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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

A Change Like No Other

By Tree Alexander

March 31, 2010

My name is Tree Alexander, born in Chicago, Illinois. I have lived in NYC for almost two years after moving here for a relationship. In that short time I have experienced a deranged partner in a domestic violence relationship, homelessness with hunger, loneliness, heartache, pain and deceit. That relationship lasted for about nine months. I had to make that end through tears and heartache -- but, I will save that story for another day. I found out my HIV status one month after I turned 20 and HIV has changed my life completely. I went from acting to producing. I don't just "act" like who I want to be ... I am! I can now experience life as it is.

I moved to the North Side of Chicago when I was 18. I was introduced to the gay clubs and bars, the late nights and early mornings, the alcohol and the sex. I began working, partying and enjoying life on the North Side. I was now in a neighborhood that was accepting of me. During the summer when I turned 19, I was working in a clothing store on Halsted and Roscoe streets. I saw this guy come in and he was cute. He looked over and when I asked him if he needed any help, he gave me a smile. After that, he smiled at me the entire time he was in the store. He began to leave, so I stopped him and asked, "After all that, you not going to ask for my number?" In a quick reply he said,"Nope, but I will take it if you give it to me." We laughed and exchanged info before he left.

He called me every day, and every day I was busy working two jobs, so I told him to call back. That went on for about a month. He then started to show up at the store and tried to take me out for lunch, which never happened. I think it was because I saw him in the parking lot across the street watching me. So another three months went by, he gave me a call, asked me out for a dinner date, and I said "sure."

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By December of that year, after only being together for three months, we were living together. I became ill with a cold, something I haven't had since I was 2 years old. I didn't know how to deal with it and it seemed to get worse. He was there to take care of me for almost three weeks, and then I was back to work. He wasn't working at the time and spent a lot of time at home, so he says. Another six months passed and he started to get sick. But this was more than a cold or "flu-like" symptoms. He began to get weak, lose weight, got a black spot on his tongue (thrush), and more.

I tried to get him to the doctor, but he wouldn't go. There was always some excuse. He said, "There's too many people in the ER and everyone is dirty. That will only make me more sick." He started to spend most of the day in the bed. This went on until one day when he couldn't move any part of his body. After being rushed to the hospital, doctors said that if I didn't bring him in he wouldn't have made it through the night.

We found out his status after three days in the hospital, and I went to get tested that same day. The ER redirected me to the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center which is a clinic for the prevention, care, and research of HIV/AIDS. He later told me he'd thought he had "IT," but was afraid.

When the time came for me to pick up my results, so many things were running through my head. I wanted a negative result but I knew the chances were slim. I remember thinking, "They say it only takes one time for the little swimmer to catch you." I prayed that one time hadn't happened. After seeing him in that hospital bed with his face thin and ribs visible, I started to count money. I know how much of an insurance policy my mom had on me, so I was planning her pockets. I didn't feel sick or like I was dying but, I didn't have much of a drive to continue living. I knew that if I was to pass away my mother would have a financial boost.

I was wondering what I would tell my family the next time I saw them. At the same time, I knew that I had never experienced sickness -- no pink eye, flu, chicken pox, and a cold only twice. Could I be like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable? Am I unable to get sick? Am I a super hero of some sort?

Now it's my turn to go into the back room and talk with the tester. "I'm sorry to tell you, but you're HIV positive," she said with a straight face. I took a deep, deep breath and replied with a straight face, "OK." She asked me was I really OK about five more times. I was truly in denial and my thoughts were focused on getting home and drinking nothing but orange juice for the next two weeks. Then I wanted to boost my vitamin C intake so that I could return and show them that the first test was indeed wrong.

My career has changed a bit. When I found out I was HIV positive I was working as a fitness trainer. Now I have committed myself to HIV/AIDS care and prevention. This came about when I would attend groups and hear all the horror stories of disclosure. I also thought back to my high school's sex ed class and just remember hearing how to get tested and that HIV leads to AIDS. I also remember that picture of that guy with the gonorrhea in his eye, that picture of the penis with warts the size of Reese's peanut butter cups, and more. That's what made me use condoms up until my ex convinced me that we both were negative and "faithful," whatever that means. So where were the pictures of HIV?

