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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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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 
See Also
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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Jim Maciejewki (South Amboy, NJ) Thu., Jan. 24, 2013 at 10:40 am EST
I met Ronda on a site for people with hiv, hivnet, and have been a friend on facebook with her shortly there after. This is the first time I heard Ronda's voice and I must say she did a great job on sharing her experience. Like many of us she felt the need to find another with hiv to help fill that empty, lonely feeling we bring upon ourselves. She has come a long way. Bravo Ronda, well done. I myself have experimented with sharing on public dating sites other then those intended for people with std issues. There are people out there who are willing to learn, offer to be a friend and want to meet who aren't living with hiv. I considewr my experience to be a blessing in disquise. It has led me on a new lourney in life to be the person I was meant to be before I started using, self-medicating and abusing my body. Life will always have lessons for me to learn. I take the time to look back on what has happened to learn from it. We need to be selfish taking time out to educate ourselves, to take care of ourselves physically and mentally before we think about finding someone else to fill that void in our lives. When we accept ourselves as we are and learn to love ourselves then we can make time to love another. I'm a firm believer in things are meant to happen. I also believe we should look for the positive in all that happens and in others. Living with hiv isn't a death sentence. It's a new beginning to a new way of living life. A lifestyle change for the better if we take the time to educate ourselves to be better then we were before mentally and physically living a healthier lifestyle. There's a war going on inside us and we can choose to fight or to lay down and surreneder to hiv. I chose to surrender my old ways of thinking and living to fight for my life to prove I can overcome anything hiv throws at me. Seems like the stronger I get the stronger my disease gets bringing new issues to the table for me to overcome. Life with hiv is a never ending battle. Life is good
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Comment by: getachew (Africa) Sat., Dec. 22, 2012 at 6:29 am EST
What is the merit and demerit of having sex for persons with HIV?
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: jimwhoski (08879) Thu., Jan. 24, 2013 at 11:33 am EST
Sex is like anyone else having sex. People with hiv need to have a consciuous just like any other and have protective sex using condoms. People with hiv can have a relationship with plans to have kids today born without hiv. Normal sex lives are possible today as long as you use precautions.


Comment by: Tony W (Dallas,Tx.) Wed., Dec. 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm EST
My heart goes out to ms hodges.Im an african american male,in my early forties and i have had numerous friends,both male and female,who were affected with this virus.I happen to be perhaps a lucky soul,as i have had various sex partners in the past,many without the pratice of safe sex.I dont judge people,however im heterosexual and for the right person,would have an open mind dating a female or even marrying an adult female who has been exposed with/to this virus.May god bless the souls of all exposed to this disease,especially thoses innocently exposed.
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