see, this is a conversation that was never had with me.

Back in January of 2008 I was a hot mess. A recent breakup I'll get into later had left me ripped apart and feeling very self-destructive. I got a DUI, dropped to 119 pounds, and I contracted herpes. I found out the worst way anyone can: with a full-on outbreak. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, nor did I have any anti-virals, so I just had to go through it. All of it. And it was horrible. To make matters worse, my drivers license had been suspended on account of the whole driving-while-drunk thing, so I had to bike 6 miles to work and rehearsals every day, and by late spring of that year, L.A. was experiencing an early heat wave. So, just to drive this home for you, I’m 25 years old, with searing open soars on my vag, forced to bike EVERYWHERE in 100 degree heat. I was horrified at what was happening, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but see the cosmic humor of it all. I mean, what a fucking raw deal.

I found out pretty quickly who had given it to me. His name was N - for the purposes of this story, of course - and he worked with me at the two-for-one Mexican dive bar where I waited tables. And he was the nicest guy. Always smiling and happy, quick with a joke, and effortlessly kind to everyone. I had known him for a year before we hooked up, and even though we weren’t best friends, I trusted him. N was the picture of a guy you could trust.

I wasn’t particularly attracted to him, but that didn’t matter at the time. I was reeling from heartbreak and confusion, and - much like 2021, drinking wine and trying to watch Big Brother alone for the first time in ten years - I wanted that male company.

We slept together once, protected. The second time, he asked if he could forego the condom. He was hung like a mastodon, so I could see how condoms might have been uncomfortable for him. Plus, I was on birth control, so I wasn’t too concerned. There was just one thing I needed to know.

“You’re clean, right?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

And like I said, N was a guy you could trust. Everyone knew that.

My first outbreak came in May. It had been a crazy month. I had been cast as Lady Capulet in an equity production of - you guessed it - Romeo and Juliet. The actress playing Juliet had a falling out with the director and stormed away from the plate. I was up. I finally had my shot at a starring role, with only ten days before the opening night performance.

But that wasn’t the only stressor in my life. As I mentioned, I had gotten a DUI and spent the night in jail. I had fines to pay, I was moving into a new apartment, while trying my damndest to pick myself up after the afore-mentioned breakup. I was also dating a member of the cast - another guy I wasn’t very into - but he proved a good enough distraction.

I was running myself ragged. I wasn’t sleeping well, I hardly ever ate, and soon enough, the virus I had unwittingly contracted reared its lovely, searing, infectious head. I was so busy that by the time I got to Planned Parenthood for a test, it was too late to curb the symptoms.

“Yep. You have herpes.”

My insides liquified. What had I done? How had I let this happen?

I was shredded. This changed everything. I was garbage now. Damaged goods, and no one in their right mind would ever want me again.

But I knew I had to act fast. I didn’t know where I had contracted this humiliating virus, but I had to find out, and in the meantime, I had to warn the people I’d been with. So, I told the poor fellow cast member, and broke up with him. (Jesus, what an awful day that must have been for him.) I called C, the ex I had recently broken up with, and though we both doubted I had contracted it either from or before him, he was grateful for the precautions I was taking. And then I called Romeo.

What transpired in December of 2007 is a story for another time, but for now, let’s just say that I cheated on C the night before I broke up with him. Romeo and I had a little flash reunion, and - sexually explosive as always - we ended up having unprotected sex on the hood of his friend’s car in an open driveway. Romeo had wanted things to continue, maybe even get back together. There was talk, but ultimately, I was still too calloused from his rejection a year and a half earlier, and so we parted ways.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I do remember where I was. I was standing outside the clinic, baking in the hot sun, staring at a stained, white, stucco wall, wishing I could die. Romeo was kind. He was sympathetic. We both thought I had most likely been infected after we had been together, but he appreciated the call.

I had to tell him, though. Even if there was a slim chance, because he had done the same for me.

A few months after we had broken up in 2006, Romeo called me in tears. He had gotten shingles, and though he had never experienced an outbreak, a blood test revealed he had herpes. He didn’t think he had given it to me, but just the thought that he could have was too much for him. He had to let me know. I consoled him, hung up, and pondered…

Romeo was Mr. Safe Sex. It was ingrained in him from the time he was a child. Even though his father's death from AIDS had been from an untested blood transfusion in the late 1980s, and not through sex, he got the message. (I mean, imagine living with that as a kid growing up in the 90s? And I thought my parents' refusal to buy me Birkenstocks until I was 14 was bad.) Though we had unprotected sex while we were together, that didn’t happen until we had both gotten tested and agreed to be monogamous. He was the most careful person I had ever known, so the idea that he had somehow gotten herpes just didn’t sit right. I did some research and called him back.

