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Joe Monroe Takes a Vacation from HIV

December 1999/January 2000

People with AIDS need vacations, too.

Recently, I realized that my batteries were running low. Concentration on my health and life were quickly going out of focus and I was losing perspective, taking a nosedive right in the middle of AIDS Hell.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a chance to get away from it all. With the help of my parents, siblings, long-lost clients, friends, loans and added novelties -- I think I even sold the kitchen sink -- I was on my way to a place called Paris.

For years, I had dreamed about going to Paris. Doing this alone, I was a bit scared. I was concerned about my health and was nervous in the face of all the physical problems I have had in the past few years, but the agony of missing out on life forced me to shut up and wing it. Take the cards as they fall, I said to myself.

I know that everyone doesn't have the chance to go to an unusual place (although that can depend upon the will of an individual), but I felt what happened to me in Paris made such an overwhelming change in my attitude that I wanted to share it with my fellow travelers on this journey we call AIDS.

Let's face it: AIDS gets stodgy after a while. AIR IT OUT. What one can get out of re-energizing is well worth the trouble.

So what did I get out of my trip? I got solitude and time to think away from the AIDS machine (not that the AIDS machine is bad) which allowed me to challenge myself to do something on my own. I got to see and do new things and had to fend for myself. These factors are important as we all move into the big unknown.

I also had to pace myself, take care of my vessel (my body) and try out new paradigms in a new world: a place where I might not have had help at my fingertips as we do in our safe community. I was able to get away from routine and the pressures of living with AIDS.

I didn't even talk about AIDS when I was there. It never came up. The only part of the trip that had anything to do with AIDS was taking the medications, but that has become so routine, it's sort of like going to the bathroom. I didn't go into the "I'm taking my pills because I am sick" mode. I even bought pill boxes with little Paris scenes on them. My favorite was the one with Mona Lisa on the front. I felt like a kid again looking at life with new eyes, without the burden of AIDS.

Completing successfully what could have been a disastrous adventure gives me a feeling of accomplishment that I think we all need as there are so many changes happening. When we challenge ourselves like participating in the AIDS Ride or in the National AIDS Marathon Training Program, we pick up a tool and a memory that allows us to endure through what seems to be a disease that goes on forever.

Take that break: Even if it is to take a train ride to San Diego or Santa Barbara. There are so many retreats available to us and many of them have grants available. I just think it is imperative if we are to continue to fight that we need to take those well deserved breaks.

My memories of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the long walks through charming Paris neighborhoods, the Seine, Notre Dame and all the rest just are yet another tool I have to fight this disease and keep me going.

I hope if you are in need of recharging your batteries that you, too, can "get the hell out of Dodge" and just have a good time. You deserve it.

Joe Monroe, a longtime contributor to Positive Living and artist, can be reached by e-mail at Some of his artwork will be displayed through December 15 as part of a World AIDS Day Commemorative Art Show in the main lobby at West Hollywood City Hall, 8300 Santa Monica Blvd. Political posters documenting the AIDS epidemic from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics are also featured in the exhibit.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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