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This Positive Life: An Interview With Anthony Castro and Frank Lopez

February 1, 2011

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Frank Lopez: Well, it's difficult. My spiral began in August of 2006. I had just gone through a really bad breakup. A week later, while I was at home in Miami visiting my family, I got a phone call from New York from a total stranger. Apparently, there had been a nationwide search for me because someone that was very, very, very near and dear to me passed away. His name was Willi Ninja. Many people don't know Willi by name, but they know him by work. Willi was Madonna's choreographer for Vogue, and he was Tyra Banks' trainer for walking runway, among many, many others.

And they found me. I mean, this was literally -- how they found me, I have no idea. They told me what had happened and how Willi had left a dying wish. This wish was that his legacy would go on. And his legacy was to give back to the community. And at the time, I was HIV negative. But I had gone through a one-two blow to my life, and it just made me go into a bout of depression.


Bonnie Goldman: What did?

Frank Lopez: The breakup, the loss of Willi. Willi was, and is, to me larger than life; he is to many people.

Bonnie Goldman: How did you know him?

Frank Lopez: I met Willi over 10 years ago. Being an airline employee, I was the jet-setter. I've lived a very blessed life. And I met Willi one night at Escuelita in New York, in Manhattan. I was standing at the back of the line and there, up front, was this tall black guy, with these shoulders from California to New York. He was wearing this white fur coat, and just as flashy as can be. And he says, "You! Unh-unh. Come here, honey. You ain't standing back there."

So Willi pulled me out of the line, goes up to the front, tells the guards, "He's with me." We go downstairs. And I can't dance couples to save my life. So Willi starts twirling me. They were playing salsa music. And we brought the house down. And it was the beginning of a friendship that went deeper than friendship. Willi became my brother -- the brother I never had. And we shared a lot.

I would jet-set across the country. Because he would be choreographing and dancing with La India, from the freestyle '80s, and various and sundry other artists. I would tell him what was going on with my life, and he would give me the advice a big brother would give me: "Hang in there. It's going to be OK."

So, needless to say, when Willi died, it just, it was the second blow -- the first one being the loss of a five-year relationship. I don't believe in short-term relationships. And so I was devastated. I cried for two days nonstop when Willi died.

My life has been one of extreme highs and extreme lows, having survived the demise of Pan Am because of the Lockerbie terrorist tragedy, and --

Bonnie Goldman: So you had been an employee of Pan Am?

Frank Lopez: Of Pan Am, yes. And then, at the time that Willi passed, I was an employee of United. And, of course, as we already know from 9/11, that was a very traumatic event. Once again, because of a terrorist attack, I find myself in dire financial straits. And I lost a second pension. So I already had a preexisting depression going on. And then, when you couple that with the loss of my relationship and the loss of the person that I loved most, the depression was such that -- and I'm not claiming to be a victim, because I did it of my own volition -- I started using crystal [meth]. And, very much like the commercial says, I lost myself to meth. That was in January of 2007.

In March, I was very much in the P and P scene (P and P being, party and play). So I was meeting random hookups online. And we got high one night, and I just didn't care. I was sad. I didn't want to feel. And I had bareback sex.

And I knew then. I knew. I absolutely knew at that moment what had happened. Within a few weeks, I began to become ill. Within a month, I had lost 30 pounds. Fevers, night sweats, vomiting, diarrhea, a fever of 101.4 that just would not go away. And I'm thinking to myself, "Frankie, something is wrong."

So I go online and I start looking at WebMD. I'm somewhat computer literate. And I start doing my research and I'm saying, "Mm-mm, this isn't looking good." And then I started developing MRSAs, commonly known as M-R-S-A: staph infections. And I was getting them treated. Every time I went to the doctors they said, "Have you gotten an HIV test?" And you know, during this period of two months, I got a total of seven HIV blood tests. And they all came back negative.

But my doctor told me, "Are you prepared for the possibility of becoming HIV positive?" And I say, "Well, I don't know. We'll deal with that when it comes." All the tests keep coming back negative, but I was getting sicker and sicker.

It was May 16th of 2007 when the doctor ordered me to come back into the office. The doctor walked in and he said, and I quote, "There's just no easy way to say this. You're HIV positive." It sounds kind of brisk, but I'm OK with that. It was just straightforward, black and white. Don't sugarcoat it, because I need to know what's what, and how to deal with it.

The first person that I told was my friend Tony. He was living with me. And we cried. And that same day, out of the sheer panic, that's when I decided to channel my energy. I called home and I told my family. So that was one of the biggest hurdles in my life -- to tell my family not only that -- well, I didn't have to tell them that I was gay, because they knew once I told them that I was HIV positive, the rest was evident.

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