But by the Grace of God
From Our Spirit
The first time I heard about AIDS, I was living in Amsterdam. One of the working girls who frequented the bar where I worked had tested HIV-positive. She came into the bar and spent the entire evening getting drunk and crying in her drinks, while warning all of us who would listen about the dangers of AIDS.
Most of what she said went above our heads. I felt that this disease probably only infected women like herself who worked in the sexual industry. Since I did not work as a prostitute or use IV drugs I figured HIV was not a worry for me.
After five years of living in Europe I returned home to America where there were rumors of war (war against AIDS). The year was 1985 and I was beginning to hear more and more mention of this disease called AIDS. They were speaking of it as much, or more, in the States as they were in Europe.
However, this time the word "AIDS" came attached to people I had known in the past. Many were very good friends; others were casual acquaintances. By 1989 I had lost more than half a dozen gay male friends to AIDS. Later I lost a few male friends to the virus who were known bisexuals and in the early 1970s I had been intimate with more than one of them.
By the late 1980s I was much wiser and remained mostly abstinent or practiced safe sex. Yet I had never been tested for HIV for fear of what my results might be. Finally in 1990 I became brave enough to take the test. I was still a bit ignorant about the disease and its resources, so I began having visions of testing positive and dying rapidly from the virus. I saw myself dying alone in a hospice: a neglected, unloved black woman, with the flesh peeling away from my bones. For the 10 days that I waited for my test results I worried, lost sleep and mentally planned my own funeral.
I tested negative. I realized, however, by the grace of God, I could have easily tested positive. I also realized that many of us are walking around feeling falsely secure about our virus-free health status, lent to us only by God's grace. Some of us are only one unprotected sexual encounter away from the virus.
No cure for HIV or AIDS exists but a cure for our fears and our ignorance has been reported. The cure is education and it is finally spreading through every state in our nation. As we gain knowledge we must become active in educating our youth, our young mothers, clergy, sex workers, IV drug users, law enforcers, neighbors, families and friends. Whether we test positive or negative we must treat this virus as a war against humankind, we will stand together to fight against it like well-trained soldiers.
I now work hand in hand with my sisters who are HIV-positive and they are very active in educating the community -as well as me- about this epidemic.
When my sister's T-cells temporarily drop I am there to relieve them. I will pass the heavy baton on to the next sister who will hand it to the sister in front of her, never allowing it to hit the ground.
Testing negative does not mean we are out of the woods and can freely walk into the sunlight. It only means that we are able to maintain regular T-cell counts that will allow us to stay in the ongoing fight much longer.
Some activists prefer working with children diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, some prefer working with families living with HIV/AIDS, others work with men living with HIV/AIDS. Many people prefer to remain anonymous and donate money towards research. I prefer working with black women living with HIV by reaching our community through education and literature. Wherever we choose to dig our foxhole, we are fighting in this battle together.
We must remain aware that HIV has crash-landed on our planet. Its intentions were to leave no survivors. But all of us who remain alive are survivors. We must continue to unite and fight against this vicious epidemic which has dared wage war against us.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.