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Excerpts from Facing AIDS: Photographic Portraits of Long Island

December 1998

Being one of the many people who have this disease has given me a new outlook on life.

I had been living life without direction or purpose until this came along. Now I truly understand the meaning of love your neighbor, family and most of all, God. I have been in prison for fourteen of my forty short years on this earth, and now that I am drug free and feel loved by those who have always been there for me, I have a new and rewarding lease on life. Even though I am HIV positive, I feel better about myself now more than ever before. Thank God and all those people who have been there for me.

Jeffrey P. Butler

First of all, I would like to say thank you to my heavenly father. Without him there is no me. My name is Ms. Amy. I am 32 years old and have been living with the HIV virus for 7 years, and am still going on. I have an 11 year old son named Jardan. He is fine. And two cats, Milo and Misty. They are my strength and hope. My family gives me a lot of support and love and my friends do the same. I think it's important to have people like that in your life. I have the finer things in life and I keep a positive attitude.

My husband died three years ago. I caught it sexually. Since that day, I've gotten my act together. My son knows and that's my strength. I will live another 7 years with HIV. With God in my life, life is not that bad.

To my mother and sister: First of all, I love you so dearly from the bottom of my heart. You've done so much for me.

Derani, my best friend, and Curtis -- I love you both. You are my inspiration. Andrew, Christy, Jay, Anthony, Greg -- the loves of my life -- thanks for being there for me. I'll always love you.

Just because you are living with this disease, doesn't mean you have to die from this disease. To all who are: God bless you. You are in my prayers. Keep a positive attitude, eat healthy, get rest, play and keep on living. Lots of love.

Ms. Amy D. Ward

I lost my best friend to HIV.
We used to laugh together and cry together.
And together, we learned to celebrate even the smallest joys.
He always listened to me.
I trusted him more than I had ever trusted anyone.
I miss him every single day.

Lili Brillstein

Gentle breezes blow our way,
everyday it's like sunshine or rain.
In the trees the birds do sing,
down on earth we thank Him for everything.
We look around and there's so much more
confusion now, more than ever before.
What can we do for the world today?
We have to get on our knees and pray.
Pray will make it alright.
Pray in the morning, noon or night.
Pray in and out of season.
Pray for no special reason.
If you feel there's no way,
just get on your knees and pray.

Kenneth Brawley

He said he couldn't help it. He didn't want me to worry. He knew I would.

l remember my face turning red and tears welling up. It took everything in me to keep from shaking him and telling him he was crazy. I knew that if I tried to stop him he'd never come to me if he needed help or became afraid. I felt helpless, angry, scared and confused. My brother's new boyfriend was HIV positive.

I had always worried that my brother was at risk, but it never seemed this close, this scary.

That conversation happened nearly three years ago. It was a moment that changed my life. I had begun to question the direction that my career was going, after being in the corporate world for 12 years. While I was successful, I wasn't fulfilled. I had begun to resent my work, and I knew this wasn't a way I could live my life.

It was the same weekend that I heard Dr. Abraham Verghese read from and speak about his book. He had chronicled his experiences as an infectious disease specialist during the years when AIDS and HIV were first discovered. He had so much to say, and his words elicited in me, at once, a sense of sadness and freedom.

In the end, all of Dr. Verghese's patients had one thing in common. When they looked back on their lives, it didn't matter so much how wealthy they were or what positions they held. What mattered most was having people in their lives, especially family, who cared about them. This wisdom made me fully realize -- and this may sound trite -- that life is preciously short. I knew that it was time for me to move from helping to profit some large company's bottom line to doing work that involved helping people who were in need. I also knew that I had to let my brother live his life and that I couldn't be paralyzed by fear. By maybe.

Kathy Rosenthal

I have been working, in one capacity or another, with people living with HIV since 1985, when Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart shocked me into an awareness of what was happening to my community in downtown Manhattan. Through graduate school and changes in career and place of residence I am still doing the work as best I can. Silence does equal death. Ignorance does equal fear. We continue to grieve but we will win the fight.

Bill Van Assen

Although many people are gone, they will never, ever be forgotten.

Matthew J. Grady

Remember: In the chaos, in the quiet,
He holds you in the palm of his hand!
Don't you know? Haven't you heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God.
God created all the world.
God never grows tired of the weary.
God strengthens those who are weak and tired.
Though your life seems diminished, you are precious
To me as well as to God.

Stanley (Tito) Carrero

AIDS: Why Should I Care?

I have every reason in the world to care. I probably wouldn't have had to think about it until this disease hit so close to home. I am a seventeen year old girl who, because of this terrible disease, does not have any parents to watch me graduate from high school, or to stand by my side on my wedding day, or even to see their grandchildren.

My father passed away in 1990, and my mother passed away in 1994. At the time, I concealed their illnesses from many people in fear of alienation because this disease was not socially acceptable. I told friends, coaches and teachers that they had cancer. Somehow it was just easier that way because no questions are asked when someone has cancer; it is just accepted. When people hear that someone has AIDS, they are always wondering in the back of their minds how that person contracted it. They associate having AIDS with being a "bad" person. It does not matter what kind of person you are; no one deserves this disease.

I have met many uneducated people with irrational opinions about AIDS. Unfortunately, those with irrational opinions include doctors and personal acquaintances. People fear this disease because they do not know enough about it. If people could only understand that people with AIDS are human beings, too. AIDS is a very lonely, dark, scary place to be when people are afraid of you.

Because of my loss, I now see the world from a different perspective. I have come to see the beauty in some people and at the same time, the ignorance and prejudice in others. I believe I am special because I have gotten the chance to experience kindness and love from people whom I didn't expect to show so much support.

I believe I am on this earth for a reason. I often ask myself, why me? I do not know why God has allowed me to go through this dark journey. What I do know is that, in the long run, I've become a stronger person because of it.

I have kept my head up through it all, and am still standing tall. I can overcome this setback and feel empowered to take on anything life has to offer me. I have become a more compassionate and wiser person because of everything I have learned. I feel for people who are ill, or who are less fortunate than I, and try to picture myself in their shoes and share their pain.

I've found beauty in people in the seventeen years of my life. Perhaps others will never find beauty in their whole lifetime. I will strive to reach my goals and achieve all I can in life. My parents would have wanted no less.

Jennifer Murphy

Back to the December 1998 Issue of Body Positive Magazine

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
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