By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I then try to explain that this new information about her dad is something she can keep to herself. “I have chosen to be open, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be. If you need to talk to someone about it, most of our friends and even some people at school know.”
She asks me who among our extended family has HIV. I go through the list of names.
Later that night, after I show her how many pills I take daily (for the record, 21), we watch Divine in Hairspray. She points out that Sonny Bono is dead, and then wants to know which cast members in the film are still alive. I reassure her that Ricki is alive, Pia is alive, Deborah Harry is alive.
“What about the mom?” she wants to know.
“She’s dead. I mean, he’s dead,” I say.
“HIV?” she asks.
“No,” I tell her, “Divine died of a heart attack.”
“Like John Ritter,” she says, processing every detail. When Ritter died, she compared his 54 years to my 53. Perhaps to demonstrate the vitality of my heart, I offer to show her that I can still do the Mashed Potato — just like those hyperkinetic teenagers are doing in the movie.
“Okay,” she says, rolling those eyes.
I mash on the wood floor, working up a sweat. Miu Miu makes a hissing sound and seeks refuge under the couch. Tia is not impressed with my spastic homage. I get a splinter in my foot.
After the movie, we nestle in bed. Since it’s a special occasion, she’s allowed to sleep with me but not before we read My Dad Has HIV. As we often do, she reads a page and then I read a page.
The thin book is written in the first-person voice of Lindsey, an upbeat second-grader with a vague resemblance to Ricki Lake in Hairspray.Tia reads, “When the number of your white blood cells goes down, your body can’t fight other illnesses.”
My turn: “You can become very sick.” The dad in the book looks a bit like Julia Sweeney’s Pat character — lumpy and limp, asexual and androgynous — not at all like an aging glamour-puss who can still do a mean Mashed Potato.
“Doctors and scientists around the world are working together to discover a cure for HIV,” I read. You can practically hear the string section swelling in the background.
“I love my dad very much, and I want him to be there for me as I grow up,” Tia finishes, with only a hint of emotion, as she closes the book.
She falls asleep first. The sound of her breathing lulls me.
I wake up in the middle of the night and have to take a pee. It is pitch black; I’ve forgotten that the light that seems to perpetually emanate from the living room is on a timer. Still, I bound for the bathroom.
Bam! I slam into a half-opened door, banging my face right below my eyebrow. For a second I can’t breathe, but when I do, I emit an involuntary cry, which quickly becomes a sob.
“Daddy, are you okay?” Tia asks.
“Yeah, honey, I’ll be okay,” I say, groping for the goddamn light switch.
I find the light. Tia offers to get me ice.
“I’ll get it,” I say, stumbling into the kitchen. I try to stop crying, try to stop the tears that have been accumulating and, although the physical pain is real, are about so much more than a bruise.
“Are you bleeding, Dad?”
“No, honey,” I say, “no blood.”
“Come snuggle,” my daughter says, in her nighttime raspy voice.
I crawl back under the sheets. The ice feels good. Her hand, rubbing the top of my head, feels even better. The warm tears subside.