Remember when Hurricane Hugo pummeled the Piedmont in 1989? Well, during the storm, my mother sat in the bathroom of their home in Historic Salisbury reading a positive pregnancy test by candlelight. This was a terrifying moment for them, finding out that I would be coming into the world.
See, my father was HIV positive. My mother was not. They’d met a few months before he’d been diagnosed and then got married a few years later once his health stabilized. They never expected there to be any other children than my sister who came long before HIV happened to our family.
He chose me. Through careless love, I came into the world a healthy baby girl. Daddy always made me out to be a miracle to him. His greatest fear was passing HIV on to my mother, my sister, or me.
Our life appeared so normal to everyone else outside of our bubble.... He was Mr. Dad - he coached my kindergarten soccer team, went to our PTA meetings, took us to the Rowan Public Library for summer reading programs, and embarrassed us any chance he got. He loved to share music - all genres, all decades - with us. He never forgot a name or face. His smile was the most beautiful thing.
At home, things never really felt normal. We’d always known that Daddy had HIV, but we were trained to keep it a secret. Our parents were terrified of how people would treat us if they knew about him. So, we only ever whispered about it and even that was rare. At home, our lives revolved around trips to the doctor and LOTS of medicine bottles. His health was always iffy - even on good days, there was something off. We were taught to be very careful when we were sick or someone was bleeding. All of this, on top of the silence and stigma, truly shaped my sister and me into careful and calculated people. We became accustomed to keeping our darkest secrets. Additionally, early on, we adopted the belief that you never really know what someone is going through, so we learned to love with endless compassion. Within the HIV/AIDS community, we saw all types of people - races, genders, nationalities, etc. - all were impacted. So it made us loving of ALL people through that way.
Stories like ours are rare but not because they’re not out there. The children of parents with HIV/AIDS learn to vindicate the silence and stigma on behalf of their mothers and fathers. Because he chose me, I will always choose to honor and love him.
25 year old Graduate Student at San Diego State University
...and long time friend of our Program Coordinator at PWA