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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

REMEMBER

AIDS Memorial Quilt displayed in Washington DC. It represents the 25 million lives that have been lost to AIDS since 1981.

For me, World AIDS Day is a time to remember; It's also a time to hope. I've been HIV positive for over twenty-five years now. I don't often go into how I contracted the virus because even after all these years it's still a difficult subject, but I think that young people, especially, need to be aware of how HIV can (and still does) happen to anyone...even the nice girl next door. I was never promiscuous and I wasn't a drug user; neither was the young man whom I contracted HIV from. I met and fell in love with John Clark III when I was just nineteen. He came from a very respectable, upper-class family who had adopted him as a baby (his birth mother, he confided, had been an addict who'd given him up at birth). 

After a year and a half together John asked me to marry him and I said yes. We'd been engaged for six months when he started to change–We didn't know it, but HIV was quietly taking hold of not only his body, but his mind as well. His behaviors were becoming more and more erratic. He started to lose a lot of weight and his cognitive skills began to decline rapidly. Sometimes, he seemed like a totally different person to me. In hindsight, I now know that it was AIDS related dementia, but at the time I didn't understand what was happening and neither did he. I thought he must be doing drugs and I confronted him. He said he wasn't, but I didn't believe him. We had an argument over it and he told me to have a good life and that I was better off without him. I gave him the ring back and that was the last time I ever saw him. 

A couple years later I learned that he had died of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma–a cancer sometimes seen with late-stage AIDS. Did John ever learn the truth? I don't know that answer and I probably never will. What I do know is that back in the mid-eighties HIV was considered a gay disease; doctor's may not have thought to test a young, straight male. Likewise, I never thought that I was at risk for getting it either, but a decade later, after I'd married and started a family, I would learn the devastating truth. I'm here to say that anyone can get AIDS, so even if you don't think you're at risk respect yourself and others and get tested, because until there is a cure, knowing your status and using protection is the only way that we'll halt the spread of this disease. 

You probably didn't know it, but women are more likely to be infected with HIV by our male partners than the other way around. If you've ever had unprotected sex, you've put yourself at risk. Get tested.  

It took me many years to find closure, but I have. I'm very fortunate in that my husband never did contract HIV. I wish that I could say the same for our children–two who are biological and one adopted–all born with HIV.  Our family has been through a lot because of AIDS and we consider ourselves lucky to be alive and healthy today. I have forgiven John. Whether he knew, or didn't know is no longer important. I do wish that I'd known that he was dying so that I could have been a better friend. His name was John Clark III.... He was kind, handsome and talented, and he was just one of the 25 million, thus far, who have lost their life to AIDS.   

Today, December 1st, is a day to remember. What does World AIDS Day mean to you?  This World AIDS Day I hope that you'll join me in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Together, we can halt this disease, and one day put an end to this pandemic once and for all.    

7 comments:

Andrea H. said...

Awhh, how do I love it when you tell it here on your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your story of when it all started. I still remember when I emailed you asking your advice if you think I should adopt 2 more positive kids after I already had two because your such an icon to me on this subject. Beyond my friend Erin I wouldn't feel more comfortable than asking you for any advice about stigma, living with HIV or anything. Thanks for often bringing it up on your blog because more people need to know.

Bethany said...

Thank you so much for telling your story. It is a sad one with a happy outcome - you are alive and well and leading such an amazing life. I admire you and your family so much.

Chantelle said...

Bless you for sharing so openly. ((hug))

courtneywrites said...

Stunning and brave, as always.

OneThankfulMom said...

I remember hearing your story for the first time way back early in the process of our first HIV+ child. I admire your courage in sharing your life the way you do. Thank you.

Lisa

MoonDog said...

I have 4 adopted children with hiv. I read your blog for hope. for knowledge. I thank you for putting yourself and your family out there for people like me. Often I forget for weeks at a time that they even have hiv. they take their meds but thats just routine, another child without hiv takes meds too. they are so.....normal. they play, the fight, they go to school, they do chores, they love. and we love them so! truly your blog was part of the strength we needed to take this on with them. you gave them a future because you gave us the strength to go get them no matter what letters came after their name.

Writer, AIDS Advocate, fuzzy animal lover, and soon to be debut author–represented by Jeanie Pantelakis of Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency. Visit: www.SuzanStirling.com said...

Wow..you all amaze me! Thank you for sharing these lovely posts!