Life's Derailment Is Not Life's Denial
By Thomas DeLorenzo
October 20, 2011
I was 28, having dinner with my former partner, David, and simply stated I was disappointed with my life thus far, that I had accomplished more in the decade before I was 20 than in my 20s. Things needed to change and I needed to go back to school to make them change. I hadn't a clue exactly what that meant yet but I was ready to try.
I bounced around a few ideas. I thought I would get my M.A. in English Literature, and actually was accepted to a program, but had second thoughts. I did have one idea that kept resurfacing no matter what -- and it was an idea I never thought I would be attracted to. It was law school.
Law school? The mere thought of it frightened me. Not because of the horror stories attached to that dreaded first year. Not because of the stories of non-stop reading, head-pounding exams, and professors who have absolutely no sympathy. It was just this -- my father, the man I was named after -- was an attorney. My entire adult life was spent desperately trying NOT to be a carbon copy of him. And I was thinking of going to law school? I think not.
However, life would have other plans. Plans one doesn't put down in their day planner. David became very ill and needed my care. My life did change, and I did get an education. Instead of desks, my new classroom was filled with IV drips, syringes, and pills. I had the lists of medications memorized. I could recite each and every treatment David had been given in the past year like it was a lyrical piece of verse from Broadway musicals. It was a course I didn't think I would take in my early 30s. This was something for my 70s, right? Wrong.
After David's death, and after I finally got myself up and dusted myself off, I knew the time for change was now, that this change I really wanted to happen in my life could happen now. My life was mine to recreate right? Wrong again. What I got instead was a marathon run at a sprinter's pace from my grief. I ended up in Entertainment Public Relations for all sorts of reasons -- mostly damaged ones. Working in the Entertainment Industry is comparable to having an addiction. You know you should leave it but you really can't live without it. I would kid around and ask when Betty Ford would have a 12-step program for Publicists. I wasn't really kidding. I wanted to find the exit for years but didn't know how.
Confronting that pain deep in my heart was more than I could bear. When someone is known as your boyfriend, people automatically assume that his departure doesn't mean the same thing as someone they call husband. But what they forget is that this is all I get to call my husband. Although names, in some way, are just that, it's the meaning society gives them that hurts. They don't get that no matter what you call it, you are left crying on your living room floor because you, for the first time ever, are alone in that room, without that man that everyone simply thought was a boyfriend.
In the middle of my grief ride, life would take another hairpin turn. It was my turn in the hospital with the IV drips -- this time in my arms. Nearly 11 years ago I was told I had two days left to live. With 60 tcells, and a completely compromised immune system, the Emergency Room staff at Cedars Sinai really had no reason to think anything else. Thanks to modern medicine, and my stubborn attitude, I managed to, clearly, make it past those two days and actually walk out of the hospital.
However, the years that followed would not be as easy. There was that weekend I had to stay home because they thought my retinas were going to detach. (What does one wear when one might be going blind? Something with lots of texture?) There was that one month that my neuropathy was so painful I could barely get out of bed much less take care of myself.
These obstacles, these seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, change was about to happen. When I lay in that bed at Cedars, this thought moved to the front of my mind again. I started to realize that there was a life beyond the red carpet. It was going to be law school. I knew I had to do something else with my life, and now was my chance. AIDS, in spite of nearly taking my life just a few days before, was giving me a new one. AIDS would be the precise reason I would go to law school, for there is nothing like fighting for your life with an insurance company to make you wish you had a J.D.
On August 11, my journey to take on the insurance companies and help bring about our long overdue health care reform began. Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, California, would become my launching pad. Like the rest of my life, it is filled with unexpected directions. This new chapter began with its bumps -- for my virus would not let me forget that it wanted my attention, too. For a moment, I thought that this dream would be put on hold -- again.
That would not be the case. Much like the rest of this battle, I was not going to get my virus get the upper hand. I completed my first midterm the other day -- in Criminal Law. My legal writing paper was handed in on Monday. And this Friday, a moment from which I am allowing myself a distraction by writing this, is my Contracts midterm.
These first weeks have been a blur. However, there is one moment that will stand out in my mind forever. It was the very moment I picked up my first midterm, for it was then that the magnitude of what I just achieved finally hit me. I just sat there and cried. No matter what happened now, no one could take this away from me. I achieved what I wanted to achieve, in spite of it all.
Take it from me, a virus may slow you down, but it doesn't always have to stop you. My life may have been delayed, but it was never denied. It wasn't denied because I never let it be.
Who Knew So Few T Cells Could Accomplish So Much?
Until just a few years ago, Thomas DeLorenzo never would have believed he could become an HIV/AIDS activist. Before he was "officially" diagnosed with HIV in 2001 -- with 60 T cells and a viral load of 300,000 -- DeLorenzo had been living in denial. And until 2006, he was too busy dealing with the many side effects of his own HIV meds to think about helping anyone else. Then he and his doctors finally figured out the perfect med combo -- and, finally, DeLorenzo felt that he actually had a future.
DeLorenzo lives in Los Angeles with his partner and is currently attending law school at Southwestern University School of Law. His career goals include making sure all Americans have access to adequate and affordable health care. Prior to law school, DeLorenzo worked as a publicist in the entertainment industry, representing many award-winning celebrities.
In 2006, The New York Times named him an Unsung Hero in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS for his Christmas Goody Bag Project for the residents of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation Hospice. In 2008, DeLorenzo was the San Antonio AIDS Foundation's Angel of the Year. DeLorenzo's alma mater, Hofstra University, named him Alumnus of the Month in August 2009 for his work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. DeLorenzo was recently appointed to the City of West Hollywood's Disabilities Advisory Board.
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