6

6 Years Later

              It was today 6 years ago that my life changed forever. At that very moment, I thought it was for the worst. My best friend Tara and myself went to go get tested at what was once called ICAN (Island Coast AIDS Network) now AHF (AIDS Healthcare Foundation), she walked out with results while I walked out with a reference to come back and start treatment. It was December 19th, 2012. 6 days before Christmas, 13 days before the New Year. Talk about a gift. Little did I know; my gift was wrapped in sandpaper.

              It was so much easier telling my mom and my sister that I was gay than telling them that I just found out I had tested positive for HIV. My sister broke down and told me to stop fucking playing with her while flashbacks of the early days of the epidemic took over my mother’s thoughts. Was she going to bury her son, her only son, her last-born child in 3-6 months because AIDS took over? Was she going to have to put on personal protection equipment to just hold her baby? Was I going to be recognizable to a woman who birthed me? We all had the same questions with little to no answers in near sight. Hope was gone, and faith wasn’t too far behind her.

              Stigma lead me to my diagnosis. Stigma is the reason Rachel Santiago looked me in the face and told me, “I regret to inform you that your rapid test came back reactive which means that we have picked up the antibodies of HIV.” Bitch what? I ain’t no crackhead. Yea, I did something strange for a lil bit of change but I ain’t no dirty bitch. AIDS? That’s for the bums. For the less than. Child, people with AIDS need to be shipped to an island so they can have sex with each other till they die. Yes, those were my feelings towards people living with the virus before I contracted it. I was better than HIV so HIV wasn’t on my radar. Plus, I knew who was “sick” because they “looked sick”. Oh baby, how foolish.

              When my mother and I first talked to a counselor he said to her, “Your son is going to far out live you, even with AIDS.” Whew. I don’t know who that was supposed to reassure but it didn’t help at all. Who says that to someone? Anyways, I found out I didn’t have AIDS. I had HIV. I was put on a 1 pill a day regiment. “Take your pills every day, same time every day, and every day for the rest of your life.” My white doctor said in his white coat basking in his privilege. He spoke from education not experience. But hey, I used to pop pills to get high so now I gotta pop pills to stay alive, even trade, right?

              After a breakout from side effects and getting adjusted to living with HIV, I finally had it down packed. My small circle of friends knew and people who I would sleep with. Sex was the last thing on my mind to because I didn’t want to be the reason someone got the same news I did from a stranger. I used Google and YouTube to navigate how to live with HIV but ran into the same old same old shit, take your meds. Nobody told me HOW TO LIVE outside of my regiment. Like hello, so I’m worth nothing but a prescription nowadays? Bet that up.

              September 19th, 2014 as I was on my way to pay my probation off, I was scrolling Facebook only to see a friend of mine had passed away. I had to find out because I know good and damn well my homie didn’t die, nah not him. I made a phone call only to have his death confirmed by, “Bitch you didn’t know he had AIDS?” Nah, he ain’t look like it… that hurt. Bad.

              As I looked at my black friend in his white casket my mind was racing. “How could he not tell me? How can he die from AIDS when if you take your meds, you can live?” I kept having this conversation in the middle of his service. I was a mess, but I vowed from that day, no one will die from complications of AIDS ever again if I have anything to do with it. Over my dead fucking body, literally.

              After finding a team of people who would work with my dollar and a dream, we brought my idea of a PSA together. Late nights, early mornings, overdrawn bank accounts, missing work, editing for hours, and going crazy I released a video via Facebook on December 19th, 2014 disclosing my status letting the world know, “I have HIV, HIV DOES NOT HAVE ME.” From there, my life skyrocketed and my dreams from childhood began to come to life.

              I’ve traveled the country, wrote two books, dropped a mixtape, gained a following, landed a job at the third largest AIDS Service Organization in the USA, attended conferences where people with the fucking alphabet behind their name gave me props, I met fellow advocates, won awards and basically took off. But what was more important was people from my own hood telling me that they were inspired, people from around my way were asking me where to get tested, people from my side of the tracks felt comfortable enough to disclose their status to me. I was in awe that HIV was so prevalent in my own circle but wasn’t talked about until it was time to demean someone we THOUGHT ‘had that shit’. I was completely blown away.

              Through all my accomplishments, accolades, and recognition I still buried two more back men because of complications of AIDS. I watched a friend suffer till his last breath sleeping on that uncomfortable couch in the corner as nurses picked and poked at him. I had to cut up his food, assist him to the bathroom, and just hold his hand. He died two days after Christmas in a hospital because of complications of AIDS, in 2016. 11 months later, I got another call telling me a childhood friend mine passed away for the same reason. “What the fuck else do I have to do?!?! They knew my status and were so supportive of my movement, how could this happen?!?!” I was lost and felt as if my work wasn’t hitting home.

              6 years being HIV positive has truly been a roller coaster. I have seen oppression personified through decision making of white men that care about money more than the people living with the virus. I have seen people go from almost death to a full life ahead of them. I have seen death of AIDS face to face. I am HIV positive. As easy as it is regularly, sometimes I get sick of being reminded every day, at the same time, I fucked up, that I didn’t care enough about myself to make sure ol boy wore a condom so there was no need for him to care enough to tell me his status… but did he even know his status? Who knows.

              These past 6 years have taught me so much about myself and my role as an advocate, writer, performer, friend, family member, and just a human being on this earth. I pride myself every day on how to not only live better for myself but to help other people living with HIV live their best and healthiest life. I also want people who are negative to stay negative but not be afraid of people living with HIV. It’s the stigma that is killing people faster than the virus. It is the stigma that keeps people from even wanting to know. These past 6 years have shown my strengths, weaknesses, talents, mishaps, life lessons, real friends, and what true support is. I can only hope in my lifetime to see an AIDS free generation and until I do, I will die behind it.

              Today I celebrate my life and all its ups, downs, twists, turns, dead ends, breakdowns, meltdowns, mountain top highs, and valley lows. I will celebrate the legacy of all those that have died of AIDS. I will celebrate the people who still hug me, still love me, still fuck me, and still support me. I celebrate me, HIV and all. Thank you all.

Michael Lamb