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A Memoir

Shelby Smoak

Publication Year: 2013

I am Caucasian, five foot eleven, have sandy brown hair, blue eyes, and am a tender slip of bone. And I am at the hospital.
A coming-of-age memoir for modern times, Bleeder is the incredibly compelling tale of author Shelby Smoak. A hemophiliac, Smoak discovered he had been infected with HIV during a blood transfusion at the start of his college career. This devastating and destabilizing news led Smoak to see his world from an entirely new perspective, one in which life-threatening illness was perpetually just around the corner. Set in the 1990s along the North Carolina coast, Bleeder traces Smoak’s quest for love in a world that feels increasingly dangerous, and despite a future that feels increasingly uncertain. From the bedroom to the operating room, and from one hospital to the next, Smoak seeks out hope and better health. Winner of a PEN American Center award for writers living with HIV, Smoak, whose work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, constructs this unforgettable story of life and love against insurmountable difficulties in breathtaking, tightly drawn prose.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 1-11

In 1974 when I was two, an unusually large bruise developed across my back and refused to heal. My parents were confused. How can this be? This bruise isn’t normal? What is wrong with our son? Necessarily, their concern carried them (and me) to the emergency room— a site that will...

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A Man in Hiding

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pp. 13-19

My family and I hoist boxes of my belongings and cart these up two flights of stairs to my college dorm room, and after several hours the heat exhausts me. I sweat— trickles of perspiration slip from my pits. My family, too, sweats in the coastal heat, Dad the most, his cotton polo patched with...

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The Regular

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pp. 21-29

After the social worker leaves, I stretch out on the table and roll onto my side and gaze out the window to the parking lot below. From here, the cars remind me of the Matchbox toys I once played with. Then there was such simple joy in pushing a metal car across a linoleum floor or atop a bedspread...

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pp. 31-40

Afterwards, Ana and I sprawled in the lavender twilight, whispered endearing words of foreverness, and snugged our naked bodies against each other. I knew nothing of love, and yet I said I did as I held her tightly. We kissed more. We played our hands together, and we began again. And I had...

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Sandwich Interlude

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pp. 41-43

During the day, however, I work at a sub shop. I earn minimum wage and am congratulated on my hard work and dependability by my manager. And while the job gives me money for gas, dinner dates, movies, and CDs— after work, my legs ache, my ankles swell like oranges, and my knee...

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pp. 45-50

Tonight, I recline in my favorite chair— the one tucked against the large window that stares out upon the campus walk— and my heavy bookbag rests at my feet, yet instead of reading my coursework, I thumb another medical journal in the hope of understanding more about me. In college I’ve learned...

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Throwing Hope Away

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pp. 51-58

In class, I answer the short responses, concentrate on the essay question, and then my foot contracts in a spasm. I run my shoe along the floor, trying to press my foot flat within it and work my knot away. My foot twists. I breathe deeply, slowly, and concertedly to ease my pain, but...

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The Split

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pp. 59-65

Last night Ana had called and said that she had found a ride to Wilmington for the weekend, and I suddenly felt a greater distance between us than our geography, for I told her to stay in Greensboro. I was busy; friends were coming to visit. We had had our summer together, and now I wanted more...

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Summer 21

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pp. 67-82

For the duration of the afternoon, we unload my belongings, and when Mom leaves to get the last of my things from the car, Dad knocks a cigarette from his pack and lights it. He leans over to catch his breath and then rights himself again. “Your mom’s just upset because I’m not going to be home this...

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The Pine Cone Did It

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pp. 83-94

My body pounds on the ground, and the concussive force thrusts a gasp of air from my lungs and flattens my round heart against a hard mat of earth. Then for a moment, the world softens as if in a dream: the swaying trees and the freshly cut grass are chimeras of green, and the autumn air...

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pp. 95-98

I ride the escalator to the second floor, where the X- ray flashes over my chest, and then I follow the signs to the ophthalmology clinic, where, getting lost along the way, I eventually arrive at the check- in window. Later I grip the arms of a large, vinyl chair while the doctor drizzles dilating drops...

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pp. 99-107

When I phone Chapel Hill, the Hemophilia Center sets up an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. A week passes. Then, with my clogged ears, my leaky nose, and my watering eyes, I drive through the springtime rain from Wilmington to Chapel Hill to see this ear, nose...

