Being diagnosed HIV-positive was an unforgettable moment but it would be followed by another that haunted me for years to come. It was my first experience dealing with HIV Disclosure and it wasn’t the ideal situation. I had to tell my ex-girlfriend that I had broken up with months prior that I was now HIV positive and she needed to be tested as well.
First things first and that was confirming that I was indeed positive. When I received the call from my doctor for the Western Blot confirmatory results, I had already mentally accepted my diagnosis. There was always the slim chance that I was one of the “lucky” few who had received a false positive, but really what was the chance of that happening? Hearing the diagnosis over again reminded me of my new reality; it was now official.
While I sat at my desk writing bail bonds that day and securing inmates freedom from jail, I felt as if I was in a jail of my own, serving a life sentence. I was still in a very fragile state and coming to terms with my own diagnosis.
How could I tell her that I was now diagnosed HIV-positive? What would her reaction be and beyond that how would I respond to her reaction? After all, she could be the reason I was in this situation and completely unaware of it. Ultimately I knew the responsibility fell equally on us both and despite our differences, she deserved to know.
As I pushed the tab for her contact in my phone and the line began to ring, it was as if my heart was beating a million miles a minute. I again found myself in a fog where time seemed to have no meaning; it seemed like I was moving in slow motion.
My mind scrambled to get out the words but I simply couldn’t, all I could do was cry. She could hear the distress in my voice, the hesitation, as it was evident that something was indeed wrong. I could now hear her voice begin to worry without even knowing what I was about to tell her.
How were three words so hard to get out of my mouth ? It was as if I had became mute for a brief second and all that I could do was feel the emotions pulse through my body. As I finally got up the courage to say the words it was as if a weight was lifting off my shoulders, I was ready to tell her. “Amairany – Llame para decirte que soy VIH Positivo” or translated into English “Amairany – I called to let you know that I am HIV-positive”.
There was a brief second of silence followed by the loudest scream and screeching reaction of terror I had ever heard in my life. You would have thought I had told her the world itself was ending and I was the one delivering the catastrophic blow.
When I heard her let out that scream chills shot through my body like a bullet of shock had hit me, I was once again numb.
As tears rushed down my face I could feel the emotions she was feeling as vividly as they were happening. She cried for a good five minutes with me on the phone, not saying a word, letting each scream and shriek replace any words she might have wanted to say. I tried to calm her down, tell her it was going to be ok, but it was as if I was giving her the diagnosis right then and there.
She was trying to compose herself on the phone as I could hear her aunt asking in the background what was going on. She was speechless, left without words to tell her family that looked on as her ex-boyfriend broke her the biggest news of her life. I made it clear that I was not accusing her of anything and I had no clue when I was infected; however since we had relations in the last six months, it was important for her to get tested.
She began to ask me questions of how I found out, when, and what were the steps she needed to take. Emotions were running high still and I answered her questions as best as I could. My main concern was her getting tested to know her status; it was out of love for her. If she was positive she could seek out treatment and live a healthy life. I didn’t want her never to get tested since she didn’t fit a certain risk group and find out years down the line when the virus had progressed.
Her aunt got on the phone and asked me if it was she had heard was true, was I diagnosed with “SIDA” the word for AIDS in Spanish. I let her know that I had not been diagnosed with AIDS but rather the virus that can cause AIDS and it was important for her niece to get tested.
Her aunt assured me she was taking her right then and would let me know how things went. I still haven’t heard from either one to this day.
For the years following my diagnosis in addition to intense side effects from my first HIV medication I was taking, Atripla, the scene replayed in my nightmares. I could hear her scream, hear the pain, and feel the emotions in a way that make it hard for words to describe. It stuck in my head more vividly, in some ways, than my diagnosis itself. When I disclosed my status it was as if I was receiving my diagnosis all over again, looking at the situation from the outside in.
The days after I spoke with her mother who had some “choice” words for me, to say the least. I’ve never heard someone cuss so fast in Spanish as I did that day. When I called her grandparents whom with I was very close to discuss the situation, they acted as if they couldn’t hear me. They completely ignored me as if I was an insignificant being that didn’t deserve the time of day. It was my first dose of discrimination and provided me a bird's eye view of the unfortunate stigma that still exists to this day.
It’s been over three years but feels like yesterday. I guess it hurt so much because it was someone that I truly cared about. Not knowing how I was infected or when was a big issue for me for a long time. I told myself if I only knew how it happened, that would help me move forward in some way. It wasn’t until growing further that I began to realize it would not change the situation I was in and all I could do was move forward.
Looking back on the experience I question if I should have told her then or waited until later on when I was more stable in my diagnosis. I know it was the right thing to do to tell her but was the timing right? There isn’t exactly an instruction book after being diagnosed after all.
It was a turning point in my diagnosis, one that will be with me forever.
This article originally appeared on Joshua’s own blog Pozitive Hope here.