I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “I HAVE HIV but HIV is NOT me”. We all have days when we don’t want to remember we are HIV-positive. When I am confronted with my HIV, I have learned to look at it in the eye and embrace the fact that we are deeply intertwined. I do this every single day.
1. I DO IT when I wake up in the morning and have to wait for my HIV-positive husband Denis to help me get into my wheelchair. I have been wheelchair bound for four years due to a progressive neuromuscular disease called “Inclusive Body Myositis” that according to my doctors, is not HIV-related but I’ve never been 100% convinced that that is the case.
2. I DO IT every morning when I struggle but succeed with my personal grooming rituals.
3. I DO IT when I take my HIV meds every morning, afternoon and night.
4. I DO IT when I comb my beard in order to hide the effects that lipodystrophy has had on my face. At one point awhile back, I developed what I referred to as “hamster pouches” on my cheeks that eventually disappeared but left me with some sagging skin that I have artfully sculpted my beard to cover up.
Yes, I am reminded of HIV all the time, every time I take a look at myself in a mirror I am confronted with that reality. I am confronted daily with the realization that I have HIV BUT do you know what follows that realization?
Following my daily HIV realization I become surrounded by a positive affirmation, indeed, a mantra of inner peace about it. I know for sure that I’m living WITH HIV. HIV does not consume my life. I have made friends with the acceptance of HIV as a part of me and my life and I have no need to escape that piece of information. I use my relationship with HIV as an example to help others accept the fact that there is life after testing positive for HIV. I guess I’m pretty successful at accepting peacefully my HIV status. I’ve been doing it for 30 years.
When life hurts, I “WRITE”. For me, writing begins a conversation with myself that always results in a very accurate treatment plan for where I need healing.
I have always loved art and earned my M.A. degree in art history and art education. I used to dream of being a great painter but unfortunately, in spite of my knowledge ABOUT art, I pretty much couldn’t draw a straight line. It was when I realized that I would never paint a masterpiece that would hang in the Louvre that I discovered the art of the “written word”. I paint with words. I write from the perspective of an openly gay, HIV positive, Latino man, and have done so for years.
Even when I was a teacher in New York City’s East Harlem “barrio”, I was always a proud, openly gay and HIV positive, Latino professional. I used the process of embracing my HIV status to help and maybe even inspire others who may have been struggling. I was a TEACHER by profession and a good one. I refused to waste my teaching talent and my ability to paint “word pictures” to add some comfort and beauty to a struggling world. I will use my word pictures to help diffuse the ugliness of this disease and, in doing so I hope to share hope, strength and inner peace to troubled souls.
Only through the entire acceptance of HIV as an integral part of my life was I able to heal and attain peace and joy in my life. Healing. I am so lucky to have learned to find joy when I need to. YES, there IS joy in finding just the right bow tie to go with a favorite shirt. There is joy, comfort and pleasure knowing I have a supportive, loving partner who understands what I’m going through (and miraculously KNOWS when I’m craving Puerto Rican food).
The opportunity to smile and have friends is a joy. The ability to continue to open myself up to a world full of wonder where HIV is NOT a perpetual “buzz kill” is joyful.
HIV is just ONE of my paint brushes. Not only am I the painter, I’m also the model for my word paintings, sometimes the “master” sometimes the “student”. Not sure I’m ready to call HIV a friend, but much like the guy at work who doesn’t use deodorant and talks too much, I’ve learned to live with it.
I’m Healthy, Inspired and Victorious. Good morning HIV, who’s heart are we going to paint today?