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.