There was just not enough information on HIV/AIDS. You can say "one million people die from AIDS complications" all you want but it's not real to someone until you tell them that 75 of those people are in your city, 15 of which are in your neighborhood and two from your high school, and so on. I think we need more education on HIV/AIDS worldwide and especially with youth and the only way to do that is ... show them a picture. Show people that HIV really does exist, it's not just something from T.V. or from the distant past. It's right in your backyard.

Now I am 23 and work hard to help others understand testing and treatment options. I have no problem with telling my story or encouraging youth to get tested.

Send Tree an e-mail.

See Also
Day One With HIV: Finding Out Your Status, in Your Own Words
TheBody.com's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed
More "Just Diagnosed" Stories

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Jay (Ohio) Thu., May. 13, 2010 at 9:56 pm EDT
Thank you for being out here on the internet telling your story. It really amazes me how young we are when we first get this disease. It's important for people to know that hiv is not a death sentence... Although it can feel like it at first. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

Thanks again,

Jay
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Comment by: CJ (North FL) Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 11:31 pm EDT
Hey brutha Tree, I am on active in the military but have been really studying this virus and have been trying to educate others about it. I am about to become an mentor for a local HIV organization here....Anyway, I am HIV- but I had a close call...When I was 19, I slept with a guy and when I pulled out, I noticed the condom had bust. For resons beyond my humanistic thoughts, I later asked his status and he informed me (only after I asked) that he had been HIV positive for 10 years. Sometimes doing the right thing can still lead to a mishap... I am in my early 30's now and my girl and I (monogamously) are making plans to get married. Nowadays, I tell folks to ASK QUESTIONS!!! Don't just assume because this is your life. I really applaud you for being such an admirable young man. I applaud you all for being SO strong in this fight. Although I am negative, I am with you in spirit and deeds. There is no doubt in my mind that lives have been saved because of your efforts. God bless you and may He continue to give you strength and encouragement. I would like to correspond with you and others on the board. So get back!! Peace!!
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Comment by: Steven (St. Louis, MO) Wed., May. 5, 2010 at 1:46 am EDT
I love my Tree! These tears in my eyes indicate how connected I was and am to your story. So many did not get the chance to tell theirs; I'm glad you have the opportunity. It added fuel to my internal fire for HIV/AIDS awareness/education, prevention, and care. Thank you for this article.
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Comment by: Tue., Apr. 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm EDT
Thank you. Great entry.
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Comment by: Juquwan P. (San Diego CA) Mon., Apr. 19, 2010 at 1:25 pm EDT
I have been in the same relationship for almost 11 years on april,20 with the same man. Every time he had a doctors appointment, I went with him to be a support system, if he got 'good news' or if he got 'bad' news. My lover was diagnosed w/HIV in 2004.
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Comment by: Chris (Toronto) Thu., Apr. 15, 2010 at 7:42 pm EDT
Thanks for that read..stay well
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Comment by: JOASH B. (RICHMOND VA) Wed., Apr. 14, 2010 at 8:43 am EDT
HI TREE HOW SWEET YOU I TO TELL PEOPLE YOUR STORY IT HAS TOUCH ME SO MUCH AND I WANT TO TELL YOU THANK YOU ALOT I LUV YOU AND YOU HAV MAY ME TO KNOW DAT AIDS IS REAL
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Comment by: ANTHONY B. (ST VINCENT AND THE GRENIDNES) Mon., Apr. 12, 2010 at 3:13 pm EDT
i like say sorry i am for want happy to you and THAT am HAPPY FOR PEOPLE YOU THAT PUT YOUR SELF IN WAY JUST LIKE TO TEACH OTHER BUT HIV /AIDS I AM NOW THE HEAD OF A GROUP IN ST VINCENT CALL FOR CHANGE + msm net work yes am gay happy to be to sent a message
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Comment by: j (chicago) Mon., Apr. 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm EDT
Hey man as a male (hetero) living on the northside of chicago, I somehow connected to ur story. I had a similiar exp but it was a girl that was trying to go after me, finally we dated for 1 month, condom broke n 1wk later I am exp worst cold ever, fatigue, full body lymphadenopathy. 5 months later she tested negative on her test 1 month after exposure, I have tested negative for 5 months, undetectible viral load by pcr, bdna. I am convienced I am infected with a rare strain not yet pick up by current test. However reading how u have the courage and mentality that u do only gives me hope, hope that regardless of what I may have, life goes on. If hiv won't take me down something else will most likely. And with all the ongoing research I can't hope for a cure, but atleast better treatment options. Thanx for ur story.
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Comment by: j (chicago) Mon., Apr. 12, 2010 at 8:59 am EDT
Hey man as a male (hetero) living on the northside of chicago, I somehow connected to ur story. I had a similiar exp but it was a girl that was trying to go after me, finally we dated for 1 month, condom broke n 1wk later I am exp worst cold ever, fatigue, full body lymphadenopathy. 5 months later she tested negative on her test 1 month after exposure, I have tested negative for 5 months, undetectible viral load by pcr, bdna. I am convienced I am infected with a rare strain not yet pick up by current test. However reading how u have the courage and mentality that u do only gives me hope, hope that regardless of what I may have, life goes on. If hiv won't take me down something else will most likely. And with all the ongoing research I can't hope for a cure, but atleast better treatment options. Thanx for ur story.
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Comment by: Lina Sonia (Lagos, Nigeria) Fri., Apr. 9, 2010 at 8:31 am EDT
Wow...i cant start to tell you how your story made me feel. I lost the most important person in my life to HIV and i cant imagine how you felt when you saw your ex in that helpless state..that is how it was for me.

