“I went to the doctor to refill my birth control and…” We were in San Diego visiting family and of course you, our dear friend. I didn’t know what to think when you said you needed to talk to us privately, but I was pretty sure that you were going to tell us you were pregnant. Mike and I exchanged a glance and I knew he was thinking the same thing. I let out a mental sigh. This was not a great situation for you to be in. Sure, you could raise a baby on your own, but it would be so hard! You have no family in San Diego… Before my mind wandered too far, I noticed your eyes. That look in your eyes. Regardless of your situation, a baby wouldn’t make you look like this. Such nervousness. Sadness. A little fear? What could possibly be this hard to tell us? I tuned back in just in time to hear three letters: H.I.V.
It took a minute to even process. I didn’t know anyone who was HIV positive. After all, it is really rare right? Young healthy women don’t get HIV. Right? My brain was frantically searching for it’s file folder containing my knowledge of HIV and AIDS: Magic Johnson. Ryan White. That movie with Angelina Jolie…Gia. Transmitted through sexual contact and sharing needles. That was pretty much it. Such a pitifully thin folder. It contained nothing at all about what to say when your friend becomes positive.
You said, “How much do you know about HIV?” And we didn’t say anything. You quickly added, “You know that I can’t give it to you guys right? I would have to have sex with you to give it to you.” I did know that much. In fact, that thought hadn’t even entered my mind. I was scared, but not of you. I was scared for you. I was scared for your physical health. Your mental health. Mostly, I was scared for your emotional health. You are sensitive. You are passionate. Not just passionate about one particular person or calling, you are passionate about life. All of it. This big enormous, messy life; the happy and sad, the laughter and pain. You feel. You feel all of the time on a level that most people only reach once or twice in an entire lifetime. I was so scared that this invader, this intruder, this diagnosis would break something in you. That you would never be you again.
I was right about one of those things. You aren’t You… you became Super You! Somehow you took this news; this thing that had the power to break you, and you turned it on it’s head. You became this incredibly strong version of yourself. A version that was probably always in there somewhere but never had a good enough reason to punch and kick her way out. HIV of all things, was the catalyst for you to become this incredible advocate. HIV gave you somewhere to direct all of that passion. It amazes me daily how much information you find and share. I know now that HIV is not rare. In fact it climbs daily, in every demographic; alarmingly so in healthy young women. I know that treatment has come such a long way and is saving lives. I know that not enough young people are educated about HIV and who is in danger. My HIV file folder is growing thick with information about treatments, technological advances, with statistics and facts. I am fascinated by the people you’ve met, touched and helped to share their stories. You are standing strong in the face of stigma and ignorance in order to bring HIV to the attention of a huge population who thinks it cannot happen to them. If you lead just one person to take that test, you’ve accomplished something phenomenal. I am so proud of you for putting it all out there so the next time a young woman hears those three letters from her doctor, she won’t suffer from the unknown and the undisclosed. She will find wearehiv.org and she will know she is not all alone. You are doing something amazing, Rachel.
I know that there are still struggles. That you have sad days and bad days, days that you wish things were different; as all of us do. You have handled and overcome so much already, you just have to remember that these struggles will resolve one day too, and You’ll still be standing tall on the other side. You are brave, beautiful and a loving, loyal friend. One I am so lucky to have in my life.
I love you,