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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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You said that some of his family were keeping you at arm's distance, because they knew that you were positive. How did they find out?

We had told his family the night that we found out, because Ralph was really sick, with his liver and with his intestines because of the alcoholism. After, I found out he had drowned in his own body fluid -- that was how he died. Yes, he was HIV positive, but he did not have AIDS; it had not turned into AIDS. A lot of people don't know HIV affects your immune system. You get very tired. If you get a cold, it takes you twice as long to heal from it. If you get a cut, it takes you twice as long to heal from that.

Ralph was very sick. There would be nights that he would be throwing up blood. He also had hepatitis C, which we had found out. His immune system, with the HIV, was just totally against everything that he had to get him well. And there would be night sweats from the prior drug use, and the hepatitis C. We had unanswered questions; I guess that's why we were so scared.

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But you get stronger each day, as you find out more information. The level of people's ignorance is the problem. Education is power. If you don't educate yourself, and we don't educate those who are not educated about it, how is anybody going to know, and the stigma go away? And that's where I'm at. I want to know and learn as much as I can.

You know, my brother's had it for 30 years. And because of the stigma my parents had, I stayed away from him. That was time lost with my baby brother that I can't get back. Now that we both have it, we're closer than ever and it's just a bond that you have, and that you want to keep. I just want this bond to get out with the people. The world needs to know.

Absolutely. How did you tell your brother that you were positive? Did you tell him right away?

I told none of my family until after the day Ralph died. First I told my son and my daughter-in-law. And my best girlfriend came and met me that day. Actually, three close friends that I have that have stuck by me through thick and thin with my son through the years, again, stuck by me with my situation, and did not push me away. I'm still their best friend -- you know who your true friends are when something really bad goes on. Because usually they only want to hang around for the good stuff.

How has your life changed, since you were first diagnosed, and now that Ralph has passed?

Well, I've been married for most of my life, since I was 18. So the biggest part is now I do live with friends, till I get on my feet; they have taken me in. I help myself and do everything I'm supposed to do to not abuse that trust and that love that they've given me. But I'm becoming stronger because I am by myself, and now that Ralph is gone, I don't have that extra support to lean on and say, "OK, you have it, too."

I guess the hardest part is, yes, I'm trying to meet another dream of my life for the second part of my life. I don't know when and if he'll come about. It's not so easy because, like I said, a lot of people are not educated about it. They look at you different: "Oh, if I fall in love with you, I'm going to get it, too." So I have to overcome a lot of comments and weird looks, or just gestures that they make. I'm not a hard person to open up to. I usually say what I think. And if you don't like it, then you can turn the other cheek. Where you have the right to speak, we also have the right to make a comment or judge somebody. So if they want to judge me, then they don't need to be loving me. If they can't accept the worst part of me, then they sure don't need to enjoy the good part of me.

At first, I thought I had to date HIV people. And that's all the men I had to meet. But the more women that I talk to, it's, you know, your partner does not have to be positive. They can be negative, and you can love each other just as much. So, if God wants me to be with a negative person, then I will be. If not, then He'll send me somebody positive. So, my outlook on it is just to be positive.

I'm very forward, straight to the point. You have your choice, whether to agree with me or not.

So now do you do any kind of work in the HIV community? Because you mentioned wanting to educate people and reach out to people.

I do. My health is just starting to get where I don't stay so tired every day. Because of my divorce, and issues after Ralph died, and where I live (I live far out and do not quite have a vehicle yet), like I said, I'm starting from scratch, just as if I was 18 -- you know, starting all over. I've worked since I was 16 years old and the last three years is the only time I have not worked.

So, like I said, I had health issues. It's taken me a while to get my strength back up where I can pull at least a four-hour day right now. I'm affiliated with Acadiana Cares, out of Lafayette Parish. They have been great to me. They have opened their arms up and have done any kind of help that I've asked for. Again, I'm fortunate to have good friends that I live with so I don't have to ask for housing, but they do take care of that. They help you with anything you need.

I can say Acadiana Cares has given me plenty of moral support. I've got a lot of new friends. As soon as I can get my car (because I live so far out), I want to volunteer with them. I do plan on staying in the Lafayette area.

I think volunteer work would help me just as much as it would anybody else. Most of the people that I have met have been HIV positive, and have been positive for more than 15 years, 10 years. I've only had it for two years. I would like to help educate, or even learn from volunteering.

When I do go back out in the work field, I'm not going to tell everybody in the world, "Yes, I'm HIV positive." But if asked or the subject comes up -- "Why are you taking more medicine? Why do you feel this way?" -- then I'm going to tell them and be honest about it. I just want to get as much education in me so I can get it out there. Like I said, even if it's just to one person, like my son and my daughter-in-law, to where they can educate their kids. The more people that you educate, I just feel like the better it will be.

Do you talk to your son and your daughter-in-law about HIV? Are they open to hearing about it? It sounds as if your family is very supportive.

They're very open. My son is 24. His wife is 25. They're like six months apart in age. They took it very hard when they found out. I am very close to my son. I am very open -- from sex, to drugs, to funny jokes, to when it comes down to cry. I have a relationship with him that a lot of mothers don't have with their sons. I've always been open with him, since the day he could talk. We still are.

I did keep this from him at first, and he held a grudge, the first six months to a year. But he's seen me during bad times when I've looked my worst, which I tried to hide (and it didn't work). And now he's to the point, "Mom, you're single; you and Dad are divorced. I've dealt with that. I'm over with it. You have HIV. You're going to find somebody else. And if you don't, you know what? Go out and have fun and enjoy your life now. You've raised me and I just want to see you happy."

But I also want to educate them so that they're aware of it, too. Because he does ask me questions -- some I can answer; some I can't. Just today, I've learned a lot that I couldn't answer myself. So the more I know, the better I can educate them.

Like I said, we should all be open with our kids. But I realize a lot of parents aren't. But, yes. I'm blessed; I can be open with mine.

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