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Jumping Empty-Handed Into the Void

By River Huston

January 14, 2011

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Recently my life fell apart financially, emotionally and spiritually. I had hit bottom. I have been in recovery for 25 years but I found a new addiction, or really not so new -- it might have been my first addiction -- and that is control. For the first 13 years of living with HIV infection as well as acute, chronic ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenia pupura) I came to accept I was powerless. It is one thing HIV, if you are willing, will teach you in spades.

But over the last seven years with the availability of treatment I realized if the drugs continue to work, and even if they take 20 years off the back end of my life (sorry AARP -- I wouldn't want them anyway), I might live another 25 years. Without that faithful companion of certain death from HIV infection (all I had to do was worry about getting hit by a bus), I reverted back to that need to try and control everything.

That is how I found myself freezing in a cold house watching my husband's despair turn to bitterness over a failed business that I had invested all my money and most of American Express, Visa and MasterCard's credit lines into. I kept thinking I could make it work; he wanted to let go about $50,000 ago.

I didn't stop there. I tried to control his depression, tried to motivate, change and help him. It made things worse and over the last year it became apparent that our lives were at a standstill.

Even before our financial crisis, things were not going well. It took the loss of everything including money, home, credit and intimate relationship for me to see more clearly. Up until this year, about the time the HIV meds kicked in, I have been living with the decisions I made essentially from a deathbed. It was time to live, but I was imprisoned with these choices that were lovely but not working -- including a half a million dollar home, many toys and a relationship that had morphed into dysfunctional codependence.

Every day was painful. I didn't know what to do. So I took drastic action. I left. I knew it had to be fast because slow is really painful so I pulled the band-aid off with speed I didn't know I had (it took me 10 years to decide on a sofa). I called a lawyer, filed for bankruptcy, stopped paying the mortgage and went on Craigslist and started looking for somewhere else to live.

I looked to the South, but too many churches for this Jew. My girlfriend who settled in Georgia said if I came down there would be two Jews in Georgia and as great as that sounded, I kept looking. I was in San Francisco thinking how much I would love to live there but even the smallest apartment was crazy expensive. On a lark I thought I would look at Craigslist in the Caribbean.


There was an interesting ad for an apartment on Water Island. I had never heard of Water Island and it took quite a bit of Googling to find it. It is less than 500 acres; about 75 homes, no restaurants, hotels or businesses of any kind and you can only get to it by boat.

I called and asked if the apartment was still available and the woman said yes. I said would call her back. I went to look for a flight. My thinking was, if there is a cheap one then it is meant to be. There was a ticket to fly to St. Thomas the next day for $235.

I called back and asked if I could see the apartment. She asked when would I like to come down and I said tomorrow. She was a little taken aback and said how about the day after. I said okay. I flew to St. Thomas already thinking it was a waste of time and money, and was filled with guilt -- apparently the band-aid was still hanging on.

I landed and took a taxi to my hotel which was advertised as cheap but nice. It was cheap but not very nice. I thought I would look at the apartment and just fly home, no big deal. No expectation.

The next morning I went down to this restaurant by the dock called Tickles and waited for a ferry. Once on the ferry, I started to get a little excited. The amazing color of the water and the warm wind in my hair brought a smile to my face.

A 10-minute ride took me to a plain concrete dock and there waited my host, Linda, to show me the place. We drove up a hill and got out. The first apartment she showed me was a nightmare and I realized why it was so cheap. But she had another apartment. We climbed the stairs of this ancient stone structure reminiscent of the house where Meryl Streep lived in the movie Mamma Mia and walked into a bright white one bedroom with a kitchen that faced St. Thomas and deck that faced the bay. Stunning, but a little pricy.

I didn't want to get stressed out about money again, and then I was still thinking about how it would work with my husband. While I was deep in thought Linda said I would have to hurry if I wanted to catch the ferry. I asked her if I could stay in the apartment a few days to think about it; she said yes.