“You don’t have herpes.” I told him.

“What?”

“Shingles and herpes produce very similar antibodies. Most tests can’t tell the difference. You can have a more sophisticated test done, but I really don’t think you have herpes.”

He didn’t. If he did, all of this would be so much easier.

There was only one person left to talk to: N.


“Did you get tested yet?” I asked him at work, less than a week after I’d been diagnosed.

“Um… yeah. Yeah… it was me.” Well, shit…


If you don’t have an active outbreak, the only way to find out if you have herpes is by blood test. Not only do you need to schedule said blood test, you also need to wait for the results. As I mentioned, it had been less than a week since I told N he better get tested. I knew in my gut not enough time had passed, but I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe what he had actually done. But six weeks later, it would be undeniable.

“L, what is going on? You’re glowing.”

We were deep in the dog days of summer. The open-air Mexican dive where we worked was bursting at it tent seams with red-nosed alcoholics, midwestern tourists, and burnt-out celebrities from the 90s. L was one of my few fellow waitresses I hadn’t been able to form a friendship with. She was beautiful, the kind of girl you see in an Ambercrombie catalogue, but she had razor sharp edges. She could turn somber or nasty in an instant, but we all forgave her because she was epileptic. The only person she truly cared about was her best friend, another waitress we worked with, who she was frighteningly possessive of. Well, there was the best friend... and N.

L had been infatuated with N since well before I started working there, so the last thing I wanted was for her to know I’d slept with him. This may sound like a bitch move, but when the only way you get to eat during your shift is to leave food out in the break area for hours, grabbing bites between servicing broke drunks, you don't want your most vindictive co-worker hating your guts. So, N and I agreed it best to keep what had happened between us a secret from everyone at work. That, however, wouldn’t last for long.

“N and I slept together last weekend, finally. It was totally amazing.” L was so happy rainbows could have shot out of her epileptic ass. I, on the other hand, felt like the all blood had been sucked from my body, like some sort of crazy, high-pressured, bio-sieve.

“You… used protection, I hope?”


L cocked her head. I was her peer, a 25-year-old waitress/wanna-be actress in booty shorts and a beer tank, and here I was acting like her grandmother.

“No. Why?”

I paled. I panicked. I couldn’t breathe.


“What, [Juliet?] What is it?”

I have to tell her. Omigod, I have to tell her. He knew. He knew this whole time. He did this to her. He did it to me… Holy shit. Holy fucking shit.

L pulled me out back - a small area where the bussers secretly filled the Patron bottles with Sauza, upselling the plastered customers on crap tequila and terrible hangovers.

“N has herpes. He gave it to me months ago. I told him. He knows he has it.”

Now it was her turn to pale. She put her hands on my shoulders and found my eyes. To my surprise, they were filled with... compassion!?

“Thank you.” I couldn’t believe it. Had L and I just bonded? And over this of all things?

That, however, didn’t stop me from shaking uncontrollably. It was everything. The realization that N had knowingly and intentionally poisoned my body. That he had lied. That I had to say it out loud to this girl who - most of the time - couldn’t stand me. That maybe she’d have to live with epilepsy and herpes. That I had to live with it. That this was my life now, and he had done it to me on purpose.

It didn’t take long for that sharp tongue of L’s to snap into action. The moment N arrived for his shift, she cornered him. Within five minutes. N told his fellow bartender he was in “big trouble”, and left.

He wasn’t. A girl was mad at him because another girl he had violated ratted him out. But he should have been. He fucking should have been in big, fucking trouble.

If you cut off someone’s limb, you will get arrested, you will probably get sued, and you will go to jail. If you assault someone, same. The law gets involved, there's a strike on your record, and you have to carry that around with you. But if you knowingly and willingly give someone an incurable virus - one that will ravage their self-esteem, make them dependent on medication, affect every intimate interaction they ever have, and alter the course of their lives forever... well, it’s just too damn bad for that person, isn’t it?

I met Paris in January of 2010, a year and a half after receiving what seemed like a romantic death sentence. I had done my best to stay positive and not let it drown me, but the conversations were exhausting.

