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This Positive Life: An Interview With Marvelyn Brown

January 25, 2011

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And what happened then?

We hung up. Because, at this time, I had already told people before I told him. I told five people: I told two friends, my sister, my aunt and my mom. And basically, on the same day I had found out, the rest of my national community found out, as well -- or at least, that's what I felt like. Because those five people told five people; and those five people told five people; and so the word, you know, just kept spreading.

He had caught wind of that, too; or, he understood that. And even though he probably knew, when he said he was positive, [that] he gave it to me -- like, all this other stuff -- he didn't want to have anything to do with me, because so many people had known my situation. He was that much in denial. He didn't want to have anything to do with me.

Now, you're implying that he already knew he was positive. Is that right?

Yes. I believe that he knew.

So he was knowingly going out and having unprotected sex, even though he knew.

"He wasn't like, 'Oh, I'm going to infect everybody.' It was kind of, like, 'There's no way I have this. The doctors got it wrong. I'm not going back. I'm not listening to this foolishness.'"

Looking back on it (and this is just my opinion), he found out his status and didn't believe it, didn't want to believe it. Like, literally, he was that much in denial. I don't think that he's this evil person who was thinking, "I'm going to infect every single body." It was more like, "I just didn't believe it when the doctors told me." You know? Because he later explained to me that I kind of made this real to him.

He wasn't like, "Oh, I'm going to infect everybody." It was kind of, like, "There's no way I have this. The doctors got it wrong. I'm not going back. I'm not listening to this foolishness."

I think that's a very common reaction that a lot of people have.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Who was the first person you told?

The very first person I told was my best friend.

And what was her reaction, or his reaction?


Her reaction was one I had never heard. We lost a mutual best friend together from suicide months earlier. And for me to tell her, "I'm HIV positive," I had not heard this sound in her voice. It was a scared sound: "Oh, Lord, not again." You know, it was a lot of different things in her voice. She then told me she was at work and needed to work and would come and see me when she got off.

She thought you were going to die.

I think she did. Yeah. But, see, I was shocked, because I thought she knew more about the virus than I did. Because I didn't even think I was going to die! I didn't know. I didn't know. I just didn't know anything. You know? I just really didn't.

So you just started telling people, and ...

I was really telling people in hopes of somebody saying, "You know what? Things are going to be OK." Because when that doctor walked out of the room, I was scared. I'm like, "What have I got myself into?" I'm so used to getting into stuff, and my mom gets me out of it, or my basketball coach gets me out of it.

Marvelyn (right) at her graduation from Whites Creek High School in 2002.

Marvelyn (right) at her graduation from Whites Creek High School in 2002.

You know, you're used to, in life, getting second chances. And I'm like, "What have I done now?"

Who was the doctor who informed you that you were HIV positive?

It was an infectious disease specialist who did the testing. But the doctor who came in to give me the results, he was an emergency room doctor. His name was Dr. Gonzalez.

And he didn't give you any information about it? He just said, "You're positive," and that was it?

Believe it or not, he, being an emergency room doctor, one who isn't used to giving people HIV tests on a day-to-day basis, he really couldn't answer all my questions. He told me he needed to give me more information.

But he didn't?

Yeah. He didn't.

Was there a level of shock involved at all, about everything you didn't know? Or everything that you were finding out?

Yeah. I felt, why didn't I know this? How was I misled so much? Why didn't anyone step in and tell me this? You know? So I was very shocked.

You were very open about it, at first. But did you close yourself off a little, afterwards?

"I felt, why didn't I know this? How was I misled so much? Why didn't anyone step in and tell me this? You know? So I was very shocked."

I did. I feel like, yes, this is my purpose, and what I'm supposed to be doing. But I also feel like I'm this accidental activist. Because I only told five people; that's all [the people that] I wanted to know. But when my word starts spreading, and people start talking, I was not prepared for that, and I did not want that.

I was never like, "Oh, my God. I'm going to be this out here activist, who will share her story," and all that. I did not want that. But after those people found out that information, I kept hearing things, like, "Marvelyn's dying." "Marvelyn's losing weight." And I was just in hiding. But every day I was looking in the mirror, thinking the same thing they're thinking in their head; but that wasn't reality. I was looking good. I was growing into a woman.

I realized that I wasn't the only one who was misinformed -- because I felt that way. I'm thinking, "Did I skip class that day? What am I doing differently in the bedroom?" I didn't do anything but have sex! I have sex and get HIV. My friends have sex and get pregnant, or get an STD, and it goes away with a shot, or a pill.

And so I was like, "I have to set the record straight." I was going into this kind of very selfish, the first time I ever put my story in the paper. Because I'm thinking, "If I go in and I clear it up, I can go back to my old life. People will accept me now, because I'm going to tell everything like it is."

I went in, and it was kind of one of those things: Oh, you're going to talk about me; can't nobody talk about me better than me.

And so I put the story in the statewide newspaper, The Tennessean. And the reaction I got was a bit overwhelming. I never looked at myself as a leader, as someone who could be inspirational. I never looked at myself as any of those things. And so the response that I got from that newspaper article: that's when NAPWA was telling me they're giving me a Youth Leadership Award, and all this other stuff. I didn't know what I had done. I really didn't. And so I never thought it would go outside of Tennessee.

Really, even now, looking at it, I didn't think it would go outside of Nashville. I didn't realize The Tennessean went across the entire state.

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This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.

See Also
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