I loved you story and i hope that many people will learn from what you say.
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Comment by: Nat D (Randburg South Africa) Fri., Apr. 9, 2010 at 6:50 am EDT
Yhoo...brother thanks a lot I'm in a similar situation and hope one day we can find the CURE for this...I have acepted my status and whatever comes...comes.. all the best bro. Are you on Facebook if YES can you put your FB name for me. thanks brother.

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Comment by: Lamar (Memphis, TN) Wed., Apr. 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm EDT
Man, your blog hit so close to home, the same thing happened to me. I was young, introduced to the clubs and alcohol, then on to the sex. I never thought it could be me and when you get caught up with someone, its so easy to put the condom aside, especially when you are tipsy. Your story is great man, keep bloggin, I enjoyed it so much and keep motivating people, my life has been great since my diagnosis for some reason, I guess it was a reality check!
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Comment by: nicole (newport news va) Wed., Apr. 7, 2010 at 11:53 am EDT
I love your story and that you have the understanding that everyone need to take action. You so right It only take one time thank you for sharing your story I will posted it on my facebook page if you can just reach one that one can reach other and other.
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Comment by: Dave (NJ) Mon., Apr. 5, 2010 at 11:18 pm EDT
Dear Tree,
Your blog and the info you shared resonated within me. Finding out one's status is truly a confronting experience. Stories like yours give people like me (isolative) hope and the feeling that we are not alone. Good luck to you my friend and take good care of yourself. Like me, I hope you find someone to love you for just who you are.
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Comment by: George (Chicago, IL) Sun., Apr. 4, 2010 at 12:54 am EDT
Tree, your story is inspirational. Please keep up the great work.
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Comment by: Christa (Durban, South Africa ) Sat., Apr. 3, 2010 at 3:35 am EDT
Tree,
I was moved by your story. Keep up the good work. I keep in touch with a lot of young men and women whom I teach at the University. I'm definately sharing your story on facebook. You are in my prayers.
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Comment by: Tree Alexander (Brooklyn, NY) Fri., Apr. 2, 2010 at 10:38 am EDT
Thank you all for commenting! I appreciate all the motivation, it truly keeps me going.
@Craig: Thank you for spreading the word back in Chicago for me!
@Robert: Thanks for the welcome and I canít wait to meet you one day.
@Andrew: Thank you sooo much for sharing your story with me! I agree with your goals of reaching out to educate the youth. POWERFUL! Stay motivated and reach for your dreams!
@Cordero: I love it!!! Thank you!
@Chioma: I love you and will never you or anyone else. I am here to support and strengthen! Continue to live your life because youíre the only one who can!
@Deedee: Wow! Such a similar story. One thing I never do I wish to edit my history, HIV and really refocused my life to be more health conscious. I have no idea where I would be had it not happen. Itís true this will get easier as time passes and if you ever want to talk just drop me a line.
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Comment by: Deedee (ex:Durban, SA) Fri., Apr. 2, 2010 at 4:34 am EDT
