I first began writing Red Ribbon Diaries over a decade ago, when my children were young. I was a brand-new adoptive mom navigating life, career, and family. When I think back to those early days and all we've gone through I sometimes I wonder how we made it. There is a reason I've not written a memoir. It's painful to go back to those days when my family's future hung by a thread. In those early days, as a way to cope, I learned a wonderful skill called living in the moment. I also dreamt a lot of how I wanted things to be. Dreaming is a mighty powerful tool. Never underestimate a dream. Or the power of a "moment" for that matter. Back in the late nineties and early 2000's, with the frightening prospect of AIDS looming over our heads, I lived not for the future, but for the day, the hour, but for the most part, I lived in the moment. Oh, how I cherished each minute with my then young children! The here and the now were my focus. Back then, shortly after my children and I were diagnosed with the unthinkable, we lived each day as if it were a miracle. And indeed, looking back, it was a miracle.
In this blog, I share some of our moments and miracles. Moments, as difficult as they were, that changed our family for the better. Moments that ultimately make up a lifetime of love and triumph over a disease that has taken far too many lives. In this blog, I share our coming out as a family struggling with HIV, and possibly our most decision, to speak out about our disease, a decision that became paramount to my family's well-being. Back in 1996, I have to be honest, there weren't too many families like ours. I was terrified that one day our small community would learn the truth. I remembered Ryan White and the terrible fuss and heartbreak that he endured following his willingness to share his story of living with HIV/AIDS. I was afraid the same might happen to my babies. I almost let fear win. But ultimately, to live in fear or shame is no way to live at all. We decided to come out, and we decided to come out big.
I remember sitting with a counselor at St. Jude Children's Hospital. A wonderful woman. Smart, kind, with strawberry blonde lashes sprinkled above blue eyes. Chris was also one tough cookie. If my spine weak, hers was quite the opposite. She was strong and sure, and back then as confident as I could only one day dream of being. We all could use a Chris. Nervous wrecks, all of us were. Clay, me the kids, all sitting in her office, pondering what to do. We'd just adopted Yonas. We now had three children with HIV in the school system. Yonas wanted to play soccer. The world was moving fast. Shouldn't we tell the coach, just in case? But then what if one of the parents found out? What if the whole school found out? What the hell were we going to do? Chris looked at me, with those piercing blue eyes and she didn't mince words. "If you're going to come out," she said, "Then you'd better come out big. That'll stop all the rumors and kids talking about it behind their backs." Chris's words changed the course. In that moment, sitting in her office at St. Jude, I decided to do something different. I decided to be brave, and damn, if it didn't feel good.
I remember looking at her and just knowing how much my kids meant to her. That day in Chris's office something inside me clicked. Chris had given me a compass, a direction in which to guide my children safely ashore. We had to be brave. We decided Chris was right. We came out big. When Good Morning America called, we said, yes. And when POZ Magazine wanted to feature our story in the January/February issue, I said yes, with one stipulation. I wanted to be the one to write it. There just wasn't another person in the world I trusted to write about my children and our struggles. I was delighted when the beautiful editor of POZ Magazine, Regan Hoffman said yes, I could write our story. At that time, besides a small run or two of fiction for a college magazine, this was my first published piece. That story is here on this blog and it was that little story that helped us come out to our community and our friends.
Those days after our disclosure, for the first time in years, I felt free! Free from the shame and secret of having contracted the disease as a young woman from a boy who (like me) probably never even knew he had it. Free is a good way to live.
Today, my children are wonderful and healthy. My youngest is sixteen and my adult children are navigating the world on their own and doing fantastic. I'm looking forward to watching their future come to fruition, as well as unleashing some dreams of my own, and yet being my children's mom will always be the single most important thing that I've ever done. Each day a gift that I've not for one second taken for granted. I've been blessed with chocolate face kisses, sticky high-fives from a jelly-fingered two-year-old, bleacher-butt, gray hairs, late night, teenage hellion, God-loving, walking down the aisle, tears in my eyes OMG that beautiful bride is my daughter...moments. Thank you, God, for those moments!
As of this day in 2018 I do believe we've come full-circle. Should your path lead you here, you'll find many stories, some happy and some sad, about my family and about my life. HIV isn't an easy disease to bear at any age, let alone grow up with, and this blog became a wonderful place for me to share our story. This blog gave me a voice--a place to laugh, and even cry if I needed to, but perhaps most importantly, this blog became a source of education and inspiration to many. The letters and support that have poured in over the years have meant so much to our family. Thank you for your kindness and love all these years.
I'm going to close with a favorite quote by Willa Cather. "Where there is great love, there are always miracles." I believe that, friends.
Suzan J. Meredith is an author, advocate, and 32-year survivor of HIV. Suzan's short stories, essays, and creative non-fiction have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Adoption Today Magazine, RAW, The Huffington Post, and others. Suzan is currently writing a novel. For updates and news visit Suzan on Facebook .