Unlike N, I couldn’t lie. And I wanted to, believe me. I tried every type of reasoning available. Oh, lots of people have it, what’s the big deal? … It’s not that bad. If I can live with it, they can … They’ll never know it came from me. … It’s my business, not anyone else’s! Fuck them! But none of it worked. If unprotected sex was anywhere near the table, I had the talk. I watched their faces fall. Imagined the dialogue they were having with themselves about whether or not I was worth it. What a damn shame. Gross. Such a slut.

Some guys tried to deal with it. One fantastic guy - probably the "best on paper” man I’ve ever dated - really gave it the ol’ college try, but every time we had sex he’d go soft. He said it wasn’t me, but I know it was on his mind. I was devastated. It felt like life as I knew it was over, and, to be honest, it was.

So, in a pretty short amount of time, the “quality” of the men I dated went into rapid decline. I slept with guys I didn’t respect, didn’t like, and wasn’t attracted to, because they were willing to fuck my diseased body and tell me they cared about me.

God… I’ve never said that out loud before… or written it, that is. Just looking at the words is excruciating… But it’s true, and I have to say it: That’s when I started settling. When I started giving up on myself, and the dreams of love and family I had once aspired to.

As I mentioned, Paris and I met on the corner of Hollywood and Vine one tumultuous night, and were inseparable afterwards. He was super cute, and talked a great game - a very attractive attribute for us New York City gals - but he wasn’t the type of guy I had had previously deemed husband material. For one, he didn’t have a college degree - but my mother often told me I was an “education snob”, so I let this go. He was also shorter than me, which I reasoned was too superficial to even think about. He didn’t have any money or real career prospects, but I was motivated enough for both of us. Fine. Great. I could probably still look at all of that and say I wasn’t settling… but I was.

“You have an anger problem, don’t you?”


I said it the first night we met. He had started flirting with me while I was smoking outside the bar, and it was magic. We could not stop talking. It was like being reunited with an old friend you can’t wait to catch up with. But still, in spite of the fairies in the air, there was something in his eyes. It was a strange, dark energy I had seen in other men I’d been with. I don’t know how I knew it, dear Nurse, but I knew it.

“No, no. I used to, but I don’t anymore.” He said.

Good enough for me!


Silly, silly girl.


It was obvious that night there was something special happening between Paris and I, and that was only reinforced over the coming days. This was serious. Maybe even the real deal. But we still had to have the conversation. Take a breath, Juliet...


“I have herpes.”


But Paris didn’t flinch. He just kept gazing into my eyes.

“Okay. What does that mean?”


My heart pounded with elation as I talked him through everything I had come to understand about my condition. Times when I was more of a risk to him than others. How taking regular antivirals could protect him even more. The vastly lower risk of transmission from female to male, and all the numbers, figures, and percentages I had prepared for this very moment… prepared with the precise intention of convincing him that I was still a worthy partner. To keep him from leaving.


And it worked. I don’t think I needed to go into all the stats. I’m fairly certain he had fallen for me by then, and didn’t care about the risks, but it was done. I had gotten through the conversation yet again, and now, as long as this worked out, I would never, ever have to have it again. Never have to feel damaged and disgusting, unworthy and scared… He just had to be the one.


I don’t want you to think I never loved Paris. I did. I loved him very much… for a time. But would I have chosen to marry him if I had never been infected with one of the most stigmatized STDs around? I don’t know. Fuck… I really don’t know. And to be honest, I didn’t know then. But I reasoned. I am really good at reasoning.


I reasoned it was a good thing that I had gotten herpes, because it forced me to slow down, settle, and find someone. Once I got pregnant and had Big, I thought: good thing I got herpes, or she probably would’t be here. Same with Little, and same with what I told myself was a decently good life. A growing career, livable apartment in a good neighborhood in Los Angeles, and a family. Who cares if my husband sleeps on the couch every night? Who cares if he barely touches me, is still floundering in his career and still has no money? Who cares if he gives me grief about how hard I work, and makes me feel like shit for asking him to contribute fairly to household expenses? I have it good. For someone with herpes, I have it good.


Now, having herpes wasn’t on my mind every day during my marriage. It just wasn’t. But it is impossible for me to examine myself, really look at why I did what I did, without factoring it in. I wish it wasn’t, but herpes has been a major fucking influence in my life. It still is, and I’m out of reasons for why this happened to me, other than the fact that in 2008 a very selfish man thought it was okay to violate my trust, and my body. As much as it hurts, that’s all there is to reason.

But one of the great things about Romeo is that we’d already had the conversation. I told him immediately after the diagnosis, and being Mr. Safe Sex, I figured there was no way - even after 13 years - he could have forgotten. So, when things got heated on Sunday night, two days after our initial meeting at the rooftop bar and that incredible, earth-shattering kiss, I figured I didn’t have to say anything.

