My name is Preciosa. When my husband was hospitalized in 1994 he did not tell me that he had AIDS. It wasn't until August of that year that he told me. I remember it was five o'clock in the morning and I was on my way to work. When he told me he had AIDS/SIDA, I didn't know how to react. He said, " I might have infected you too!" He began to cry and so did I. That was one of the worst days of my life. I went to La Clinica de Las Americas to take my HIV test, and when I picked up my results, I was told that I had tested positive for HIV. I felt like they threw cold water at my face. I was shocked! I felt so desperate and repulsed. I felt like I wanted to throw up.
At that time I didn't know a lot about HIV and AIDS. I barely had enough time to take care of myself, my two sons, my sick husband, and go to work! When I would cook for everyone, I would wear gloves because I didn't want to infect my sons. I was also afraid that maybe I could get sick like my husband. One day when I was feeding him he wanted me to try some food from his plate and I just couldn't. He said, "You have the same thing I do!" And that I shouldn't be afraid! I had this overwhelming feeling of repulsion. I just wanted to go back to the time when everything was like it was in the past, when everything was "normal," when he wasn't sick, so that I wouldn't feel this way.
During this time, his sister arrived to our home and she helped me take care of him but she would always use gloves to care for him. My husband died in March of 1995. After he died, I would go to her house and she would serve me food from paper plates and quickly throw them away. As time moved on, I became more informed and educated about HIV and AIDS. I educated my sister-in-law. So now when I go visit, she no longer serves me food from paper plates; she serves me with her dishes.
My two sons know about my HIV status. I told them the day after I found out. They took it well; they were concerned but they acted very mature about it. They are now in their twenties. My oldest son was the strongest. He took care of my husband a lot when he was really sick and when he couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom. Both my sons have been supportive. They show me love and care. I feel very grateful. My mother is in my homeland but she doesn't know. I really don't think about telling her. No one else from my family knows.
I have a very close female friend who was there for me when my husband died. I told everyone that he had died of stomach cancer. But this friend kept asking me if it was true if he had died of SIDA because that's what all the neighbors were saying. I kept denying it for a long time. She frequently asked me if he had died of SIDA, and sometimes she would insist on knowing. It wasn't until two years later that I finally told her. One day we were out and about, running errands, and she asked me again. I said that I would tell her a secret for a secret! I ended up telling her that it was true that my husband had died of SIDA, she then asked if I was positive, and I said, YES! I was HIV positive! She sighed like it was a relief. I think it was a relief for both of us. This friend has been there for me. She never treated me any different. She still invites me over to her home and invites me out. When I've been sick in the past she has cooked for me and has always helped me when she can. I also have educated her about the HIV virus, and many times she has accompanied me to workshops or events that are HIV-related. I also told another close friend of mine about 4 years ago and she and I have remained good friends. These two friends accept me and love me for who I am.
I had been feeling really depressed and felt like I needed more support. There was a male nurse who helped take care of my husband when he was very ill and informed me about many support groups in the area. He introduced me to another Latina who was HIV positive and whose husband had died of SIDA. She invited me to attend support groups with other Latinos living with HIV. These support groups helped me a lot. They helped me to understand myself better and that I don't have to be alone or isolated and that there are other people out there like me. All the support and education has helped me feel better, and has helped me to take good care of myself. Today I feel like I can move forward with my life.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Breaking the Silence... (Rompiendo El Silencio).