Understanding How HIV Affects Us All

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Admin Note: Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. We’ve got a guest post to remind you of the importance of this topic. We challenge you to help us get the word out. It could happen to anybody. It could also be prevented.

1998. I was 13. The phone rang. The call came from the Dominican Republic (DR). I addressed my aunt with the traditional greeting, asking for her blessing. She abruptly brushed me off, asking to speak to my mother. Something was off. The only time DR called was when something was wrong.

She greeted her baby sister with the warmness and guilt of the older sister who neglected her poverty-stricken family. My mother wasn’t a bad sister; simply had a lot on her plate. Between her career, her husband, four kids, her relatives living in NYC and a ton of debt – her daily life was consumed. She listened carefully, trying to grasp what was being communicated on the other side of the phone.

“How?”

Silence.

“Are you sure?”

More silence.

“Who?”

Her face revealed answers to my unspoken thoughts. Shortly after, she hung up and walked away.

Several hours later, as we were all watching TV in the living room, she sat down and said, “Your Aunt Rosa has AIDS. She was given four months to live.” I thought, “Wait, what?” but “How?” was all I could manage. My Aunt Rosa was married and didn’t do drugs. She had two beautiful children and a loving husband – or so I thought. My mother continued, “Her husband. He has been HIV+ for awhile. He got it from some woman and has been giving it to everyone he sleeps with thereafter.” WTF?! Needless to say this came as a shock to the entire family.

With medication, my aunt’s health stabilized. Shortly after receiving her diagnosis, he disappeared and wasn’t seen until much later. As time passed, she started getting better. She started gaining weight, had more energy and after a year had passed, she was doing okay. Two years passed and she was still holding strong. She met a man, started dating him and became pregnant with his child. (I’m unsure if she disclosed her status to him; I never asked.) Unfortunately, she lost the baby and shortly after she began to deteriorate.

It had been four years since she was given four months to live; she had held on tight and fought. During the summer of 2002, I went to DR with my mother to spend time with my family. A few days prior to our departure, her husband had passed away. We knew it would happen, we just didn’t know when.

The day before we left, we spent the afternoon with Aunt Rosa.  My beautiful aunt, who typically weighed 135 lbs, weighed no more than 65 lbs. She had lesions all over. She looked like a corpse. The disease had destroyed my aunt slowly, leaving no part of her untarnished. I held her tight and knew this would be the last time I would see her.  We flew back to NYC, with an unsettling feeling.

The following day my aunt passed away. The epidemic that had killed millions had taken the life of someone I loved.

While in college several years later, I got a call from my cousin in the Dominican Republic. I suspected something might be wrong. My favorite cousin called to inform us he was HIV+. He explained, “I’m not sure if it was at the barbershop with a shared razor blade or a woman I slept with in the last few years.”  I was reliving a nightmare all over again. The only difference was that he was diagnosed earlier than my aunt and has been able to get treatment, enabling him to live longer than my aunt. Since being diagnosed in 2005, he has been hospitalized numerous times — all medical complications due to the illness.

Saying that the loss of my aunt to AIDS and having a cousin living with HIV has caused some emotional/psychological trauma would be putting it lightly. Now, my initial reaction when meeting a potential suitor is, “He probably has AIDS.” I approach all men with this mentality. Is it sad? You f*cking bet. Is it a harsh reality? F*ck yes.

Every 9.5 minutes someone is infected with HIV. 1 in 5 people living with HIV is unaware of their infection. The majority of new HIV infection cases are made up of Latinos and Blacks. As a Latina, (who proudly dates Black and Latino men), this is definitely a RED FLAG. As someone who works in supportive housing with the mentally ill and individuals living with HIV/AIDS, I can attest that these stats continue to grow. The swapping of needles, prostitution, and sexual relationships between those infected with those that are not infected are just some of the factors contributing to the rise of these statistics.

I share this story because we live in a world where people still do not fully understand the severity of this disease. You never understand the severity of this epidemic until it directly affects you. I sure did not. Then, I lost my aunt.  Eventually, I will lose my cousin to it as well. HIV/AIDS is real and does not discriminate. It is a vicious illness that affects everyone, but when diagnosed early on, a person can live a long life with the proper care and medication.