“Do you have something?” I hate the word ‘condom’. It’s round, and bouncy, and totally unsexy. Romeo was stripping down at a breakneck pace. Just days before he had dashed my hopes by refusing to cheat on Rosaline, but now it looked like this was actually going to happen. The last thing I wanted was to turn him off. Give him time to think…

“Do I have something?” He managed, dipping his head down between my legs. I squirmed, squeezed, but couldn’t help thinking, fuck… did he forget?

“I’m not on birth control.” That should do it, right? C’mon, bag it up, and let’s go!

“Yeah. I have a condom.” He said with a smile, and slipped it in, unbagged…

My whole body arched in exultation. It was him. Romeo. Finally, I had him back right where he belonged. Where I’d fantasized about him for so many fucking years… but I couldn’t quiet the voice screaming in my head.

“You can’t… You have to get the condom.” I managed.


He chuckled.


“Don’t worry. I won’t cum inside you.” He’s not a dick, this happens to be true. Romeo has more orgasmic control than a tantric guru. In fact, he only lets himself go once he’s damn sure his partner has gotten theirs.

“You can’t have unprotected sex with me!”


I involuntarily screeched it at him, reminding myself of that moment in Mean Girls when Gretchen Weiner finally gets fed up with Regina’s sweat pants and screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”

Romeo didn’t pull out, but he paused.

My heart sank.


“I thought you would have remembered.” I closed my eyes and wanted to die. I shouldn’t have let things get this far. I really thought he would have remembered, but still, regardless of how feverishly I wanted him, I should have said something earlier. “I have herpes.”

He took a beat.

“Okay…” He was trying to be cool with it, I could tell.


“I’ve had it for a long time now. It really hasn’t been an issue for me, and Paris never got it...”


Another pause.


“Well, that’s good!” I don’t know which of us he was trying harder to convince.

We tried to keep things going after that, but he had a hard time staying… well, hard. Not normal for Romeo. He explained it was because he felt guilty, not having broken up with Rosaline yet, but I still don’t know if that’s true. There’s a very good chance it’s not, and there’s an equally good chance that at some point during this month, he’s going to decide that getting herpes is not a risk he’s willing to take. God damn it, if that why this never goes anywhere, I’ll want to jump in a fucking lake, but I’ll have to respect it. I’ll have to.

One of the biggest parts of this project for me is tackling my insecurities. Until last night, I didn’t know where to start. And then, just before drifting off, it dawned on me.

I’ve never written about herpes. I never even talk about herpes unless I absolutely have to. When I travel or when we have visitors at the house, I hide my antiviral medication like it’s heroine. I would do anything not to have this.

Over the summer, I did a two-month course of Herpesyl, a fairly expensive natural supplement guaranteed to flush the virus out of my system. I wanted to believe in it. I threw every ounce of positive energy I had at it. I even convinced myself it had worked and I was free… I wasn’t. Those fucking bullshit “doctors” had preyed on me the same way N had, with lies, dashing my hopes of ever being “normal” again.

But I need to talk about it. I need to look it right in it’s nasty, fucking blistered face, and say, it’s not your fault you’re here. And even though I’ve blamed myself for over a decade, it’s not my fault either. I was victimized… but I can choose whether or not to be a victim.

Dear Nurse, I don’t know how to do this, but I know I need to get to the point where I can look in the mirror and tell myself I am worthy. That I am still a perfect goddess deserving of perfect love. That I am not damaged goods. That herpes is something I have, not something that has me… I know I need to do that, but it is so fucking painful. Until I decided to write about it today, I didn’t realize how deep the damage was… But it's in the marrow, isn't it?

I deliberated about posting this a thousand times. Though I am writing this blog anonymously, there is always the chance of exposure. If I’m going to put this out there, I have to accept that I may never be able to hide from it again. That I’ll always be a nearly 40-year-old, single mother with saggy, twice postpartum tits, and herpes. Herpes, herpes, herpes…

But the fact of the matter is, I know I’ll never conquer this insecurity until I face it, and this is facing it.


So, now that you know, I hope you’ll still be my most trusted confidant. I hope you’ll come back and see how this journey plays out. I hope you won’t see me differently, but if you do - as hard as it is - I have to say, oh well. I am what I am, I have what I have, and you don’t need to be okay with it, I do.


Sincerely yours,

Juliet.

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