Nina Brown was born in Jersey City, N.J. "My parents were in the Air Force, and shortly after my birth, we moved to France, where I lived for the next eight years of my life. When we moved back to Jersey City, I spoke only French. My mother had to hire a tutor to teach me to speak English."
When Nina was 12 her parents divorced and she moved to Brooklyn to live with her grandmother. She finished high school and two years of college, and had her first child, a son, at age 18. "I had to work, so I dropped out of school and worked as a temp, for Kelly Services. My temp jobs would lead to permanent jobs. I've worked for NYNEX, in law and architecture, for Bankers Trust Plaza, and for a sound production studio, which was the best and most interesting of all."
During this period Nina was taking various drugs. "I exhibited standard addictive behavior, and in 1989, finally realized what I was doing to myself." After trying to quit drugs and alcohol off and on since then, she has been in serious recovery for the past two and a half years.
"I've always been very aware of the possibility of being infected with the HIV virus, so between the years 1989 and 1992 I was tested every 6 months. All my tests were negative, so I felt very safe." In January 1992, Nina again tested negative. "I got married in February 1992, but two months after my marriage, I discovered that my new husband was having an affair. That ended the marriage, and in July, 1992, I met and fell in love with the man who was to become my youngest child's father. When I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant the clinic I went to for my pregnancy said that an HIV test was required (it wasn't). I believed them and took the test, and tested positive." The clinic gave Nina no counseling, and rushed her out. She left the clinic in shock. "I was scared, depressed, and afraid to tell my baby's father. I saw my ex-husband and told him that I had tested positive for the virus and urged him to get himself tested. He refused, and denied the possibility of his having HIV. I eventually told my boyfriend about my testing positive, and he got tested himself and tested negative. My husband was the only person who could have given me the virus."
Immediately after testing positive for HIV, Nina went on a two-week binge of drugs and alcohol. "Then I saw a photograph of a baby who was born deformed because the mother was an alcoholic and realized the danger I was putting my unborn baby in. I stopped drinking and drugs ... I didn't do anything."
After her baby's birth, Nina had no support group, and no one she could rely on. And her new relationship was crumbling. "I felt so alone and sorry for myself that I started up with drugs again. Then I finally just got sick of it all. I told everyone I knew about my addictions, left my boyfriend, and got help for my problems. I can't say I'll never use drugs again, but I can say that I wouldn't use them today. I'm definitely taking responsibility for my own actions and for my future."
After leaving her boyfriend Nina started seeing a woman. "I was bisexual, and I thought that maybe my being with another woman would create a more stable relationship." But her HIV status and her lover's fear of AIDS destroyed the relationship. "Now I'm just single. I've met possible lovers -- men and women -- but my main focus is just to raise my children and remain healthy." Nina is currently in school studying to be a substance abuse counselor, and is on the board for the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network. She also works as a phone line buddy for Sister Connect. "I tell women about available resources, such as medical care, food, shelter. There's so much misinformation about AIDS, and through this organization I try to give correct information." She tries to tell about fun ways to have safer sex, and gives safer sex demonstrations. "And I try to make people realize that HIV is not a gay or drug-related disease. Lots of people have the virus and they're neither gay nor drug users."
"When I was with my husband, I suspected he might be messing around. He'd come home late or not at all, lots of signs, but I was blinded to the truth. If a woman thinks her husband or boyfriend is cheating on her, she should insist on safe sex or no sex."
Nina is well aware of what people who are HIV-positive have to deal with. "People's attitudes are bad . . . they either give you pity or contempt. If you feed into their attitude it just brings depression. Some people think I should just lie down and die, and not try to have a normal, creative life. To combat their negativity, I take surveys, help others, and through that, help myself. My kids are very supportive and go to meetings with me. We have a very healthy relationship. They all know I'm HIV-positive except for the youngest, who's only 3. The others are 9, 10, and 20 years old, and they tell me how proud they are of me. I'm also involved with National Association of People With AIDS, on the board of the HIV and AIDS Planning Council for New Jersey, and I'm with New Jersey Connections. We help needy people in the community with housing, food, and clothing, and try to provide a home-like atmosphere where we can talk about the virus and give help and advice. I speak to various groups and tell my story for others to learn. I find that teens judge people by the way they look. To them, if they look healthy, then they are healthy. I try to get them to understand that appearances can be deceiving, and that someone can be HIV-positive and still look great."
"I just go day by day, with some good days and some bad ones. I'm tired of being tied to medications, but it's a necessary part of my life. The virus in my body is now so under control that it's undetectable, but nevertheless it's there. I just try to be positive about life. I meditate and go to the Christian Village Church at Fort River, N.J. I think that I've found peace with myself."
Back to June Issue of Body Positive Magazine