How am I gonna live my life if I’m positive? Is it gonna be a negative?
Like many others his age, Billy grew up with little knowledge about AIDS. For years the media kept pointing to particular groups – mainly homosexuals and drug addicts- as the only people affected by the disease. But as more and more is learned, AIDS cases in heterosexual teens and young adults have jumped to great proportions.
“Had I known what I know now about the disease, say, five or ten years ago, all my choices about relationships and sex would have changed. Back then, and even today, it’s a male thing to sleep with as many girls as possible – kind of like bragging rights. To look back on it now – trying to be cool will actually kill me.”
Billy, a blond, 23-year-old native Californian, fits the typical surfer/boarder stereotype, except one thing distinguishes Billy from others – he’s HIV positive. He is one of the growing numbers of teens and young adults who have been caught off-guard by this once-unknown disease. It is estimated that between the ages of thirteen to 24 years old, one in every 300 is infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), the virus that leads to AIDS.
I think about life and immorality what’s the first thing I do if I’m HIV
At a local coffee house, Billy and I talk about what he’s gone through. Sipping on a mocha, he remembers the fateful day he found out about his circumstances.
“I remember all the details – going in to get a normal physical at the hospital and having blood taken from me. Everything seemed okay, and even the doctor mentioned I appeared in good health. About two weeks later, ten days away from my birthday, a nurse calls from the hospital to ask that I come back in – no explanation, nothing.”
They took my blood with an anonymous number two weeks waitin wonderin
Billy thought he was stricken with cancer, like several members of his family before him. “I was so scared to go see the doctor,” he says. “I told no one – not even my parents or girlfriend. The thought of them having to worry about me frightened the shit out of me.” Billy pauses to reflect, then continues, “Something about the office and the doctor looming over me felt like I was at the gates of heaven waiting to meet my fate.” Then, BAM – like hitting a brick wall – the doctor told Billy his blood test came back HIV positive.
I shoulda done this a long time ago a lot of excuses why I couldn’t go I know these things and these things I must know, cause it’s better to know than to not know!
“AIDS?” Billy responded. “Isn’t that some kind of homosexual or drug-pusher thing?” As he toys with his mocha, Billy remembers thinking, “There’s no f-king way I could get something like that. Must have been some big mix-up. Then I thought, Oh shit, I must’ve used the same toilet seat or touched a door knob that some infected person used. But the doctor went on to say there was no way of getting HIV from that, and then asked if I’d ever had unprotected sex – without a condom.” Billy had engaged in unprotected sex.
“Yeah, a couple of times,” he says, “cause they’re uncomfortable or I didn’t have one in the heat of the moment. I figured if the girl was on the pill, who needed to wear a condom?
Was it really all that magic? the times I didn’ t use a prophylactic
“(I) believe it was a girl I dated back in college about four or five years ago, “Billy thinks back. According to the Center for Disease Control, AIDS cases in females have increased from seventeen percent to 39 percent in the past four years. AIDS has risen to become the United States sixth leading cause of death among fifteen to 24 year olds.
I’m readin’ about how it’s transmitted some behavior I must admit it. who I slept with, who they slept with who they, who they, who they slept with.
Since learning about his diagnosis, one of toughest things Billy’s had to deal with is telling past girlfriends he had sex with about the virus. “As I sat down making a list of who I slept with,” Billy says, “it started to scare me how many there were.” Billy doesn’t say this to be perceived as a so-called “stud,” but as part of understanding his high-risk behavior and its role in his contracting HIV.
“As I started calling them one by one,” Billy recalls, “I was faced with explaining what had happened and telling each of them they should get tested. “Billy realizes he didn’t have to do this, but would’ve felt guilty not doing so. He goes on to say that some of the girls were mad because they felt Billy had “killed” them, as one girl put it. Others were sympathetic and asked how they could help.
Get on the phone and call my past lovers I never thought about infectin “anotha all the times that I said “Hmmm? Don’t bother.
Each day, like the other estimated one-million Americans who are HIV-positive, Billy lives life to its fullest. “At times I’ll get real depressed,” he admits, “but I make it through and try to enjoy some of the simpler pleasures.” Billy sees life a little differently than probably you and I, and while he talks about different experiences he encounters each day, or about his dreams of surfing in Tavarua that he hopes to fulfill, Billy knows that now, unlike before, he must be wary of what his body will have in store in the future.
Would my whole life have to change? or would my life remain the same? sometimes it makes me want to shout! all these things too hard to think about.
His coffee cold, Billy brings up his growing frustration about what has been happening around him. He’s afraid to tell friends because of their lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS. “I know once I tell them,” Billy says, “I ll become an instant leper – an outcast.” He claims it’s not his friends faults, but society’s failure to educate his peers about AIDS.
“Young adults need to see an alternative, not be preached to, but educated about prevention,” Billy explains. “Too many groups are fighting over whether to teach safe sex, abstinence, or give out condoms in the public schools – they don’t realize as they’re squabbling more of us are dying because we re ignorant to the facts.”
How am I gonna live my life if I’m positive? is it gonna be a negative?
As afternoon comes to a close, Billy rushes to get a quick surf session before dark. I look toward the water: Billy is charging in full force down the line. A few hours later, he comes paddling back, bragging about every cutback he made and asking if we all saw it. At times he amazes me with his energy and love for life, but now I understand how he perceives things. The disease that has taken so many has in no way slowed down Billy and his dreams. Billy may be different from others because of it. He’s still my friend.
a day to laugh, a day to cry a day to live and a day to die ’til I find out, I may wonder but I’m not gonna live my life six feet under.
*lyrics written by Michael Franti, Charlie Hunter, performed by Spearhead, “Positive” appears on Spearhead’s Home CD and Red, Hot and Cool CD.