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See Also
More Personal Accounts of Women With HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Butch McKay (Ft. Walton Beach, FL) Wed., Apr. 6, 2011 at 10:22 am EDT
Hi River,

Wow Girlfriend, I don't know what to say after reading your blog. You never stop amazing me. I feel your pain, as well as your resolve. Your decisions had to be extremely difficult but important enough to know that you had to do what was right for you and your husband. Having known you as long as I have and having listened to your heart as you celebrated your love for him, I can not begin to imagine how gut wrenching this move is for you. I am so happy that you two can still communicate everynight before going to sleep. Love does not have to be described by any set of standards, it is simply what is is to those who share it. Most important love is real and at times requires hard sacrifices. Love also heals. I pray for that healing for each of you, you are both amazing individuals. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see your impact on the lives of so many people and I am delighted that you are still willing to share your life with us. I will be getting in touch with you to return to Positive Living next year. We just completed our 14th conference and it was wonderful. Many people asked about you and asked that I invite you back for a another grand performance. You can check out Robert Breining blog on the Body to read about Positive Living 14. Remember the laughter you have brought to so many has been the best prescription for their health. So as you soak up the sun, get intouch with your inner self, don't forget that you to need laughter. I love you River and wish you the best. Can't wait till our paths to cross again.
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Comment by: River Huston (Water Island, USVI) Tue., Feb. 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm EST
Thanks everyone for the comments and support. Some days I still battle guilt over my decision! It continues to be a journey. Henry, I am blessed that my work as a performer allows me to work anywhere in the world. It is pricier to travel from here but not much and it is offset by the fact that I do not have a car to maintain. My overhead has been cut down by 2/3. I am eligible for help in paying for some of my meds. The rest I have to pay myself and is my biggest expense. I see my doctors when I come to the states. They have a small AIDS support network here and I have spoken to them and know what to do if I need help. It is amazingly beautiful here but if I had not connected with a 12-step group and took all the suggestions-sponsor, service and steps I would be suicidal by now. Instead each day I feel the bondage of my past life slip away and learn more about how to have healthy relationships with myself and others. Thanks again and I wish you all the best!
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Comment by: Henry (NYC) Sat., Jan. 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm EST
This sounds amazing and inspiring. I was diagnosed in 2008 and feel trapped in a job I don't like because I get great health insurance. How can someone with HIV go off and live in the middle of "nowhere?" Do you mind my asking about the logistics: How do you get your HIV (and other) meds? How often do you have labs done? How can you afford medical insurance? Maybe SSDI but you are able to work? It boggles the mind......but more power to you. I do admire how you can do what you do.
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Comment by: allen mae (chicago, il) Thu., Jan. 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm EST
I admire your courage so much. I hope your physical health continues as strongly as your mental/emotional health. Good luck and thank you for the inspiration and gift of strength.
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Comment by: Tishawn (Los Angeles) Thu., Jan. 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm EST
Good for you that you found your way.The carribean is refreshing and seems like a good restart for anyone..Ill keep it in my plans as for the great article.
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Comment by: Jai (Washington, DC) Thu., Jan. 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm EST
Can I come visit? St. Thomas sounds just like the place I need to breathe...
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Comment by: Rosetta M. (Buffalo, NY) Thu., Jan. 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm EST
Hey River...I met you when you were in Buffalo....sorry to hear about your husband, but I am excited for you and jealous too! I could use some sun right about now...well my sistah....good safe...and enjoy you and your God and nature experience...
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A River Runs Through It

River Huston

River Huston

River Huston is an award-winning poet, journalist, performer and activist. She travels through the United States speaking on issues related to sexuality, communication, overcoming challenges and change. She has been featured on Good Morning America, Showtime, Nightline, CNN and ABC Up To The Minute. River has written three books of poetry as well as The Goddess: A Guide to Feminine Wisdom and A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV. She wrote and performed a one-woman show, Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment: One Girls Guide to Living and Dying off off Broadway and is currently working on a second show, The Dominatrix Next Door. For more information about River you can go to

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Recent Posts:

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Articles by River:

Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment: One Girl's Guide to Living and Dying (October 15, 2008)

I Feel Good! Attaining Survival Through Illness (March/April 2008)

Goddess in a Muumuu: AIDS Changes Sexual Self-Image (December 1999)

A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV (October 1999)

Interviews With River:

White Women and HIV (April 1999)

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The opinions expressed by's bloggers are entirely their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of itself.