I’ve been watching The Wire with my Dad recently. He had wanted me to see it for the past few years now and I kept holding it off. Watching a television show about the drug trade in Baltimore didn’t exactly appeal to me. He told me it was the best television series he has ever seen and that at some point, it becomes Shakespearean in its scope. I kept saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah” but didn’t really want to leave my comfort zones. I loved Deadwood and Rome, which were also his recommendations, but watching the drug trade in Baltimore and a whole five season series on it just seemed daunting.
I should have listened to him sooner.
We have been watching it the past few weeks, getting in as many episodes in as we could. We are now neck-deep into the third season now and I’m officially hooked and I echo his sentiments: it really is the best television show out there and it’s Shakespearean in scope and complexity. It’s amazing. But I’m not here to talk about The Wire. I’m here to talk about something that happened last night while we were watching The Wire.
We were seated at the living room couch, television blazing, and my Dad asked to hit pause because he wanted to use the loo. So I pressed pause and saw him get up with very little help from me.
Lately, my Dad has been having trouble getting up because of his weight. My Dad is no spring chicken and it’s taking a toll on his body. Coming back from retirement and working again, he’s pushing his body so much that I started getting worried. He went to the doctor and the doctor told him he needed to lose weight. So we implemented a very strict diet which he has been obedient to for the past four days. I’ve been helping him with the groceries and looking up for delicious recipes that worked within the parameters of his diet and in just four days, he has been feeling better, lighter, and more physically able to do the things normal people do.
So I made a quip about, “this is why I climb walls.” Ever since I got back into wall-climbing, my Dad has been so snarky about it. He always has snarky things to say about my explorations into fitness. We even had a little tiff about my taking up barre3 and my desire to take dance classes. One time, I took a barre3 class and I got sick right afterwards. He got so mad and told me that I am not capable of doing that sort of thing any more.
“You aren’t taking care of yourself,” he said. “You’re sick but you are acting like you are not,” he added, and I’m paraphrasing here. He meant it all in good faith. He’s not just my father, after all, he’s also my best friend and my colleague. We talk outside the father-and-son dynamic and we also work together. Our relationship is very powerful, I think, and we love each other very much.
So when I said that, “this is why I climb walls,” he got a little serious again. He told me that I’ve been looking scrawny and unhealthy and that he is worried about me. “I have nothing against fitness, really,” he said. “I just think you are pushing yourself again and you don’t look healthy and I’m worried.”
That took me by surprise. We always talk to each other as if we were bitter enemies, throwing snarks and sarcasm back and forth. Wit and biting humour is our first language and we converse in it daily, sometimes even hourly. This was devoid of any humour or sarcasm. This was serious talk. This was pure father-and-son level of conversation and I had to listen. I immediately reverted to the youngest son dynamic and said, “But I can’t gain weight! My sickness won’t let me gain weight, but I can’t let myself get physically weak.I have no stamina and I need to exercise because exercise raises your immune system.” He said that I would probably know better because I am the one who speaks with my doctors and does most of the research with regards to my sickness. He just emphasised that he is worried and concerned.
“Last year, people were saying you were ‘beautiful,'” he remarked. “And not just to be funny, you were beautiful and healthy looking and now you just look too thin and scrawny again and I just don’t want you to be pushing yourself.”
And then someone cashed my reality check all of a sudden.
Truth of the matter is, I cannot gain weight. For the life of me I tried. But I don’t. I don’t have an appetite and it’s amazing enough if I can finish a whole serving of food. It’s amazing, to me, if I get hungry at all. It barely happens now, you know? When I eat more than one serving in a meal, I know that it’s a good day. I just don’t have the stomach for it, literally. My stomach shrunk the last time I was hospitalised back in 2010. I can’t keep that much food anymore in my body.
After my hospitalisation in 2010, I was practically in bed for the better part of two years. My body just lost all its strength and I lost the little stamina I had left. Now that I’m back in Manila and back in the workforce, I need to get that back. And I have to get stronger, physically, because the rigours and demands of life in Manila (or life in general) requires me to do so. I have to be tougher. Exercise is good because it builds up your immune system. That’s why many people with HIV are told to go to the gym or do sports. Humphrey Gorriceta, another HIV advocate and a friend, has taken to Dragonboat Racing.
And all around me, there are people who are complaining that they can’t lose weight and it might seem like it’s mean for me to say that I can’t gain weight, but I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I can’t gain weight. I’ll always be this skinny, scrawny person. No matter how many walls I climb and no matter how much yoga or barre3 I take.
It is always something else for someone else. Can’t lose weight, can’t gain weight. It’s all the same, really. This is part of the symptom. This is part of the reason why HIV sucks. No matter how hard I work at it, I will never really look healthy again, even if I don’t have rashes or lesions or whatever. I’ll never be one of those fit guys anymore, no matter how many walls I climb or how much I dance or exercise.
People will always be worried and concerned for me. That’s love. That’s the cost of being loved. It’s not a complaint. It’s a fact. This is all part of the process of what it means to have limitations now. I hate it. No matter how much I want to take care of people, of other people, of the people I love; they will always be one step ahead taking care of me.
That’s one battle I cannot win.