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Why I Believe My HIV Diagnosis Made Me a Better Person

It was December 19th, 1989. After being celibate for three years, I decided to give my then- boyfriend the nicest Christmas present I could think of and get HIV-tested. We were decorating our Christmas tree when the phone rang. My boyfriend answered and turned to me. “They are calling to give you your HIV test results.”

I grabbed the phone and a cold voice that I will never forget said, “Mr. Garmendia, your HIV test came back positive.”

I became very confused. How could it be possible? After three years of celibacy, I was pretty sure I was going to receive a negative result. My then-boyfriend hugged me tight and I fell apart. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. My whole life passed in front of my eyes like a fast-forwarded tape. In those days, HIV was a death sentence.

I immediately decided that I needed to see a doctor. I lived in Manhattan so I headed to “The Village” and managed to get an appointment with the only doctor that could see me that afternoon. When I
saw the doctor, I told him, “I just tested positive for HIV,” to which he responded, “What do you want me to do about it?” My world fell apart. I couldn’t believe his answer and I exited the office with tears in my eyes. I have never been so scared in my life!

I have seen countless people die and many families destroyed by the deep anguish that AIDS was spreading over Manhattan. The lack of support from Ronald Reagan, and the effects of a deep depression threw me into a hopeless state of mind. I decided to hide, not because of embarrassment but because like a wounded animal, I went to the dark cage of guilt, hopelessness and despair. There I
remained until one day, after a gay parade, I ended up sharing a joint with 5 other guys on the piers. We were sharing personal experiences and I decided to share my HIV status with them.

To my surprise, one by one told me they were HIV positive. That was a healing moment. I wasn’t alone; I realized then where I belonged. There was an HIV community out there that needed my help as much as I needed them.

I became an activist, and my sadness was healed. From then on, I started to grow from my own pain.

It’s been 25 years since the news hit my head like a hammer. With my rudimentary math, I realized that I was infected as early as 1987. Of course, there’s no way to know exactly, but it doesn’t matter anymore.

Today I still stand on this Earth, proud and committed to spreading hope to everyone who is still in that dark place I once lived in. Yes, HIV struck me like a lightning bolt, but it also helped me value the wonders of life, friendship, love, and compassion.

I can say proudly and with peace in my heart that HIV made me a better person. I want everyone to know that there is life after HIV.

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