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pp. 109-113

The next morning, I scan the want ads, seeking a summer job to tide me over until something more permanent presents itself. Later, I call the Carolina Yacht Club, which needs summer help, and after a short interview, they hire me as a summer cabana boy. After doing some rough calculations...

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Sunset upon the Heart

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pp. 115-123

After the bell rings, the class settles down and we go over the introductions and classroom rules; then Mrs. McRae doles out change for the math lesson. I stroll the room and cast glances at their worksheets. Sylvia fumbles the change in her hand and appears to count it, but cannot. I go to her...

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The Handbook to Dating with HIV

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pp. 125-130

In my apartment, with nothing but the winter’s howl outside, I brew endless cups of coffee, prop my feet up on the couch, place a cold compress on their swelling, and I read. I glance up. The light outside darkens and a lone branch brushes against my window in a frigid breeze. Sleet falls and...

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My Lolita

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pp. 131-139

When I step to the counter for a refill, I notice the young girl sitting there. Her brown hair is drawn into a bun pierced by sticks that make an X behind her head; her blue eyes sparkle from the reflected light of a mirror hung behind the coffee bar; and when she smiles— a seductive spreading of...

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Chase Manhattan Owns Me

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pp. 141-146

For several months I have done this, and for several months I get on the American way; I live in debt. But now Chase Manhattan wants to talk to me. They call daily. They leave messages. I am late on my payment, they say. I am over my limit, they add. And now, they are putting a hold on...

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pp. 147-150

Once handed my X- ray charts, I return to the orthopedic clinic where I wait next to an elderly man, his leg plastered in a milky cast. We smile at one another, but say nothing, and he is soon called and crutches away in slow arthritic unhaste. Eventually I am taken back, and when the orthopedist...

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The Depressing Effect of Numbers

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pp. 151-154

He feels my lymph nodes by kneading his hands underneath my arms and along my neck as if I were bread, and he tells me that they’re inflamed and that this is a sign of my declining immunity. There is nothing to do about it, he adds. It is only a sign...

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Loose Lips

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pp. 155-166

I accept an assistant’s position at Aster Elementary and in August settle into a tiny apartment, two miles from the school. Here there is only me and the blue carpet that covers the floors. Outside, stout evergreens fence my home and their dark boughs block out light. The cell of pine and the blue...

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The Unicorn

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pp. 167-169

Jake rents an apartment that is hard to find, so by the time I arrive, the party is abuzz with laughter and swaying bodies in costume. I press through the tiny den and scan masks and made- up faces for any that I may know. Eventually, I happen upon Jake, a furry gorilla doing a beer bong through his...

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Winter Is the Cruelest Season

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pp. 171-181

To cure my lonesomeness, I call Maria and invite her to dinner. When I first see her again— the unicorn costume long discarded— her face glows and even in the dead of November she smells like the spring dew that settles upon the grass in the early morning. We eat well. We laugh heartily. And I...

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pp. 183-189

He writes out the prescriptions, and as he passes the slips of paper into my hopeful hands, I recall the failure of AZT, but Crixivan is something I say, puffing up hope. Along with Crixivan I take d4T and 3TC— names that seem invented by George Lucas— and when I fill them at the hospital pharmacy...

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pp. 191-196

My hometown is just as I have remembered it: quiet with nothing happening. The three o’clock factory shift changes are as punctual as the noontime fire whistle that I can hear drifting to me over the vacant pasture and the few brick homes between the siren and me. I will pause from...

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The Open Door

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pp. 197-199

Often I’ve thought about her and have wondered what happened, but I never called. For me, Maria was a travesty of timing. Then I had nothing of myself to share with her. I consider how my life has depended so much on timing. My factor invented the same year I was born, that’s timing. My...

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pp. 201

I’d like to thank my wife, Vicky, for her unending and unquestionable support and love; all my friends who became unwitting characters in this book, all those who, for one reason or another didn’t, but who I know I can lean on just the same; the teachers who’ve guided...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781609173555
E-ISBN-10: 1609173554
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860696
Print-ISBN-10: 1611860695

Publication Year: 2013