I’m still here…livin’ with HIV
November 21, 2011
I never even asked her what her last name was. I was so lost in her story and the bright light and kindness in her eyes.
“People need to know Patience, especially black women, HIV is still out there, they need to hear our story…we need to take care of each other. Women are afraid, they are scared….especially black women, they don’t have to be afraid, this is my life. I have to keep growing, we can’t stop living because we are HIV positive…”
We sat on a cozy plaid couch in a quiet room at the Fan Free Clinic. If we had a cup of tea, it would have felt like we were in her living room but it was the testing and counseling room. I thought of all the men and women, families, mothers that had sat on that couch, alone or with hands clenched tight with a loved one, waiting to find out if HIV would now be part of their lives and future.
Darlene told me how she prayed while she sat crying on a brick wall at 3am by herself one night, hearing the police coming, not knowing they were coming for her.
“I prayed to God, ‘Please God, please take this taste from my mouth, please, if you do, I’ll never do drugs again’. God bless those police, they took me in.”
After that night, Darlene spent 2 years in a city jail and graduated after 2 years in drug court, a program designed to helps folks struggling with addiction. It was during her drug court time that she found out she was HIV positive. Shortly after she found her way to the support and love of the Fan Free Clinic.
I was struck by her gentle strength and resolve. I asked her how she found her way through.
“This is not a death threat…I still can love you and you can still love me…I cry a lot, I pray to God, ‘It’s just you and me with this virus…I am gonna love on people’. You don’t have to be alone with this virus, just hold on – Life is gonna still be there- and you just gotta love on people…I am still here.”
HIV is still here.
Darlene is still here.
Life is still here.
And love is at the bottom of everything.
I couldn’t help but think of all the people that are still searching for what Darlene knows, all the women and men that have yet to discover what real love looks and feels like it, how it can heal your soul…and all the women that Darlene is holding in her heart, the women she hopes will hear her story, those at risk with new and stronger strains of HIV finding it’s way back into ALL of our lives and communities, whole groups of people forgotten… it is time for us to remember.
I am so honored that I will get to stand next to Darlene and so many others on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2011. I would like to invite you to join me for this amazing act of kindness on us all.
On December 1, 2011, something truly breathtaking in its simplicity and power is going to happen in Richmond, Virginia. At precisely 12 o’clock, 400 red umbrellas will pop open on an island in the James River to symbolize a recommitment to education and prevention and hope. At that exact moment Richmond will lead the Commonwealth and the nation in saying, “30 years is simply too long.” We will remind our neighbors near and far that the fight is not yet won and that complacency and indifference are taking precious lives. At precisely 12:00 o’clock, we will unite, reinvigorated, in the battle against HIV/AIDS.