My husband gave me herpes. On purpose. He wasn’t my husband at the time. He was Big Brother Herschel Harris from the Martha Vineyard Harris’. That’s how he introduced himself to me like I knew where Martha’s Vineyard was or that I should be impressed. I never heard anyone be so proud of their family name. But I thought it was the thing to do at University of Santa Barbara so I said I was Alpha Delta Zeta pledge Jocelyn Downes of the Vallejo Downes. My family wasn’t anything other than working poor who never took vacations let alone knew about Martha’s Vineyard, the summer home for the Black elite. But he didn’t know that and I wasn’t going to tell him. So I decided to reinvent myself right then and there.

    Life-defining moments come out of nowhere, don’t they? All of a sudden you just decide to shed your skin. I was at university pledging an esteemed sorority whose members were from prominent families. I was living far, far away from home. I could be anybody I wanted to be. And I wanted to be like them. They moved with an easy manner like they were never late and if they were late they knew everybody would wait until they showed up. They didn’t move out the way or say ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ when they bumped into someone. They expected you to move. They commanded the right of way on the bike path, in the hall even on the quad. I wanted that kind of respect.

     So I gave it right back to Big Brother Herschel with my head tilted like his and the same tone as his and he looked at me like he couldn’t tell if I was serious, joking or making fun of him. So that was awkward. When his smile started to fade, I did what I read about in the book I stole from the library, How To Win Friends and Influence People, I complimented him on his teeth. I’m eighteen, I’m not a genius, I’m winging it. Herschel did have good teeth. White. Perfectly aligned. No chips. No stains. Colgate teeth. A Crest mouth raised on fluoride. I’ve always been a mouth snob. If you didn’t have nice teeth, I couldn’t date you ‘cause I couldn’t kiss you and bad, yellow stained teeth spoke volumes about your hygiene and habits. Herpes on the other hand, I didn’t have any previous association with the simplex. I only knew you couldn’t get rid of it. Gargling with Listerine was no match for the virus. So I was stuck. But as dear ole' drunken dad used to say during a blurry eyed moment of clarity, 'Don’t be stuck down, be stuck up'. So I made another decision that would change my life. I decided herpes would be the best thing to ever happen to me. I was right. Until I was very wrong.