Saturday, January 11, 2014

HIV Stigma: Like Mother, Like Daughter

Even though I told my friends I had HIV, everything was still okay. Everybody was acting the same. Well, not everybody. Mary* was acting funny with me. When I went into the bathroom, she would leave. When we had science lab, she would switch partners. Outside, she would play with other friends, but not with me. I knew it was about my HIV, but I couldn’t prove it.

I got lucky one day at recess. My allergies were really bothering me, and I had to stop playing and sit down. My eyes were watering really bad, so I was rubbing my eyes and stuff. Mary came over and said, “I saw you stopped playing. Are you crying?” “I’m not crying,” I said.
“Yes, you are! Your eyes are watering!” she said.

Before I could explain it was my allergies, she said, “It’s okay. I know what’s wrong. You’re sad because I won’t play with you anymore, right?”
I said, "Why don't want to be my friend? Is it about the HIV?”
“I AM your friend!” she said. “I just don’t want you to touch me, that’s all. My mom says if anybody has AIDS, stay away from them. They can give it to you, and you can die right away. I don’t want to get it, so I want to be your friend, but just not the normal way.”

I could NOT believe it. “Your mom is wrong!” I said. “She doesn’t understand about HIV. Do you really think someone is going to die in 5 seconds if someone with HIV touches them? Then why aren’t you dead? I’ve touched you all school year. Why isn’t the teacher dead? Why isn’t the whole class dead?”

“I don’t know…” she said. I cut her off.
“You go to the doctor, right?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “Well, did the doctor tell you have HIV? No, he didn’t. It’s not that easy to get. Ask your doctor if you don’t believe me.”
“My mom is smart,” she said. “She wouldn’t lie about this.”
“Maybe she wouldn’t lie, but even smart people can make a mistake,” I said. “What your mom said is not true. Look, if you don’t want to touch me, then I don’t want to be friends. I don’t need a friend who is scared to be around me.”
“I DO want to be friends!” she said. “Is it okay if I only touch you a little though? My mom said if I play with you, I have to be careful.”

I still thought it was silly, but I decided to be nice. “Okay,” I said. “We can still be friends. Just stop acting so freaked out about it.”
“I promise I’ll try,” she said.

I don't know if I trust her, but I'll give her another chance.

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