Think you’ve got it rough? Hemophiliac Decker contracted hepatitis B at four, was given an HIV-positive diagnosis at 11—and he can still crack a smile.
One in every 10,000 males is born with hemophilia, a deficiency in the blood-clotting protein that often, as in the author’s case, turns routine events like nosebleeds into life-threatening occasions. Aside from fun times shoplifting Penthouse with friends and covertly watching porno movies, Decker’s childhood in Waynesboro, Va., was spent battling internal hemorrhaging and liver failure while being overprotected by panicky parents desperate to shelter him from unintentional, self-inflicted injury. Even older brother Kip sympathetically imagined his demise (only because he imagined Shawn would probably “have more fun in Heaven”). But the writer, a self-proclaimed “thinblood,” adjusted quickly to his condition; by the time he was ten, the anxiety, medical treatments, ER visits and transfusions had all become routine. As a result, his heartfelt memoir is narrated with a comedic, tranquil flow not found in many accounts of tragic health conditions. Decker maintains his cool even when describing how his HIV diagnosis further complicated matters. Contracted from one of the countless blood transfusions he’d undergone, HIV provoked all the “ignorance and stigma that goes along with AIDS” in his little hometown. After his own father outed him as HIV-positive, Shawn became a tortured pariah, and his parents eventually separated. Softening the blow were star-struck meetings with wrestlers and alternative rock bands, puberty and a first crush. Graduating from high school, Decker developed his own website, began networking with support groups and reconnected with friends. He “put [his] virus to work” as an AIDS activist, though being a member of the community’s heterosexual minority often proved challenging. Not even a crushing AIDS diagnosis in 1999 could stop the resilient writer from marrying girlfriend Gwenn, a beauty-pageant veteran, and enjoying a full, happy life.
Stoked by the author’s boundless, good-natured charm, his story pops with an effervescent sense of humor that never falters.