I told my mother that I had HPV minutes after I found out; she was the first call I made after hanging up with the doctor. I remember feeling like I was confessing a terrible mistake, and wondering what it was like for her to hear, “Mom, I have to tell you something.”
I repeated what I could remember from the call with the doctor, emphasizing how common the virus was, and trying to explain the next steps. I knew she knew that I was fighting tears.
“But you got the vaccine,” she said, baffled. As if that would turn this into a joke, a mistake.
In the moment, I think we were both worried about the medical implications, the risks, the dangers over anything else. It wasn’t until many weeks later that she tentatively broached the topic that had likely been on her mind for some time.
“Do you know where you got it?”
I could see her wracking her brain, trying to make sense of the names she knew and the time in which it had happened.
“I think I do,” I answered.
I told her about the guy she’d never heard me mention, the one I had known for only a few months. In that same conversation, she asked me how many people I had had sex with, and raised her eyebrows when I answered. That was the first time I felt judgement from her throughout the entire ordeal.
My parents and I had never been extremely close, and certainly not open when discussing sex and boys. Now it came back to haunt us, my mother saying that it had been me who had been unwilling to talk about it while I blamed her for never broaching the topic, never making me feel comfortable enough to discuss it with her. I think she saw this communicative shortcoming as a catalyst to my perceived promiscuity. I wondered if a different kind of relationship between us would have really affected my decisions or not.
Though I knew the way she saw me had likely changed, I eventually accepted standing by my decisions. I hadn’t been crazy or rash, and even if I had, it was my own forgiveness I needed. My mother’s judgement could go where it would like.
My father and I have only spoken briefly about HPV. If my mother and I didn’t talk about those things, then my father and I couldn’t even think about them while in the same room. He cared only about my being healthy, and blocked the reasons why I wasn’t from his mind. It was the end result, not the cause, that mattered.
Despite her obvious surprise and supposed disappointment in some of choices, my mom has been a source of support without which the entire process would have been more gritty, more challenging, and more complicated. She managed to drive me to every doctor’s appointment, to pick me up from the train, to check in multiple times those first few days. She is entitled to her opinions the same way I am entitled to my choices. All I have left to say is thank you.