I remember, just like it was yesterday. Only it wasn't. It was 18 years ago. I was 25 years old and living my life to the fullest in Augusta, Georgia. Hanging out and partying, while also attending a local business school. Me and my then five-year-old moved from Michigan there just two years prior and had no plans on ever moving back. EVER! As a matter of fact, my cute, two-bedroom apartment just so happened to be filled with boxes and storage bins. A friend and I decided to relocate to where all the fun was at...the A.T.L., a.k.a., Atlanta, a.k.a. HOTLANTA.
My phone rang but I didn't answer it. It rang again and I ignored it --again. Shoot, I was busy packing and stuff. That person can wait, I said to myself. While I was outside loading some boxes in the U-Haul truck, my friend, holding the phone attached to the landline (just in case you're reading this and you're under 25, a landline is a house phone, one you can't take with you because it plugs into the wall. you have to sit in the house if you don't want to miss a call --LOL), yelled from the 2nd-floor balcony, "It's your dad."
I don't recall any other details from our conversation other than him saying, "Your mom is sick." My dad has a serious side to him, like most of us do, but, for the most part, he's a pretty upbeat dude. Always cracking jokes and telling stories from his professional softball days. This day was different. The tone of his voice was beyond serious. Like, on a scale from 1 to 10 this was a hundred, easily.
Being the inquisitive person that I am, I asked a gazillion questions, which all went unanswered. My dad bought me a plane ticket, and I flew out the next day. My mom was in the hospital; the first time I had ever seen her there in my life.
Visitors had to wear a hospital gown over their clothes and a mask if they wanted to see her. That's how sick she was. My dad warned me beforehand of her appearance. He said that not only did she lose a lot of weight, but she also lost a lot of her thick, long hair, which runs in my family. Even with the head's up, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
Her body was emaciated, skeletal. Her face was sunken in, and her hair was so thin you could see her scalp. Unrecognizable. Not to mention, her light skin was about three shades darker. My insides were crying, but I knew I had to be strong for her.
I asked over and over if the doctors knew the prognosis, to which she answered, No. They're still running tests." When I left, I called her a few hours later for an update. Still, nothing. I rattled off, "TB? Hepatitis?" "Negative, negative," she said. "What about HIV?" She was silent. Felt like the longest pause ever. Then she said, slowly, "POS-I-TIVE."
Instead of driving the U-Haul truck to Atlanta, I drove it to Michigan, to help care for my mom. Because she was very secretive and private, she didn't want anyone to know, not even her mother, my grandmother. So, I was tasked with having to lie to everyone about her health, thus becoming a silent advocate.
Since her passing on April 3, 2016, my mission is to advocate that not only should we know our status, but we all should play a role in changing the narrative by having the necessary conversations to dispel myths and quash the stigma. That way, no one has to live in shame and suffer in silence.
Author. Scriptwriter. Human Vault.