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This Positive Life: An Interview With Richard Brodsky

April 1, 2011

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Olivia Ford: Now did she know already that you had been involved intimately with [other men]?

Since 2006, the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation has sponsored seven orphan dinner dances in Kisumu, Kenya, for 2,800 orphans, on the days preceding the World AIDS Marathons.

Since 2006, the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation has sponsored seven orphan dinner dances in Kisumu, Kenya, for 2,800 orphans, on the days preceding the World AIDS Marathons. View more photos and projects.

Richard Brodsky: No, because I was hoping I was going to be HIV negative. I was hoping I would be able to stop this bisexual phase of my life. We were married. We seemed like we were the perfect couple. We had three lovely daughters. We both ran marathons. I had a successful architectural practice. The kids were popular. Everything was going pretty good for us. If you were going to see 100 people, we'd probably be the last couple you would think had any problem like that going on.

Olivia Ford: So now you say there was a little bit of struggle in the beginning. You told her you were positive. You knew there were these three options. And then it turned out that she wanted to work it out. Can you talk a little bit about some of the tougher times, how it was for you and how you ended up coming to terms with your own diagnosis and the future of your relationship?

Richard Brodsky: I just felt very, very guilty. What had I done? I wasn't a drug abuser, cigarette smoker. I didn't drink. I didn't do drugs and I go, "Why can't I control this aspect of my life?"

I tend to be a perfectionist. I can be demanding. If I'm demanding on other people, I'm also demanding on myself. So that part was very frustrating.

The kids were away at camp for the summer and anytime, let's say, I'd be in a good mood, then I'd get depressed. Like, "You don't have a right to be in a good mood." Jodi and I would drive to work together. It would be easy to start crying during work and everything. But Jodi was good. She was always very supportive. And it didn't look like I was dying. I was running every day.

I remember starting to take the medicine. I didn't take it right away. I thought I could beat the illness because I was really strong and healthy. And my T cells started to go down. I was at 500 originally. It went down to 375. I guess I realized I better start taking the medicine. But some of the doctors back then, I remember getting sent to one doctor, I don't think he ever saw an AIDS patient before. He was very unfeeling. He said something like, "I hope you have life insurance." Then I think that set my wife off. It set me off. So there were times at the beginning it was very difficult.

Olivia Ford: So now quickly just circling back to your diagnosis, were you ever able to talk to the man who originally suggested you go get tested? Did you see him again? Did you ever make friends?

Richard Brodsky: Yeah, I might have seen him maybe once. I was kind of annoyed at him. That was pretty much about it. Subsequently, I think he died also.

"It was difficult with each person in the family finding out and the reactions. I could say, 'I could write a book about it,' but that's pretty much what I did. I wrote a book."

-- Richard Brodsky

Olivia Ford: And at the time, it sounds as if, because he was telling you to get tested, these were unprotected encounters, I imagine.

Richard Brodsky: Right, they were.

Olivia Ford: How soon after you told Jodi did you start to tell your other family members? How old were your kids and did you talk to them?

Richard Brodsky: We decided not to tell the children. We thought someday we would tell them, maybe after they were all married off. They were around teenagers, a little younger. Three daughters, they're five years apart. And there's also terrible stigma associated with it, so we didn't want to tell them. I think the first person we did tell was my mother. She freaked out a little bit. It was difficult with each person in the family finding out and the reactions. I could say, "I could write a book about it," but that's pretty much what I did. I wrote a book. It was actually a gift to my wife, to keep our family loving at home. And it was also a plea to get AIDS medicine to AIDS sufferers all over the world.

Olivia Ford: Wow. That's amazing. So now when did you end up telling your children? Did they just find out over the natural course of time? I assume they know now because you're very public about it.

Richard Brodsky: Yeah, of course they know now. That was also very difficult. My middle daughter found out first. She was reading a journal. I wasn't actually chronicling the whole situation, thinking one day I'd write a book. I felt really bad because I don't like lying and it was one of the few lies that I did make. I told her I got it from a bloody towel at a gym, which was -- it doesn't pay to lie. It really doesn't.

"This is not something I'm supposed to be quiet about. And if everybody keeps quiet about it, you're not going to get any AIDS advocacy."

-- Richard Brodsky

And we said, "Do you want to talk to your sisters? Do you want to let them know?" And she said, "No." And she seemed pretty much OK with it because she saw me running every day. And it was right around that time that I ran my fastest marathon. It was around 15 months after I was diagnosed with HIV. I did a marathon in three hours, 23 minutes. So here she is hearing this guy's got this disease that people die from, but he seems like he's doing OK.

My other daughter found out -- I forget exactly how she found out, my oldest daughter -- she kept it to herself, which probably wasn't too good an idea. I think her boyfriend found out and he was threatening to reveal the secret of the Brodsky family that could destroy our family. I had been keeping a journal and I was like, "Wait a second. Something just doesn't sound right. I'm living with this illness. I'm able to run marathons. This is not something I'm supposed to be quiet about. And if everybody keeps quiet about it, you're not going to get any AIDS advocacy."

So it was at that point I said to Jodi, "Jodi, you know what? I think I'm going to write this book." And she said it was OK. We didn't tell my youngest daughter. The book was pretty much done when we got around to telling her. Jodi said something very funny. Pretty much she says, "Don't tell your mother you're writing this book. She's going to tell you she's going to lie down on the railroad tracks." So finally we didn't tell her and the book eventually came out and my youngest daughter said it was OK. I think she was like 13 at the time. The book is Jodi: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. It's just a love story. It's a gift to my wife.

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More Personal Accounts of Men With HIV


 

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