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Pickett Fences: Seven's Up

By Jim Pickett

September/October 2002

July 2002

Dear Mom, Dad, and Kevin,

I have HIV.

I have thought through a zillion ways of approaching this unwelcome announcement, indeed I have been thinking, and thinking and thinking for seven years ... since the day I tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in August of 1995. All my options just got more and more convoluted, and I kept contemplating and procrastinating, and now I just want to spare you the dramatic buildup.

I have HIV.

Before I get into why it has taken me seven years to tell you, my family, what I tell people I do not even know in my writing and speaking activities, I want to say that I am okay. I am doing fine, my health is great. I have an excellent doctor who is a specialist in the field and with whom I have a strong relationship. I am currently taking a drug regimen that is keeping the virus at bay and is not giving me any side effects. So while I know that you will worry -- and this was one of the reasons I have waited so long -- I want to say that you don't have to, that I'm doing okay. Really.

Worry, because I know you will. But do not worry too much. Deal?

Let me explain that AIDS comes after a long time, after HIV has wreaked years of havoc on the immune system. A decimated immune system leaves one open to a host of illnesses and opportunistic infections that are collectively called AIDS. My immune system is nowhere near that. We discovered my infection very early on, and therefore have been monitoring it closely and treating it before it had a chance to do a lot of damage. Since I found out, I also have been more careful about taking care of myself, not letting myself getting run down, keeping the partying to a minimum. Remember that I have come much closer to dying from asthma in my 36 years than anything else.

Besides being healthy and feeling good -- rarely, if ever, do I get so much as a sniffle -- the rest of my life is nothing to sneeze at (okay, I couldn't resist). I enjoy what I do for a living immensely and I am in love with a very special man who has brought intense joy into my life. I'm not letting the fact that he lives in Spain and doesn't speak English dissuade me. It definitely ain't my first time at the rodeo, as you well know I have been following in Liz Taylor's bloated hoof prints, but I want you to understand that I am happy, taking it day by day, enjoying every moment, feeling like the luckiest man on earth ... every moment. I am living a truly blessed life, filled with adventure and exciting challenges and populated by an amazing, brilliant, neurotic, funny and not a little insane group of friends and colleagues.

Today I rode my bike thirty miles.

I have HIV.

When I found out, seven years ago, I was devastated and thought my time was up. I was scared, and I cried. I was angry, and I yelled and I screamed. I was depressed, and I laid in a ball in a corner of my bed and prayed it would all go away. It didn't. And ya know, neither did my will to survive. Which, surprise surprise, is pretty damn strong. I wonder who passed on the stubborn genes? We all have our struggles, human existence is not always a pretty picture, so this is something I have been given to deal with. I can be a miserable bitch about it. Or I can simply try to make the best of it. I guess I am doing a little bit of both, but leaning towards making the best of it. I hope.

I feel incredibly guilty that I have not told you 'til now. I have had a million excuses -- always a birthday or holiday that I didn't want to spoil. I mean, I didn't want Arbor Day to be forever tinged with this disclosure! And there was always other family drama that I didn't want to add to with my own. Forgive me. I spent a lot of time worrying about this, spent a great many hours in therapy talking about this, and still, it took me seven years. I kept waiting for the right time, and realized there is no right time. And that the right time is now. And here we are. ...

I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to freak you out. I don't want you to worry too much about me, or worse, pity me. Or even worse still, fear me. You are not at risk being around me -- I am sure you know that -- but I just want to put it out there.

Please forgive me for waiting so long. The irony of tons of strangers knowing my status, while my own family doesn't, is not lost on me. Believe me, I see that it is rather schizophrenic. And yes, you are the last to know, of the ones I feel it is important to share this information, and I guess that's because I have wanted to protect you, to shield you, to spare you any suffering. But ya know, despite HIV -- and also in many strange and beautiful ways because of HIV -- I am leading a wonderful life. A life I never dreamed of, and a life I would never exchange.

You are my family and I love you.

I hope you will take some time to let this sink in. You have a right to be sad and angry, as I was. Freak out a little. Let yourself feel those things, but don't let them consume you. Please. And please, come to me with your questions and concerns. There is nothing you can ask me that will offend me or send me screaming into the streets, so let's talk.

We have a lot of catching up to do.

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