It Isn't Easy Looking Back
The author, Suzan Meredith, is a mother of three, writer, and Foundation Ambassador. Along with her husband Clay, daughter Alee, and sons Mitchell and Yonas, Suzan travels the country raising awareness about the Foundation and HIV/AIDS. This blog originally appeared on Suzan's personal blog, Red Ribbon Diaries. You can read more about the Meredith family here, and watch Alee talk about living postively in a recent video here.
March 10, 2011
Just the other day, my husband and I were having lunch together. On the drive home, something caught his eye. He slowed down and made a turn into an unfamiliar apartment complex and pulled his truck up next to the pool house.
"What are we doing? It's a little cold to go swimming," I laughed.
He reached for my hand, his face serious. "See that electrical shed? That's where I was working the day you phoned me and told me that you and Alee had tested positive."
"Oh." I followed his gaze, shook my head. "You know, it's weird, but I don't even remember calling you. I don't remember much of anything that happened after..." My voice trailed off. I'd heard of that happening before–when something so traumatic happens that your mind blocks the memory. "What did I say? Did I just blurt it out?" I asked.
Suzan Meredith (left) with her daughter Alee. (Photo courtesy
of the Meredith family)
He thought for a moment. "No. You just said that I needed to come home, and when I asked you why, you wouldn't tell me. I kept asking you to tell me what was wrong and finally I asked if you'd gotten the test back, and you said yes, and then I just knew. I dropped my tools, I left everything–I just left and tried to get home as fast as I could." He turned his head away, but not before I could see that he was crying.
All these years later, it still hurts.
I'd met and married my husband of now twenty-three years in 1988, and almost ten years into our marriage, shortly after the birth of our second child, our life was turned upside down by AIDS. I'd unknowingly contracted the disease from a young man I'd been engaged to when I was nineteen who, I was told, had died of cancer.
It isn't easy to look back. I think those first days after finding out–those gray memories that have gone blank–are because I must have been in shock. Here's what I do remember...
In 1996 you could purchase "anonymous" HIV testing kits at any drug store. We bought three. One for Clay, one for myself, and one for Alee. The test was fairly simple. We pricked our fingers, put a drop of blood on a strip, sealed it inside an envelope and sent it by Fed Ex to the testing lab. Days later we were to call the lab, give our "number" to the telephone personnel and we'd get our results. Clay's results came back quickly. He was negative!
Mine and Alee's results took longer. I'll never forget that phone call...
I'd been on hold for a number of minutes. Clay's results had been different. He'd gotten an automated response. Why was I being put on hold? Finally a woman's voice came on the line.
I held the receiver pressed to my ear. I thought I'd heard her wrong. "Excuse me?"
"I'm sorry," she said. "your test came back positive for the HIV antibody."
My body went numb, and my chest tightened. What an awful mistake for this woman to make. I was still clinging to denial. Oh God...not this...not AIDS. I didn't realize that I'd started to pray.
"Ma'am, I can give you some resource numbers in your area..."
"Wait. I have another number. Can you check one more number for me, please?" I asked.
"You have another number?" She sounded confused.
"Yes. It's my daughter's." I could barely speak, my voice hollow in my ears. I held the slip of paper in my shaking hand and read the numbers off to her.
"How old is your daughter, ma'am?"
"She's six years old." My heart is breaking. Right here. Right now.
There was a pause. "Oh my God," she whispered.
Don't say it... Please don't say it.
"I'm so sorry. She's positive. The test was positive."
No! This isn't happening. This isn't real! I felt as if the room were tipping and at any moment I would lose my grip.
"Ma'am, are you still there? Do you have someone with you? Is there someone you can call? Hello?"
"I'm sorry. I have to go." I don't remember hanging up the phone and I don't remember calling my husband either. That memory is gone. What I do remember about that day was picking Alee up from school very soon after, seeing her face, small and pale smiling up at me as I reached out to take her hand, and then I draw a blank for days.... Yes, I was in shock.
Did you know that in the United States a woman or girl tests positive for the HIV virus every thirty-five minutes? Today, out of the 33 million who are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, half are women, and that number is on the rise. Why? In many instances it's because women still don't believe they are at risk.
Did I think I was at risk? No, and that was my biggest mistake–thinking that HIV could never happen to me. Today, I'm very fortunate. My life is truly blessed, and it's never easy–looking back, but I share my story in the hopes that something good will come of it. If this story touches one person or keeps one woman or mother from going through what my family has had to endure, then that means something.
Please share this story with the women in your life, and I thank you for reading.
Early in the epidemic women weren't considered to be at risk for contracting HIV. Today, in the United States alone we make up a quarter of all new HIV infections. March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Take pride in yourself and be tested. There's a lot of hope today and much less fear. So get involved, ladies, and stay aware.