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On Being HIV Positive, Over 50 and Open to Loving Again

An Interview With Ronda Hodges -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

December 5, 2012

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This Positive Life

After 31 years of separation from her ex-husband, Ralph, Ronda Hodges reunited with her ex and they became engaged to be remarried. At a routine check-up, they were both diagnosed with HIV, and Ralph passed away six months later. Now, at 50 years old, Ronda is starting her life over as a divorced mother, an HIV advocate and a single woman.

As a white woman, Ronda never knew the feelings of being an ethnic minority. Now, as one of only five positive white women she knows, Ronda has begun to deal with the feelings of isolation that come with her diagnosis, the loss of loved ones and the challenges of starting down a new road in her life journey.


Inspiring stories of people living with HIV.


Do you want to talk about some of your recent life changes? What brought them on?

Yes. I've been married twice. When I was 18, I got married. He was 16; his name is Ralph. We got divorced four years later, and I remarried three years later. I was married 31 years. That's where I had my son from. Due to verbal, then physical, abuse I got out of that marriage and, while separated, was reunited with my first husband, which is who I contracted HIV from.

He was a drug user and an alcoholic. I was still in love with him after 31 years, and he with me. We just got back together, and didn't think about all the issues of where he had been through his last 31 years, and putting my life in jeopardy.

While we were together this one year, February the 6th, he found out he was HIV positive. We were also trying to get pregnant, because we were fixing to get remarried. So they tested me, and I came out positive.

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What year was this, now?

Feb. 6 of '09. My divorce was final, actually, February the 10th of '09 -- final and legally divorced. On February the 12th, he proposed to me. He gave me my engagement ring. And then six months later, he died.

As sick as he was, his count was higher than mine, believe it or not. My T-cell count was 220; his was 986. And he was the one that passed away. But I am thankful enough to say the doctor had given me a choice to get on medicine. I've been on medicine for two years, now -- right at two years. My T-cell count is 1,387, and I am undetectable and starting life completely over by myself.

Going back to when you were first diagnosed: You and [your ex-husband] Ralph were diagnosed around at the same time? How did you first feel when you were diagnosed?

Angry, depressed. I have a brother that's had it for 30 years. I still cry sometimes. I didn't know how I was going to tell my parents. Worst of all, I didn't know how I was going to tell my son; and I didn't tell any of my family till after Ralph had died. But I still have the love I grew up with. I have my days, but I'm getting healthy, and I'm getting over it. It's a disease like any other; you learn to live with it. And you keep the faith, and you keep going.

I think right now, between the divorce and the death of Ralph, and then my mom passed away six months later, and all of the issues of being by myself, it has made me grow stronger. The main reason for this video is it's not a race issue; it's not a gender issue. It is a disease, just like cancer or any other disease that we have in this world. It is not anything but a people disease. And I want to make it known till the day I die that anybody can get it -- a baby to an older grandma or grandpa, it doesn't matter.

And, yes, you can prevent it by using precautions. People should be cautious. Instead of saying you don't want to do that, or you love me less because you don't want to do it this way -- well, you love that person more because you do want to make a change. If I can show anything, [I want to show] the next generation, which includes my son, to live a stronger life. That's what I want people to hear.

I want to be able to walk in a room and hear, "Well, she has HIV, but you know what? Look how healthy she is." You know? "Look at her. She's got kids. Look at her. She's got a job. She's doing just fine. She goes to church every Sunday like all the rest of 'em. And it doesn't matter what color she is. It doesn't matter that she's a woman. It doesn't matter that she's straight, or she's gay, or anything else." It's, "She's a person. She's a human being." We get diseases like everybody else. Ours just happens to be in our blood. That's all.

How long did it take before you started to come to terms with having been diagnosed with HIV? What got you to the point, first, of being able to share, and then of feeling like you were going to be able to keep going, and be strong, and speak out?

I loved Ralph so much; even the 31 years that we weren't together, I think we loved each other even more. I guess, you know, distance makes the heart grow fonder. In this case, ours did, because we both grew up. We weren't kids anymore. We shared a bond, even closer, because we got this from being in love. It wasn't just an act of ignorance or not knowing. Some people say he knew he had it because he did drugs. I don't think he did. He didn't that day. I mean, you just know when somebody doesn't know what they have.

The day that he died -- because there were people in his family that shunned us and wouldn't let us be around the kids because we found out we were HIV positive -- I vowed to his sister that, since I had to do this alone, I was going to make a difference. And he's watching me as I'm doing it. I'm going to do it.

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 
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