I was raised by a mother who wanted me to be as informed as I could be about a lot of health related issues, so my paranoia about HIV stems from that. I’ve had the same thing preached to me since I was 10. My mom made sure that even if she wasn’t around I’d always be prepared and capable of handling any situation.
I had always wondered how I’d feel or react if someone I knew ever found out they were HIV positive. I’d heard so many stories of families disowning relatives simply because of their HIV status. I had learnt that no matter how educated someone is, if they don’t want to understand or talk about something then they will never understand the shock of finding out you are HIV positive. Most people turn to their families in times of need, and not having that can’t be easy. I am about to share a story that has bothered me the whole year, not because of the situation but because there is nothing I could do to change the situation. I have been friends with this girl for many years now; we met in first year and became close and were practically inseparable. It was one of those rare friendships where we knew what the other person felt without them having to say anything.
I had the utmost respect for her, but there were so many things she did that I didn’t agree with. But since we were friends that had mutual respect and understanding, I didn’t give her my opinion until she asked for it. We spoke about everything except her promiscuity. She never wanted to be judged as she did it because she was “looking for love”. I had warned her plenty of times that her promiscuity was going to catch up with her. I was trying to be a good friend, looking out for her the same way she would look out for me.
I’ll never forget that fateful day in March when the phone rang. My heart sank when I answered and heard her crying, asking if she could come see me and talk. I didn’t know what the problem was, but for one of the strongest people I knew to be reduced to tears, I knew this had to be huge. She arrived looking frail, with blood-shot eyes and a puffy face. I was not prepared for what she was going to tell me. I had imagined that moment before, countless times. The moment when I found out that someone close to me had HIV. It’s been quite an adjustment for both of us, but through it all our friendship really hasn’t changed. Having had a mom who works with HIV positive people has definitely opened my mind. I feel as though I handled the situation well, and I’m so glad that I was educated enough to understand that this virus, although deadly, shouldn’t change a relationship with that person.
I know one thing for sure; she has been my friend through all the things life has thrown at us, and she will continue to be my friend, regardless of her HIV status. I’ve learnt that we as humans are so quick to judge someone without really taking the time to understand. I’ve learnt that it’s not easy for someone to come out, and that them trusting you with that information is a big deal. It is an emotional journey that you will not survive on your own.
On the other hand, knowing that she trusts me with her life, and knowing that I was the reason she was able to tell her family about her status and actually being there when she told them, is probably one of those moments I’ll never forget. I saw a family come closer together because of it. Having an HIV positive friend is an adjustment, but I have learnt just how understanding and mature I am now. I have been open minded enough to ASK questions instead of shutting her out and making her feel like she was alone. She has no idea how long she has been living with HIV for before being diagnosed because she chose to live irresponsibly and put her life and her partners’ lives at risk. Having to live a life knowing that she’s positive has shocked her into realising just how precious life is. The truth is that this YOLO mentality does not mean you should live irresponsibly. It means that you should live your life to the fullest because you only live once.
What I’d like for people to take from this piece? Don’t think that you’re invincible. HIV can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, sex etc. The choice of how you live your life is your responsibility and nobody can take that from you. Live your life, but be smart about the decisions you make. It is YOUR life, and you shouldn’t take that for granted.
Sleeping around and not being safe was her choice, and this is the consequence. But I will never hold that against her.
Written by: Lerato Mannya (@s2angel_88)