At 13, I first became sexually active. Although emotionally immature for sexual activity at that age, I trusted my boyfriend enough to engage in sexual relations without using condoms as protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Though not particularly worried about contracting any diseases through my boyfriend having sexual encounters with me directly; nevertheless I took steps such as making sure I got tested annually for all sorts of STIs, including HIV.
At 13, my HIV test came back negative. Same story at 14 and 15. But ten days before turning 16 on November 7, 1996, after another HIV test at my doctor’s office, they required me to come in person in order to review my results; that meant I was positive.
So as not to let anyone know of my secret, I took the bus alone to visit the doctor’s office.
My doctor informed me of my HIV status, leaving me devastated and terrified. At that point in time, all I knew about HIV and AIDS was what had been depicted in “Philadelphia” — not particularly inspiring or inclusive for women, since most images depicted frail men instead.
I left with paperwork for a health clinic that specialized in treating those living with HIV.
“Unfortunately, my practice cannot offer you any assistance,” the doctor replied.
Once home, I told my mother the results. As soon as she knew about them she began screaming at me and blaming me while banging on our front door repeatedly.
My boyfriend did not respond with compassion when I disclosed this information. Instead, he accused me of cheating–something I hadn’t done–and soon after got tested positive himself for HIV. We remained together but the relationship became unhealthy and sometimes abusive over time.
Soon after I was diagnosed, I started taking medication to combat my disease. Unfortunately, it made me extremely nauseous; to this day I can’t think about taking any more of that stuff without feeling queasy.
My life had already been difficult before my diagnosis; I didn’t have many friends and no one I could turn to in my family for support. Yet after receiving this news, life became even more isolating; I felt lost inside myself.
Success in school had always been my top priority until my diagnosis, when my academic ambition dwindled and all classes failed. To remind me of my failure, my mother framed and displayed my report card filled with F’s.
Over time, my commitment to my health declined over time, until learning I was pregnant with Daniella in 2000 and began taking my medications regularly again. Amazingly enough, despite being born from two HIV-positive parents, Daniella turned out to be HIV negative!
Once I gave birth, I stopped taking my medication again as it no longer felt necessary since my pregnancy wasn’t ongoing.
At Daniella’s newborn stage, I met Jason. Initially we didn’t click at first but over time we quickly formed a strong friendship that eventually turned romantic. By this time Daniella’s father and I had already parted ways and Jason and I began dating.
Jason and I engaged in unprotected sexual encounters without my knowing, yet I failed to inform him I was HIV-positive. It took me some time to figure out why; perhaps I was angry toward men due to being molested by my stepfather in the past — hence why I didn’t care in that moment about telling him about myself or HIV status.
Jason learned of my HIV status through someone else, which left him angry that I hadn’t informed him myself; nevertheless, we still became romantically involved, entering a true loving relationship for the first time ever in my life.
As Jason and I continued dating, he became concerned about my failure to take my medication as prescribed. He advised me to do so and promised I would. For him and Danielle.
He looked me in the eyes and replied that it is important that we love ourselves enough to take our medication when necessary.
I felt that moment was pivotal.