Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Fiona’s always liked Jacen, but recently she complained to Luc that she’s increasingly finding him too in-your-face gay.
— All his chat about his lovers and those anonymous encounters at the baths — who even knew they existed? — I don’t need to hear all that. I’m no prude, but…come on.
She is a bit of a prude, thinks Luc, but just enough to be ladylike.
— I kind of enjoy it, says Luc. It’s like hearing about some foreign place. Besides, Jacen’s always been a good friend to me. Helped me out loads of times.
— Yeah, I know, he’s a wonderful friend and he’s a lot of fun. It’s those stories…. And he has no filters in front of Gavin. I think that’s what really bugs me.
— Yeah, I agree. I’m sure he just isn’t thinking. I’ll talk to him about Gavin.
— That would be good.
Luc takes all this to mean that given the option, Fiona would rather avoid Jacen, but he’s an old friend — Luc has known him nearly as long as he’s known Georges — and they’ve been through the wringer together, what with him coming out when they were sixteen and his dad beating him up, then kicking him out of the house. Jacen lived with Luc’s family for six months — not that anyone really noticed, with eight other kids running around the house. Luc sees him as a brother, the brother he always wanted, closer than most of his biological siblings.
Usually they get together at Jacen’s apartment or a bar, but tonight Fiona is visiting Trish and Gavin has a sleepover at a buddy’s, so Luc’s invited Jacen over for a beer.
Jacen arrives totting a twelve-pack of ale and a scowl.
— I’m a mess, says Jacen, slumping down at the kitchen table. Thank goodness I’m with family tonight.
— Whatzup? asks Luc, twisting the caps off a couple of beers and handing one to Jacen. Help yourself to the nuts and bolts*. Fee made them. Trouble at work?
— Nah, they’re treating me fine. At least so far. I mean it’s insane, being a nurse in an ER, but no. No. If only it were that simple. I don’t even know how to say this…. I haven’t told anyone yet, just found out today. I have HIV.
— Tabarnac!** That’s awful. I’m so sorry. You were careful….
— Always, he says, shaking his head and peeling the label off his beer with his fingernail.
Luc notices the tears welling up in his friend’s eyes.
— The treatment’s pretty good these days, isn’t it?
— Yeah, definitely, says Jacen, looking up and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. HAART therapy, but it’s not like you just pop a pill twice a day. It’s really difficult finding the right regimen, and then when you do, there are all sorts of side effects. Non-therapeutic effects is what they should call them, because there’s nothing tangential or side about them.
— Like what? asks Luc.
— Depends on what I end up taking, could be anything from renal failure to farting.
Jacen’s attempt to make light of it doesn’t fool Luc; he’s known him too long.
— I’m really sorry, Jacen. If there’s anything I can do to help, you just have to ask.
— Thanks, says Jacen. I may get you to drive me to an appointment or two. Times like this I wish I had a car. I’m really glad I have a drug plan though. That’s something anyway.
— Any idea, you know, who?
— I always use condoms. But there was this guy I met…. We did it a few times and then, well, I think he went bareback. Alcohol was definitely a factor. He must have because, seriously, I haven’t had any action since. That was three months ago. I only found out now because I had my annual.
— So will you confront the guy?
— Not me, public health will get in touch with the bastard. I never want to see him again. I mean if he’d told me, I could have taken the prophylaxis, I might have been able to avoid this. But in the end, it’s my fault. I should know better. I mean come on, I’m a nurse. I know all about AIDS. I’ve counselled people. I’ve seen what it does.
— Even with the drugs?
— The drugs will keep you healthy, basically, even though they’re brutal. The problem is social. A gay guy with AIDS is a pariah. I’ll never have a steady relationship. Unless it’s with someone else who is positive. I’ll be lucky to get laid.
— Really? I thought there would be more understanding….
— Everyone’s paranoid. And you can’t blame them. This is going to change my life, Luc. And it won’t be pretty.
— You’ll just have to visit us more often.
— Thanks, Luc.
— I can’t believe it’s happened to me. I’ve always been so careful, and then this once…. It’s so friggin’ unfair. It’s like smokers who quit and think they’ll never get cancer. You always think it only happens to the other guy, the one who isn’t careful. And I’ve known so many guys who have…who had it. In the early days, lots didn’t make it: Paul, Mario, Tomas. And it’s so ugly at the end. Pneumonia. That awful looking Kaposi’s sarcoma. Think of the gallons of make-up. Chronic diarrhea. I’ve seen it all. Mind you, with the new therapy….
— Are you afraid?
— Intellectually, I know what the odds are. I’ve studied this. If I take my ARVs and look after myself, my chances are really good. But my gut is reeling. I thought I was going to puke when Dr. Andrews told me. And then I thought: How will I tell mom? She was devastated when I told her I was gay. Now what will she think? Never mind Dad; he’ll just think I’m getting what I deserve. And maybe I am. Maybe….
— Don’t be a dolt, Jacen. It was an accident. It wasn’t like you opted out of condoms. You did the right thing, you were unlucky.
— To put it mildly.
— Can I get you something with a bit more kick? I have some tequila.
— Yeah, sure. I could use one. I need to decide who to tell.
— You don’t have to tell anyone. It’s up to you.
— Thanks, Luc. You’re solid.
*Nuts and Bolts
6 cups Cheerios
5 cups Shreddies
1 cup mixed nuts (salted & roasted)
1 cup thin pretzel sticks
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon celery salt
1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
¼ teaspoon chili powder
Mix dry ingredients with oil mixture in a large pan.
- Bake at 250 °F for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
- Cool, then pack and store in large glass jars.
Thanks to Monique St. Lawrence for sharing this recipe.
**An expletive referring to a tabarnacle in the Catholic church. This is a normal reaction to such powerful bad news.