Live oaks with Spanish moss, typical South Carolina scenery
It’s odd but whenever I talk about my vacation plans I get pangs of guilt. It shouldn’t be this way, I know. Vacations, post-HIV infection and more importantly post-U.S. election, should be a break from everything that irks, not a source of irk. (Is that a word? Hang on. It’s a verb not a noun. Close enough!)
The vacation itself isn’t terribly grand or expensive. Twelve days. A two-day drive down to Hilton Head, South Carolina where we have a time share. Seven days hanging out there, then four days driving back with a sojourn in West Virginia because we like the mountains and the hillbilly vibe. Then back to the grind.
But that modest vacation is way beyond the means of many, and one more time when I need to acknowledge the privilege that comes with the financial security (well, sort of) that came with destroying my soul in the ivory towers of the banking district in downtown Toronto. Financial security and the ability to take a vacation year after year came with a price, of course, and that price continues to this day. But it doesn’t stop me thinking that a vacation, some form of accommodation, should be an entitlement, not a privilege. But then we are not a totalitarian state that sends its workers off every year, like the Soviet Union once used to do, believing its workers had a “right to rest”. So there remain pangs of guilt that work took care of me.
How many people living with HIV and on disability though take a vacation? In my circle, at least, the number is small. So that is why those who are lucky enough should likely acknowledge the privilege.
That done, I also acknowledge the moral dilemma.
During the Bush administration my partner Meirion would never visit the United States. No matter that people living with HIV were banned at the time (he is HIV-negative); it was Bush whom he hated. Obama lifted the ban on travel to the States in 2009 for us pozzies and thus the need for lies and hidden pills at US customs. But when the nightmare of the Trump victory came to pass earlier this month, I thought our plans to head down south just weeks later would be scuttled. But Meirion didn’t want to wave a white flag to Trump so we are going. And going to some of the most redneck parts of the nation, as it happens. North Carolina in particular is scary - so we pass through it speedily.
Once, inadvertently a few years back while passing through North Carolina, we stopped at a “Christian” restaurant – it said so on the outside wall but we did not notice that until later. It was called Stormin’ Norman’s Barbecue. It lies at a stop on Hwy I-95 at some bumfuck place called Henly. It was a Sunday at noon. right after church. We are still reeling from the experience. “May God Bless You as You Travel” indeed. It was right next to a gun store of which there are many in this part of the south.
Say the restaurant owners on their website . .
"Our hope and prayer is that you will see Jesus living through us as we serve you. That is the mission statement for this business. We do not do it for the money here, we do it for Jesus. God Bless you and may your travels be safe, and remember, God is with you in the good times and most importantly in the bad times. You just have to call on him. Our family is living proof."
God help us! We left the bad decor and disgusting food of this little North Carolina temple of gay-hate in a hurry.
But then we like – no love, South Carolina. True we two are the ultimate fish out of water but it really is foodie heaven. Lowcountry boils were invented here. Shrimp and Grits. Crab cakes. Cornbread. Real Southern Fried Chicken. So, so good.
Interesting places to visit within easy reach too like Savannah, like Charleston, which are steeped in slave trade roots, cotton plantations and the history of the Republic - and Republicans. So there is that.
Back home I work hard, very hard, and need to get away sometimes. The editor’s job at PositiveLite,com is not a picnic, not all about correcting typos or awkward turns of phrase, although there is some of that. More often than not it's about being on the front lines of advocacy work, like persuading that Undetectable equals Uninfectious to an audience that is part welcoming, part skeptical and part outright hostile. It wears you down and makes you angry and happy and sad. It’s worthwhile but surprisingly emotional work and draining too. So yes, I need a holiday or my innate crankiness that I maintain is an unexpected byproduct of HIV and aging that at times becomes overwhelming will turn me into a truly horrible person.
So we get over the guilt of privilege and the stinky politics and warped religion and head south, way south until we get to the ocean. The beaches are quiet at this time of year and the weather still warm - and the ocean cures everything.
photos by Bob Leahy