I was on the passenger side of my brother’s car as he was driving from Lisbon to a vineyard in Cartaxo at the Santarem region of Portugal, about forty minutes away from the capital. The music was playing on the car speakers and my sister-in-law and my nephew were at the back seat, occupied with their iPads and as I looked out into the Portuguese countryside, I realised something really important. It’s been six years since I found out I was HIV positive and my life has been better since then.
The other day, I was walking in the side streets near Caise de Sodre and I saw a rainbow. I was walking with a Portuguese friend I had just made and it was there, just hovering above the skyline and I thought to myself: I’m a pretty fucking lucky guy.
I found out I was HIV positive in 2008. It was a “gift” from a period of reckless and wild abandon. I almost died then and then through the love and support of amazing and wonderful people, I got through it. It took me three years to come to terms with what I’ve done to myself and what I now have to face on a daily basis but I feel like I’ve come to terms with it. I faced my demons and if I have not conquered them, I have made them my friends.
Despite what I’ve been told about being public about my sexual preferences and my HIV status, I still did it and I’ve come out pretty much unscathed. I have not been healthier since 2010 when I survived a second bout of meningitis after going off meds. Now, I’m following my doctor’s orders and I am taking care of myself. I am honest with myself and I’m honest with the people around me. I am facing my fears, everyday, and I’m discovering new things about myself and the world as I get through each day. It’s a struggle but there are always victories at the end of each day. I am doing my best to make something of my life and to be of use to others because so many people have showered me with love and support and encouragement and it has gotten me this far.
Now, I’m on an extended vacation in the south of Europe, through the kindness of my brother and my dad and I’m seeing so many wonderful and amazing things. Portugal, I am falling in love with every day and I’ve seen bits of Spain — Madrid, Barcelona, Segovia — and my world is getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
And last year, I wrote a film, which I’m very proud of and am pleased to be able to say proudly that has touched people’s lives, those who have seen it. This year, I got to write another and it’s being shot and it will be coming out before the year ends.
I have a book of poems that I cannot wait to publish and I’m writing more every other day. There are so many more projects I have on the wings that I cannot wait to get to and I still have a whole life waiting ahead of me.
These are things I did not know I could still have. Back in 2008, when I first found out I got infected with HIV, I thought I wasn’t going to make it through that year. Six years later, I’m in another part of the world and I’m better and I’m stronger and I’m smarter and wiser. My relationships with the people around me have become more meaningful. I do the things that I love and I get to work in the arts, which means if I do my job well, I get to touch and enrich other people’s lives.
This is what it means to live with HIV: to face every day with an open heart and an open mind; to not be defined by what has happened to you but by what you plan to do about it today; to take care of yourself, to really take care of yourself, and to be good to yourself — both your body, your mind, and your soul; to not allow your fear to hold you back and to not allow your past to drag you down.
I was young and careless and reckless and. maybe even a little stupid. But not anymore. I have forgiven myself for what I allowed to happen and I am now taking charge of my life. And I am living with it everyday and I am proud of that fact. I am proud that I have made a mistake and I’m owning up to it and taking the steps to repairing the damage or making amends.
I have been blessed with having been accepted, supported, and even loved despite everything that I was before and who I’ve become today. For that I am always grateful and I will always try to be kind and generous and understanding. I have no reason to be sad or angry or bitter or disappointed.
I am grateful. I am so grateful. I am not a religious person but I take a moment every now and then to just close my eyes and say “thank you” to whatever is out there, even if it is just to myself for having been able to make it this far and to be still on this journey.
HIV is not the end. In my case, it was the beginning.