*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed to remove any identifying information.*
Around five o’clock, February 15, 2013, I rushed from school to an appointment with my doctor. I was called in on a short notice and when I arrived, my doctor already left for the day. Oddly enough, the nurse called him on his cell phone and he told me personally that he’ll be on his way back to the office. I never thought too much of it. I was at the doctor for a checkup because I was suffering from giardiasis for the past couple of months.
The day before, I had a beautiful Valentine’s Day with my lover of the time. It was our first time celebrating Valentine’s Day together, as I recently transferred to the university in the city where he lived the semester before. When my doctor arrived, he apologized for calling me in on such short notice. He sat at his computer and said, “Could you please come here? I want to show you something.”
He goes down my list of previous test results, “Negative, negative, nonreactive, reactive. You were reactive for the HIV antibody and the Western blot test confirmed it. Did you know about this?” I told him no and that I needed to sit down. Little did I know that I had contracted, as some would say, my death sentence from a previous relationship. I walked out the room and handed the receptionist a piece of paper with my diagnosis written on it so she could update my file. She looked at the paper then looked up at me, her face mortified. I snatched the lab work paper from the receptionist and ran to my car.
The second I stepped foot in my car, I cried uncontrollably. The only reason why I stopped at all was it had given me a major headache. Once I calmed down, I called my lover. He was very nonchalant and told me he’d talk to me when I got back home. That didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t take it to heart. I don’t think I slept that night. I cried all night from confusion. The only thought that ran through my mind was that he was lying to me.
One of the hardest things to do had to be done the next day– Tell my parents. I folded up the piece of paper with the diagnosis and sat on their bed. “I found out the reason why I can’t get rid of the giardiasis.”
“Why? What, you have AIDS?” They opened the paper and just held me. It felt like I laid there forever, just hurting. I felt like I let my parents down. I felt like a disappointment. Days of restlessness and shock slowly kicked in. I needed to leave. After telling my parents, I decided to go back home.
The drive back was filled with silence. My thoughts were numb. I didn’t feel much that day, except anxiety. I wanted to be in his arms and to hear his voice tell me that everything would be okay. I waited for him at my apartment and when I heard the door open, my emotions flooded back at once. He walked in, in silence. I walked up to him and as he slowly embraced me, I began to cry hysterically. He told me, “Everything is okay.” But deep down, I knew it wasn’t. Things started to change between us.
The good times gradually died down. Lies and secrecy replaced honesty. Communication ceased and the next thing I knew I was in love with someone who no longer was in love with me. I began to beg for his attention. Yearned for his affection and intimacy that was no longer mine. I just wanted to be loved by him. That’s all my heart desired. He was the first love of my life. He was the only one who could put my mind at ease, brighten up my day when no one else could, he made me feel wanted. All of that was gone.
One August night, I took him to the park to talk in one last attempt to win his heart back. He told me the truth, “I never cared about the relationship enough to fix it. I intentionally let it die because I didn’t want you anymore. I don’t ever want to be with you, and there’s no future together.”
Tears began streaming down my face. He continued, “I don’t care what you do anymore because we are done.”
I asked him how long he has felt like this.
“I’ve always felt like this. It’s been a few years.” Then it hit me. My mind took me back to when things started to change, back to when I first told him of my diagnosis. I never thought the person I wanted the most didn’t want me anymore because I was positive. I was devastated.
Afterwards we somehow became roommates due to the roommate matching program at our apartment complex, and I was reminded of how I lost him. Soon a new love interest took his attention. He would invite him over repeatedly; leaving me unable to escape my replacement. He had such a pretty brown face.
The amount of stress our situation and living arrangements put me through made me sick. I didn’t eat or sleep for days. During this time my CD4 cell count dropped from more than 900 to only 503. I couldn’t take being in that toxic environment.
I knew from my diagnosis that my life would be different. I felt weak and limited. I no longer aspired to become a Navy doctor who traveled the world. I lost all motivation and ambition and my mind was clouded only with desperation of finding a cure.
I tried to use all my knowledge that I learned about viruses from research during my leisure time, to cure myself. Everything failed. Not enough interferons could signal uninfected cells to protect themselves from the virus. No quantities of black seed oil and olive oil could kill the virus without medical assistance. After years of depression stemming from both the stigma associated with being HIV-positive and ineffective cures, new aspirations ignited within me to not only finish college, but to continue on to graduate school to study engineering.
Biochemical engineering could potentially give me the opportunity to research more effective treatments and potential cures. Being diagnosed as HIV-positive did give me the drive to want a better life for myself. However, I still have the negative thoughts that recur throughout my mind on a daily basis– Will I ever get married and have kids? Who would want to be with someone who’s sick? Will my next lover be open and understanding towards my diagnosis?
Over the years, I often think about how my life could have been different if I wasn’t positive. These years since being diagnosed, I’ve learned a lot. More than I possibly could have if I wasn’t. However, there is one thing I wish people could potentially comprehend about living with the virus. The virus has an ineffable effect not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally; those two aspects are often overlooked by society. There is an undeniable fear of the degradation of one’s mental functions. This fear alone can cause deep depression and instill a sense of uselessness. Many HIV-positive individuals take their lives because of the psychological effects they experience after being diagnosed. The fear of not being able to fall in love while repeatedly experiencing letdowns does take a toll on someone.
One day I was talking to my mother and she said, “I fear that whenever me and your daddy pass away, you won’t have anyone but your brother and your niece.” Feeling alone is one of the worst feelings that anyone can experience. If society was not so sympathetic, but instead was empathetic, I believe the stigma behind being HIV-positive would begin to change– then people would take the time to truly learn and understand just how it affects HIV-positive individuals in multiple ways.
Despite the pain that I endured, this journey has made me to be the beautiful man that I am today. It gave me the strength and courage to pursue new aspirations that I would not had pursued otherwise. I began to become a mentor to individuals who are seropositive and to those who have been diagnosed in the past. This all has brought me closer to family and strengthened bonds with friends while giving me the opportunity to explore spirituality outside of the norm. Being diagnosed as HIV-positive didn’t define who I am or my future, but it inspired me to become something far greater than a statistic.