We moved from the 2 bedroom house behind my granny in south-central LA, to a 3 bedroom apartment on the west side of LA on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. It was another major change. I went from a place where I didn’t have many friends to a place where everyone smiled and said hello. My school was in walking distance. The first day I thought my mom was going to drive us to school but she didn’t she told us to pay attention to what she did and where she turned because she wasn’t going to come pick us up and she expected us to be home within 30 minutes of school letting out.
My older sister, older brother and I were afraid that we would get lost so we drew maps of the neighborhood as we walked to school with my mom. As the days went on we would take different turns just to see what was where and to add to our maps. We marked streets, the homes of our new friends, the candy stores, and streets with hills that we could ride our bikes down, big trees, parks, libraries, and strange looking buildings. By the time we finished making our maps the first pages were torn or lost.
My days at Shenandoah Elementary were fun. I was still very shy but I had a few friends. No one messed with me and I did well in my class. I was the type of student who wanted to get all the answers right. I raised my hand to answer every question and I cried if I didn’t get the answer correct. I was in the third grade. Only seven years old and I had a secret. Like all kids I wanted to share my secret so I told a girl that I considered my best friend. This was the beginning of the discrimination. I told her I had a big secret and that I would tell her if she promised to keep it between us. I told her and she stepped back and said to me “Your gay and your gonna die. My uncle has that and my mom said hes gay and deserves it.”
“Gay? Whats that mean?”
She just ran off and I never talked to her again. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I told my secret so I kept this conversation to myself. I think that was the day I began to keep everything to myself I didn’t want anyone else rejecting me. I tried hard to fit in. I didn’t have an opinion and anytime any one asked me to make a choice my answer was either I don’t know, I don’t mind, or it don’t matter. I didn’t want to make any wrong choices and give anyone reason not to like me. It became my major goal in life to make others like me. I was always polite I always smiled and I never tried to stand out. I didn’t want anyone to notice me because I thought they would somehow discover that I had a secret.
I was in the 4th grade and I’m not sure why but my mom had to tell my teacher about my illness. Ms. Magana is one of the nicest teachers I ever had. Im not sure if she was so nice to me because I was HIV positive or if she was just that way by nature but I felt like she smiled just a little brighter when she looked at me. She was the first teacher who didn’t question my intelligence. I always felt smarter than the other kids in the class because in New York they teach you at a faster pace than in California. I knew how to multiply and divide in the first grade. Ms. Magana let me do work from the 5th grade books and she also let me help her grade papers. I was helping her make copies one day and I got a paper cut. She asked me if I could clean it and bandage it myself or if I needed her to help me. She didn’t want to send me to the nurse because she understood the stigma and rejection that may have followed. I told her I could do it myself. I washed my hands dried them and tried to put the band-aid on. She saw me trying and came over took the band-aid and put it on my cut. She explained to me the my blood had germs in it just like everyone else’s and any time anyone got a cut we should always make sure to protect ourselves from their blood. She explained to me that she was not afraid to help me clean and cover my cut because she could do it without touching my blood. She put the band-aid on me and said “see all don’t and I have nothing to worry about. She got a bottle of cleaning solution from the cabinet sprayed the table I was sitting at and wiped it down with a paper towel. That made me like her even more because now I felt like I had a friend.
This is different. I have had a few relationships in the past where I thought I was accepted despite my Positive status. I was so use to being accepted only in the shadows. I still have people in my life who are ok with having a friend who is HIV positive as long as no one else knows. I can remember being invited to share my story at a school and being told by the person that I was dating at the time that I can’t do it because they knew people who lived near that school. The fear was in the fact that somehow his friends would find out that the women he “loved” was HIV positive.
The relationship that I’m in now is so different from anything that I have ever experienced. I have been in relationships with women before but never anything that was truly open and honest so it was never serious. She took it upon herself to tell her friends all about me. I was afraid to accept them to my facebook page for fear of them finding out that she was dating an HIV positive woman. She told me that she had already told them and they were just as ok about it as she was. This relationship is one that allows me to be me. I don’t have to hide anymore and that feels amazing.
We went to the book store with a friend of hers who is now my friend as well. We will call her Ricky. Ricky shared a very intimate story about how she was once taken advantage of. This got me to thinking about the times in the past when I was in similar situations. Trying to keep my diagnosis a secret has often lead me to playing the role of the oblivious girl right on the verge of danger. I explained a situation to her that I worked really hard to forget.
I was about 19 and in one of my depressed moods. I turned to my normal reckless behavior to get over it. I called the party line and hooked up a date with some random stranger. I had him pick me up at the library and we went to get something to eat. After that I expected to get dropped off back at the library. He said he wanted to show me something. He got on the freeway and drove to a city I was unfamiliar with I asked where he was taking me and he said “You will see soon it’s a surprise.” My heart beat quickened and I contemplated telling him about the fact that I was born positive as a way to make him change his mind if he had bad intentions. That could have ended very badly. He got off the freeway and I made up my mind that I was getting out of that car at the next possible chance. I slowly took off my seat belt, He stopped at a red light and I quickly jumped out the car and ran in the opposite direction. I looked back and saw him get out the car to close the door. I kept running and didn’t look back any more. I saw a city bus and I waved hysterically praying that it would stop. The driver opened the door and I jumped on board. I told the driver that I was on a date and I was afraid that he was going to try to hurt me. I was in tears as I explained that I had no idea where I was and I didn’t have any money but if I could get close to the Downtown Union Station I could get home. The driver gave me a day pass and told me he would tell me where to get off and what bus I needed to get to where I was going.
I asked Ricky if she knew about me being positive after sharing this story with her. She just shook her head yes. I told her that we all have reasons for doing reckless things but during those times we needed to turn to the people who we know we can trust. She was very clear about the fact that she was now one of those people for me and I was one of those people for her. She and I both dropped a few tears while sitting in the café of the book store and I could tell that she would be one of those people who would be in my life for a very long time. This relationship is bringing on more positive relationships and it’s pulling me out of the shadows.
For a really long time I found it hard to love and even harder to trust. She and I are not perfect people and we both have a lot to learn about the other but I don’t see us ever having a problem that we can’t work out.
I’m looking forward to reading a book titled The Five Love Languages. I was advised by a friend that it would benefit me in all situations when communicating with others. Look forward to the growth and strength I will gain from this book.