I glance at the clock as I awake. It's 7:00 a.m., I
smile and think about the fact that 46 years ago, at
7:00 a.m. I awoke to life. Today is my Birthday, a
celebration of life, a day so many of us living with HIV
marvel in the fact that we are still living, that we
have made it to another Birthday. But also hidden, in
the back of our minds, we wonder if we'll be here to
celebrate the next one. My mind is flooded with
thoughts. I chuckle to myself as I recall the dreaded
"getting old" turning points of my 30th & 35th birthdays
and how the connotation of getting old has made a 360
degree turn. My 40th, 45th and now 46th Birthdays have
not been the dreaded getting old but a wiping of the
brow with a, Phew! I made it to another year!
My Birthday is also my Wedding Anniversary, a celebration
of a new life with my husband, Thomas. I remember us
going to the beach, sitting on top of the rocks looking
out into the ocean and sipping champagne as we
celebrated my Birthday and our Anniversary. Then I
remember 3 years ago, two days after my
Birthday/Anniversary, on May 16, Thomas died of AIDS
He, along with a multitude of my friends
are not going to get old.
I recall my next Birthday was very difficult, but on that day the unknown forces placed me in the comforting hands of Phyllis. She
consoled me and brought me into her support group.
The thoughts keep coming. ... Now, my main
support group is at a local women's HIV/AIDS service
provider agency. I was standing outside their door when
they first opened. I am amused by the thought of the
commercial where the lady is standing outside of a store
saying; "Open, Open, Open." That was me when this agency
first opened their doors. At last an agency for Women
who are HIV positive. What does this have to do with my
Birthday, you ask? It has taken some time but I am
learning to ask for what I want and need. Two years ago
and a couple of weeks before my Birthday I continuously
told the staff at this women's service providing agency,
it was going to be my Birthday and I asked if they would
give me a cake and celebrate with me. I don't have any
blood family in the area or even in the state of
California so it seemed fitting to celebrate my Birthday
with them since I felt they were my family and an
integral part of me still being alive to celebrate it.
Then came my Birthday, and to my delight and oh my gosh
surprise out came my Birthday cake with enough candles
to sing Kum By Ya. I was so happy.
The next Birthday thought that emerges was last year when once
again I told the staff at this AIDS agency about my
approaching Birthday and would they celebrate another
year of Life with me. Then came my Birthday and my
delightful anticipation of celebration. During that day
my time at "the agency" lingered on and I mentioned I
had to leave soon. Nothing happened -- no Birthday cake --
no cupcake -- no singing Happy Birthday. I left
A Few Days Later
A few days later, when I was emotionally able, I discussed this with the top
staff person at "the agency". The answer was that it
had been discussed in a staff meeting and determined
that they (the agency), couldn't give me a Birthday cake
and celebrate with me because then they would have to do
it with all the clients. "Oh My God, what a revelation,
an agency to promote Life and Living with HIV, might
have to celebrate the Birthday of every client that has
managed to survive another year!"
I'm glad the staff has set me straight about that one. (But I digress into
emotions -- It wouldn't have been so bad if they had the
courtesy to inform me of their decision). I continue my
conversation. If it's too overwhelming to consider each
client's individual Birthday's why not have a monthly
celebration for all those whose Birthdays are within
that month. The staff persons reply was: "Well that
sounds like a good idea."
Today, another year later, I
guess it still, sounds like a good idea.
My thoughts roam to a more pleasurable memory of a Birthday with
Rocky, my parakeet. Seven years ago, shortly after the
emotional wrenching of discovering I was living with
HIV, a loving friend surprised me with her Birthday
gift to me, Rocky. He was just weeks old so I consider
that day to be his Birthday also. Rocky was a blessing.
I believe the pet owners among us living with a life
threatening illness will agree that the comfort,
support, and unconditional love a pet brings to our life
is an integral part of our being able to live with the
My Best Friend
My thoughts ramble through all the happiness Rocky brought to my life for the next six years. I remember a friend, after finding out I had
taught Rocky to talk, exclaimed; "You're spending much
too much time with this bird, you need to get a life."
Rocky and I could talk when others weren't available. I
speak in the past tense because, unfortunately, Rocky
passed away last September. I never thought I would live
longer than he did.
Markers of Life
Birthdays, the "Markers of Life" for everyone and a very powerful
marker for those of us living with HIV. A marker of the
immense struggles, accomplishments, trials and
tribulations we overcome, endure and rejoice in when
waking up on another Birthday. A marker of the hopes
and fears of getting through another year. A time you
and your friends celebrate a new starting point.
I wasn't sure if I would make it to my Birthday. These
words echo in my mind, the words of friends who didn't
make it, friends who have, and the words I hear myself
say today -- on my Birthday -- as I am getting older.
Happy Birthday to Me!