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Conversations With My Virus

By Shana Cozad

March 3, 2011

Greetings and salutations friends!

I prefer to call you all friends, because I think the world these days has more than enough enemies all around and I do not wish to be among the hated or despised. Yet, there are those in this world who will hate me, simply because I breathe the air they breathe. I am a woman living with AIDS.

I suppose my story isn't so unnatural. Girl meets boy. Boy lies about his status. Girl is ignorant and doesn't know anything about boundaries or how to protect herself. Girl breaks up with boy after a one-year relationship. Girl finds out in break-up argument that boy is infected. Girl goes and gets tested. Girl is positive and has AIDS already.

That scenario could happen to anyone ... but it's what happened after my AIDS diagnosis that life really gets interesting for me.

This disease is simply remarkable at bringing out the raw and emotional and scariest aspects of Life, or Death, and often at the same time. Our culture doesn't prepare us how to deal with death very well, and as far as I am concerned, our culture has a haphazard way of preparing us for life anyway. Life is not all Brady Bunch and roses. And no one seems to really be able to be comfortable with the thought of our impending death, ever since our Egyptian ancestors.

So in my opinion, this disease has presented with loads of opportunities to look at. I liked the process of speaking directly to my body, me and my 11 T cells. I liked the part of sitting down one day with my virus, calling a truce, introducing myself properly and giving way to an understanding that this virus did not ask to invade my body; it simply travels from one body to the next according to the humans' level of "willingness to share." I was willing as an entry source, I suppose. I hated condoms. I did not like the awkwardness of putting them on. I did not like the way they smelled. And I did not like hearing guys complain that they couldn't "feel" me. So I believed in birth control pills. I also believed that guys did not lie about their status. And so my virus and I talked primarily about "me" and about what we needed to do next to cohabitate together.

But the interesting thing about conversations with my virus is that I never got hateful or evil conniving messages back. It just simply was a virus, and I had a beautiful young immune system with a not-so-strong genetic factor that allowed my virus to run rampant. My CD4 cells were like filet mignon to a starving person with a great palate and my, did my virus enjoy a feast of kings.

But I did not feel like my virus was out to get me, out to destroy me, bury me six feet under as quickly as it could. It just did what it did. It liked T cells. It liked making babies or "copies of itself" as the medical community calls it. Well, I like making babies too, so we had that in common, even though I technically only had one baby and it had millions. I began to see the irony of carrying a life within me that was itself producing more life, and which I would never "birth" and which the medical community was out to kill.

I understood that this virus and life had the potential to kill me. I know that often bacteria, viruses, fungi, molds, et cetera, are not our friends. I know that there are dozens of microbes in the world that our bodies are not able to cope with. But in the essence of understanding who I was living with, I needed to attempt to have a positive relationship, an understanding of who we both were, before I would have to be forced to defend my existence and wage an internal war against it. It was the honor stage, the bowing of our heads to each other, that is the basis of respect for all living things -- even our future enemies.

So in the beginning, this life process occurred internally within me, and I best accepted it as a sort of never-ending pregnancy. I held my belly. I rubbed my lymph nodes from time to time to feel close to it and be connected. I didn't get a sense it was either male or female, it was an "it." I would tell it when I was having a rough day and that I needed it to slow down. I would tell it when I was having a good day and that I thought we were both doing great. And it was along for the ride as I journeyed through my own fumbling existence as a young woman, living with AIDS, raising a baby boy.

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