My 30th anniversary with HIV, my 55th birthday and my epiphany with Ursula

Published 29, Nov, 2016
Author // Félix Garmendía

NYC guy Félix Garmendía says, "Sometimes, we have to learn to let go of circumstances in life that are tying us down or causing us stress."

My 30th anniversary with HIV, my 55th birthday and my epiphany with Ursula

I saw her for the first time a few months ago. “Ursula” was to become a faithful companion and friend – who happens to be a plant. At the beginning I was confused as to whether it was a Corn plant or a Yucca plant but after posting pictures of Ursula on Facebook my friends and I concluded that Ursula was in fact a Yucca plant. I then hit the internet to learn how to care for my new found friend.

All the tips emphasized that over-watering is the biggest mistake regarding Yucca plants so my husband Denis started watering it as directed by the internet experts. Once every two weeks seems to be sufficient for potted Yucca plants.

Ursula crossed my path in the middle of a very intense period in my life. My 55th birthday was approaching and I found myself dealing with some new, uncomfortable attitudes as well as some new, unwelcome feelings of anxiety and fear. I found myself looking for some kind of epiphany or Renaissance, so to speak, to maybe help me adjust some of my attitudes and conquer some fears. I was looking for a total transformation of myself, a rebirth of some kind. This was going to be my present to myself at the important celebration of my 55th birthday and my 30th anniversary dealing with HIV.

Four years ago, I landed full time in a wheelchair. I’m proud of all the efforts that I've made in order to learn to live with it but I also knew there was a large part of the world out there that was not available to me due to my wheelchair. Fear, anxiety and insecurities often seemed to prevent me from enjoying these things before I landed in this wheelchair. It was time to identify, confront and kill the obstacles that had found their way into my daily life.

The first thing I confronted was deciding to get my ass to the annual, New York City Gay Pride parade for the first time in many years. My second and far more challenging step was figuring out a way to get to our Fire Island beach house and spend some time there. Getting to Fire Island involves just about every mode of transportation except a hot air balloon: buses, trains, taxi and finally a ferry boat. Staying there, away from the comfort zone of my bedroom, for seven days is a big deal too. With the help of Denis, I managed to conquer both challenges. It was really liberating to do so. I certainly felt like a full-fledged grown-up.

Getting back to Ursula, my beloved Yucca plant, after we came back from Fire Island, I noticed a few of the leaves were losing strength and the new leaves were coming out low in their green color. I went back to the internet and found out that the culprit was lack of light. We live in a dark apartment, so I definitely needed to find a new home for Ursula.

It was a matter of Karma for me. I bought Ursula in the middle of a big life challenge. Now, the next challenge was to find a new home for her and save her life. I was successful at conquering the previous two challenges; this last one would be conquered as well.

After a few days back in New York City, we went to eat at our local Indian restaurant, owned by our friend, Sammy. Sammy was in the process of expanding his restaurant to include a spacious extension to his dining room as well as a lovely bar area. There were still areas under construction but I DID notice that he had brought in a few lovely, decorative, large plants for the renovated sections of the restaurant. There were beautiful palm trees and Hibiscus potted bushes with gorgeous red and yellow blooms.

Sammy’s wife came to say hello and we chatted a little about her beautiful new plants. Denis came up with the idea of offering Ursula to Sammy’s wife. When we offered Ursula to Sammy, he jokingly said, “If your plant is in need of love, we will give her a home, don’t worry. Hindus are good with plants.” It was a big relief for both of us. We agreed to bring Ursula to her new home right after finishing our early dinner.

Ursula is a big plant so Denis dug out my old, non-motorized wheelchair to transport Ursula to her new home at Sammy’s. This was a very clever idea, she looked very comfy. As I watched Denis and Ursula cross our front door for the last time, on her way to her new home, I had a poignant insight. The lesson of my three efforts was right in front of my eyes.

Sometimes, we have to learn to let go of circumstances in life that are tying us down or causing us stress. Those fears can become bars in a self-imposed cage around us. I loved Ursula, loved having her around. I liked seeing her every day, but I knew her health and well-being were at stake, so it was time to go.

My liberty to move around freely and far without fear, were at stake when my Gay Pride Parade and Fire Island challenges came up. I did what had to be done and by doing so, I pried the bars off of my cage. I gave away and let go of Ursula in order to save her life.

And I left my predictable comfort zone and explored the outside world. Sometimes we just have to let go, breathe and be confident that no effort or good deed will be fruitless if it’s done with the ultimate reason to live.

From now on, my “pursuit of happiness” will be my lofty goal. I think that’s a nice way of exercising my will to keep on fighting. 

About the Author

Félix Garmendía

Félix Garmendía

"I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 60s. Living in Puerto Rico, and growing up there was a bumpy process. I was very aware of my homosexual identity at a very early age, so fighting the stigma was a very intense journey in my native island.

I love art. The Ponce Art Museum was my shelter since I was in high school. As my first job ever, I guided bilingual tours for locals and tourists from all over the world.

In high school, I was introduced to music and theater, after that, I chose to pursue a B.A. in theater at the U.P.R. ( University of Puerto Rico ). Rio Piedras campus.

In college, I discovered many things about myself. My sexual identity became established, my religious beliefs changed dramatically and my awareness of my role in society became the first and biggest challenge of my life. I became a proud gay man, an atheist and an activist. The political climate in Puerto Rico was very far away from recognizing any kind of gay rights so I knew that I needed a community that I could call my own, and be myself. After several years in Puerto Rico, in my twenties, I moved to N.Y.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Education and Art Criticism at New York University. I decided to stay in Manhattan. Here I found myself. I discovered my passions, causes to fight for, and the strong community that I always dreamed of. I became a passionate man with strong convictions.

After graduation I became a N.Y.C. school teacher. I taught art in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and Upper Manhattan for 15 years.

Sometime in my twenties, I was exposed to HIV. I tested HIV-positive and after a serious depression, came out strong and victorious. I became an AIDS activist. My passions in life became the gears that fed energy into my existence.

Very early in my N.Y.C. years, I became a staunch liberal. All my causes were related. I was trying to survive in a world where not everybody cared if I did or not. Politics made clear who cared for me as a human being.

That’s why I’m very vocal about my postings. Not because I want to convince anybody, but I do it for those who, like me, once needed some direction in life. I want to share the "real" me with those friends with similar beliefs or at least respect for my beliefs.

Today, I still live in Manhattan. I’m legally married to my husband Denis Beale and I’m disabled. My life is not easy, I have several health related conditions that are a real challenge these days. This bring me to another one of my causes. From personal experience, I believe in the legalization of cannabis (marijuana). 

I consider myself a loving, compassionate and spiritual person. I have no patience for bigotry, especially the kind of sanctimonious bigotry that wraps itself in prayer and fake compassion.

This is a synopsis of who I am. It would be really helpful to start introducing myself with my favorite warning. Warning: I’m human, far from perfect, passionate about life, the pursue of difficult answers, and the conviction that we are all equal."

Felix has been featured in The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices; see the piece here

You can follow Felix on Facebook here or here, on twitter @PozHeart and also on Instagram, here.