The date is February 21, 1998. The place, a cozy clinic in the center of Manhattan's Upper West Side. The doctor calmly enters the waiting area where my ex and I nervously sit. The results are in. Fidgeting, I try to read the expressionless look on his face. The words ring out loud and clear -- "I'm sorry, but your test came back positive."
Somehow the sentences that followed continued to drift while the word "positive" stuck to my ears like some abnormal growth. And in that same breath my ex learned that this tragic illness had escaped him. Hurt, betrayal, pain, and relief all permeated my being, and their utterances of comfort did nothing but make me uncomfortably angry. They had no idea of the incredible journey I was to embark on, and neither did I. I longed for my life of ignorance.
In June of '98 I was presented a choice of selections from the HAART menu. After careful consideration, and a three-month hiatus, I decided to accept the Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy. This conclusion came after a T-cell count of 45 and a viral load of 136,000. As if HIV wasn't enough, I now had a CDC definition of AIDS. The options, not to mention time, were running out. I gave the green light to begin a lifelong regimen of drugs -- a nightmare I was to live firsthand and a pharmaceutical company's dream. Although these medications have the potency to render the viral load in the blood undetectable, they also leave immeasurable amounts of toxins throughout the body.
As we enter a new millennium, our options are many. However, there are no clearcut answers; eradication still appears off in the distance. Statistically our lives are better now than in the beginning, but even in light of innovative discoveries, HIV still lurks in unknown areas of the body, only to remind us the fight is far from over. Who's to say whether tomorrow the medication will be within reach of the impoverished and those who depend on government aid in this country? Our elected officials took an oath to protect and serve, but it appears at times that they would rather deny and discredit the severity of the situation, taking a stand only when the highest gains are political. With a disease as unfair as the world itself, the rules constantly change. Our brothers and sisters in underdeveloped nations are still denied access to comprehensive healthcare and many contemporary medicines.
Discrimination manifests itself in my African-American heritage, sexual orientation, and most recently my HIV status. Multitudes of ignorant individuals refuse to accept our need for unwavering support and unbiased respect. All too often we encounter oppressive acts of denial and abuse -- even from friends and family members who fear that the social stigma will tarnish their reputations. Prejudice does not end there. It rears its ugly head in a society that doesn't quite understand that AIDS is a pandemic, not a chosen way of life or punishment for "immoral" behavior.
There is no definitive answer. People are still dying twenty years after the initial outbreak, and no one fully understands why. Unfortunately, my doctor can't look me in the eye and tell me I'll live another fifty years. No one can. This is a mere reflection of life . . . perhaps in fast forward. Even those absent of illness or disease don't hold the key. The future itself is unknown.
What am I certain of? I'm certain of the uncertainty of life. I'm certain the word "positive" can be used in a powerful and constructive manner. I'm certain that every individual possesses the ability to determine his or her destiny.
I'm certain that one day we will all break free from the chains of HIV and AIDS.
Marcus W. White was diagnosed with HIV in 1998. This is his first contribution to Body Positive.