My Letter to HIV: A Letter and Video From Melissa Baker

Dear HIV,

I AM a daughter, niece, grand-daughter, cousin, sister, church parishioner ...

My first memory of you was 1991 when I was a preteen of 12. Magic Johnson disclosed his diagnosis publicly. In 1992 before I turned 13 he did a special on Nickelodeon talking to kids about you. Later that same year my best friend's uncle passed from you.

Then in 1993 you popped up in the movie Philadelphia and And the Band Played On.Then I watched Pedro living & dying with you in the Real World San Francisco in 1994.

Followed by MY uncle suddenly being taken by you in 1995.That same year A Mothers Prayer, KIDS were released and "Waterfalls" by TLC ...

1996-1998 I married, became a mother twice to 3 daughters ... divorced.

You were quiet in my world until 2003 with Angels in America then Rent in 2005.

By this time two 3 year relationships had ended, but I'd put myself through technical school was working full time moved my girls & I into a house. They did dance lessons, basketball, horseback riding, Girl Scouts, summer camp, mountain retreats, beach and took their First Communion/Reconciliation. I had still been holding onto the dream of remarrying. I looked for a man again instead of looking within me. I found a man. We traveled, got scuba certified, wined & dined, attended parties & weddings, fireworks, local & amusement parks, putt-putt, aquarium, museum, state fair, movies, festivals, sports games, live music, comedy show, endearing gifts, rides on his sport bike, hosted cookouts with family, yard work, holiday & home decor. Along the way I fell in love with and trusted and believed in him ...

In 2007 you stopped just being something I watched in a movie. All that time you were living in him. It didn't matter if he had acknowledged you. You almost took his life regardless. Seeing you in him scared me. You turned my world upside down days before my 28th birthday. You coming into my blood stream left me no choice but to acknowledge you. My seroconversion was undeniable. I had to have my daughters tested for you, who had recently started shaving just in case they had borrowed a razor. Their tests were negative for you. As I processed and grieved your presence, I almost allowed you to destroy me. Realizing simple things like never being able to donate blood again or having to take organ donor removed off my driver's license. Having a tubal ligation suggested to me.

Every time I turned around I had to go to the doctor. That is up until I started to take my meds to combat you. I rode the rollercoaster of some not so proud moments for a brief time with my daughters and family/friends, his and my own. You helped me to let go of other people's living and dying. To redirect my focus back to self. Since then it has been a provider visit every 3 months. Co-payments for meds monthly. Girl Positive came on Lifetime & Life Support on HBO that same year. It was different watching them now living with you.

I could've stayed silent about you living inside of me after he and I went our separate ways. But instead I began my volunteerism. I felt empowered to dispel stigma, to encourage people to test, respect & educate themselves. To feel supported. To know courage, integrity, dignity & adherence. I have added advocate to who I AM. I have disclosed to many including my daughters. I have met those I would have never met. One who gave me another beautiful daughter. Who you DO NOT run through. Who I was unable to nurse because you were there in my breastmilk. But I bonded yet still.

With her was rebirth. Firsts, community, gym again & yoga again, bible study, support groups, patience, smiles of elated joy, head nuzzled, entwined hands. I know me & love me now and I know what I want. What I can change and what I cannot.

I bought us a home without fear of if I will still be alive in 30 years. I have learned to cherish chalk, bubbles, ice cream trucks, sand, ocean, and holidays lights like never before. I STILL travel, enjoy live music, wine & dine, movies, state fair, sports games, festivals, attend parties, mountain retreats, the girls still go to summer camp, cookouts with family, yard work and holiday & home decorating. But I do so now, despite you, with those that reciprocate unconditionally.

In 2009 Precious was released, For Colored Girls in 2010 and We Were Here in 2011. I realized while watching how far I've come. Truth has been a priceless gift I have gotten.

2012, is our first 5 year milestone, our 5th year poziversary!

Melissa Baker