My parents were 15 years old when I was born. I suspect my father was already a heroin addict at that point. I didn’t really know my mother and my father knew he couldn’t care for me properly. He decided to place me in the care of my grandparents. They were stable, calm, and very family oriented. It was secure. But my childhood did have its peculiar parts. My father spent a great deal of time in jail so he wasn’t accessible to me. When I saw him, he was always clean, cheerful and affectionate. His addiction didn’t really affect me until I was older, when I developed a pattern of dating men who were always unavailable and inaccessible.
When I was diagnosed with HIV at age 25, it felt like my whole life just passed me by. I had the same boyfriend for three years and based on my CD4 count at the time I was diagnosed, my doctor suspected that I had been positive for about two years. When I shared my status with my boyfriend, he refused to get tested, claiming that he wasn’t strong enough to get bad news. That response told me everything I needed to know and we went our separate ways.
I ended up getting married to a man who was extremely violent and insensitive. He was also very needy and childlike because he had been in prison for years. Having HIV made me feel like I should just be happy that somebody was willing to love me. He abused me so severely that my face was unrecognizable. I ended up in the hospital and from there I was sent to a shelter. I knew I needed to leave my husband but I was still telling myself that I needed to fix him. I broke free from the addiction of domestic violence when I finally realized that I would never be able to fix something that I didn’t break.
A social worker at the shelter kept telling me that I needed to go to FIGHT. Initially, I went to the women’s group and it was so wonderful to be around people who understood what I was experiencing without explanation. Eventually, I completed Project TEACH and became a Peer Educator. It has been very therapeutic for me to help educate people on the history of HIV and the importance of getting tested and treated.
Ultimately, I have learned that when a dream goes bad you re-dream. To have high expectations is something that everyone deserves and should not be ripped away by an HIV diagnosis. I’ve been diagnosed with AIDS, I’ve been beaten down, and I’m still standing. As long as you’re still breathing, there are still options; you just have to live to see them.
- China White