Hi tree, i can relate to your story, its funny how a persons life can change in a short amount of time. I to am HIV positive and got my diagnosis one month before i turned 20,i was a virgin before than for 19years of my life. somehow after i found out my status i was angry, confused and in denial. as time passes it gets easier as i learnt to accept my fate i started to feel a little better, i do wish i could turn back the hands of time. But at present i know God is with me and so in a way im at peace. May God bless you in your work and strengthen you each day.
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Comment by: Chioma Nash (Chicago, IL) Thu., Apr. 1, 2010 at 10:38 pm EDT
Tree you are truely the strogest person i know...You are and always will be my favorite cousin. You were the first person i came out to with my sexual orientation and you didn't judge me. I have you back through it all babe. I love you so much!
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Comment by: Cordero (Chicago, Il) Thu., Apr. 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm EDT
I am so proud of you! I miss you and love u much!!!
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Comment by: Mario Alejandre "The Aries Kid" Pratt (Minneapolis, MN) Thu., Apr. 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm EDT
Wow bro, I think for me to say i feel where you're coming from or understand your pain is an understatement because i don't. I commend you and sharing your story with the world in hopes that you can prevent someone from going down the same path. I can and will say that you are in my prayers and the fact that you are hiv+ is not the end of your story in life. I know of people whom God had healed them from hiv and aids its self. You are in my prayers and i appreciate you sharing this part of your life with me. Keep your head up high man, because we all make mistakes that impact are lives greatly, but it's how we overcome from those mistakes that tells the true story of who we really are.
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Comment by: Andrew (San Francisco, CA) Thu., Apr. 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm EDT
Really appreciated your blog. I too am 23 and positive; diagnosed when I was 21 in April of 2007. It has totally changed my life for the better, however, I do wish that I had obtained more education and information about HIV/AIDS when I was younger. Like you mentioned, anytime I heard about HIV it was simply that, hearing or reading about it. Never was there a face to HIV and never did I think it would happen to me. I was too smart for that right? Wrong! HIV can happen to anyone and now I want to educate and help prevent this disease from impacting our future generations. Again, thank you for your inspiring words. Keep up the good work.
Your brother in HIV,
Andrew L.
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Comment by: Robert Breining (Levittown , PA) Thu., Apr. 1, 2010 at 5:31 pm EDT
Hey Tree... Your such a great guy.. I love that your here at TheBody.com blogging too. Keep up the great work and welcome aboard
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Comment by: Craig (Chicago, IL) Thu., Apr. 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm EDT
Appreciated your blog and forwarded this article to my Facebook account for others to read.
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Tree Alexander

Tree Alexander

Tree Alexander, born in Chicago, Illinois, now living in Brooklyn, New York. HIV-positive AIDS activist and Case Worker. "I am the change I wish to see." Motivational speaker and youth advocate. Tree's target is to empower the youth and reduce stigma. Tree found out his HIV status one month after he turned 20 and HIV has changed his life completely. Tree travels and tell his story, letting people know that if we continue to conceal and fear this disease, we shall never overcome.


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