Get tested. Know your status. Be cautious. Most importantly, always protect yourself.

- Mz. Scarlett

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  • fourpageletter

    wow. what a moving post. thanks for sharing.
    My recent post qotw: fave line from a song

  • http://www.purposedrivenambition.com Naomi Brock

    I'm an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness…especially in the African American community. Please check out my blog http://www.purposedrivenambition.com/2012/12/the-….
    My recent post DESTINED

  • Smilez_920

    Very moving piece. I think the scariest thing is the new cases of HIV are getting younger and younger. When we give our children the chex talk we have to push HIV/ std awareness and not just unplanned pregnancy. Even if that means as a parent taking your kids to get tested.

  • WIM

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this story.

  • morganthewriter

    This was a very moving post. You're right; we need to be more careful with sexuality (though far be it from someone who isn't sexually active to tell others what they should be doing).

    I remember seeing an article which said that the newest HIV cases were comprised of mostly Black men between the ages of 13 to 24, I think. That hit close to home; if I was sexually active … that could be me.
    My recent post Morgan’s Rant #5: Why Do People Leave the Bathroom Without Washing Their Hands?

  • Peter Parker

    Thanks for the story. We all need to be aware of this disease as it effects minorities at alarming rates.

  • http://twitter.com/sabadaga @sabadaga

    Wow, a lot of people get infected with HIV by sleeping with their spouse, what the world has come to ??
    So sad

  • Jazzy Lady

    So true! Thanks for sharing with us. I know 2 women who were married when they contracted HIV from thier husbands.

  • Elodie

    This post is very moving, especially for me and my history. While I was living abroad, my father got sick so I had to come back home, only to learn that he had AIDS. This news was really hard for me. I am not close to my father but it was still really hard. Fortunately he did not give it to my mother since they stopped being intimate around 2007, and they divorced the summer before he got diagnosed.
    Since this terrible news I have changed a lot. I mean when it happened I was at the beginning of my sex life, and even if I always protected myself, I saw sex as something fun, this is not the case anymore. Even if I am single, I wonder what to do and how should I behave with my next partner. I know for sure I will always protect myself, until he and I go get tested TOGETHER. I am also thinking about not practicing fellatio on my next boyfriend until he get tested since you can get various STDs doing this. My father is not the first case in my family since my uncle (his brother) had it too…and he gave it to his girlfriend. I think that when I will get married I'll keep getting tested several time a year since you cannot really trust people nowadays.
    While I was having sex around a year and half ago the condom broke off and I still need to get tested. I have never thought about that incident until I got the news about my father. For awhile I was convinced I had aids too, I couldn't think rationally (I was also convinced I had all kind of diseases like every form of cancer in the world) but now I feel better, the news is less fresh, I stopped reading stuff on the internet, I am less traumatized, so I think iam ready to do this test but it is really stressful. I mean after what I saw on my father, I don't ever want to have to face that. He had a life threatening allergy from his meds, they were burning him from the inside, and even if today he feels better you can still see the disease on his face since it made his skin tone darker than it used to be (the skin tone doesn't look like a natural dark shade).
    I think people always feel like it only happens to other, but that ain't true. I was so choked when one of my friends told she had sex with a guy she met without using condoms…I told her the truth about my father just so she can understand that she need to be more careful.
    People should realise that it can happen to everybody, no matter what is your age, race, job or sexual orientation. Old people think they don't need to protect themselves because they are not at risk, but my father is 58 and I heard that more and more people from this age group are being diagnosed with the disease, at least in France (where iam from)…
    So anyway, I think that I have always had trust issues but now they are at an all time high…
    People should be more careful…

  • latinegro

    Wow. No matter how many times we hear about the statistics it still does not stop people from spreading this. I am very touched by this story and it makes me think that I should do more to help educate people.
    My recent post Rules of Engagement

  • MaggK

    Very moving post, and i wish i couldn't relate!
    I guess you realize how real HIV is when you actually know people who died from it or still live with it… I got several family members who died from it (in the early 90's the treatment wasn't as good as it is now)
    And my aunt got it from her husband too (talk about when cheating goes wrong!)
    Like you said and like i always say: PROTECT YOURSELF!!!