I was 16 years old the first time an openly HIV positive person touched me.
I was at a party and this particular person, a friend (let’s call him Dave) asked me to go with him to get something out his car. It was all very innocent, we needed a CD that we wanted to listen to at another friends car. When we got to the car, his window had been smashed. Obviously Dave was really upset. He was 18 and his car had just been broken into. We got into the car and saw that the radio had been stolen. He was gutted. Turns out he had saved for months to put that radio in.
He sat there, in the driver seat, upset and I sat there, silently in the passenger’s seat, not really knowing what to say. It felt like an hour had passed but in reality it was only a few minutes. Maybe 3 at most. And then it happened.
Dave, leaned over and put his head on my lap and sobbed.
What did I do?
I leaned back and lifted my hands in the air like I was going to somehow catch AIDS in this moment, in that car.
He stopped crying and looked at me. I will NEVER forget the look on his face. Heartbroken and hurt. So much more pain filled his eyes than had been there a second ago over the loss of his radio.
I immediately apologised. Let me tell you it’s not an easy thing to say sorry for. What words do you use? Sorry I reacted like an asshole because I’ve never known an HIV positive person before and I didn’t think about what I was doing so yes, I’m a total fucking asshole?
He just looked at me.
We stopped being friends that day. It makes me sad to think about it but I understand. That also happens to be the day of my life that I look back on with the most regret and shame.
Obviously I learnt a lot from that moment. Including the bias and prejudice that people are faced with on a daily basis. I have since learnt so much more about HIV/AIDS than I knew then. I’ve known many many more people who are living with the virus and I’ve learnt that you don’t have to treat people any differently to how you would if there weren’t.
The biggest lesson of all
Most of all – I learnt the power of being an insensitive FUCK. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for the way I behaved, I’m sorry our friendship ended because of my complete ignorance and I’m sorry that people in this day and age are STILL living with the stigma and being treated like this.
It says a lot more about us as individuals and the ignorant lives we live, than it does about the person carrying the virus.
No one should ever be treated like this. Not for anything and yet on a daily basis people are judged and treated as somehow less than because of their HIV status, because of their sexual preference, because of their race, because of factors that really have nothing to do with anything really.
I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life but this one is definitely at the top of the list!
Lesson of the day? Just don’t be an asshole!
Have you ever had a similar experience? I’d love to hear about how you dealt with the situation and if you would do anything differently if you could go back?