Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
William James

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
Henry David Thoreau

Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you're alive, it isn't.
Richard Bach
I love life because what more is there.
Anthony Hopkins

In October 1998, I was in the hospital with my then-fiancee who was running fevers of 104 degrees and had been sick for some time. I remember for months before he was hospitalized I would lie next to him while he was sleeping and try to match his breaths, the ins and outs, but the shallowness of them was too much for me to sustain. I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn't know what. I thought he was stressed from work or sick from chronic alcohol and pot use. He'd vomit every morning. We found out what was wrong with him in October. He had AIDS. Two days after his diagnosis, I received my HIV positive results via a telephone hotline. I'd paid a hundred dollars to get quick, over the phone results, and had gone to a local laboratory to have my blood drawn. I was sitting at my fiancee's bedside when I made the phone call. The room started to spin; I still remember the shade of tan of the tiles on the floor and the way they started moving. I felt like I was rising up out of my body. I rushed the woman off the phone even though she desperately wanted to tell me the things she was supposed to tell me. I didn't need to know. What I needed to know I'd watched happen to my fiancee over the last few years.

He and I had recently separated and called off our engagement. We'd each gone on holidays--I'd been at an artists' residency in Port Townsend, Washington, and he'd been camping in the Sierras when his fevers spiked.

When the doctor told his mother and I what was wrong--with my fiancee's permission--he told us, don't worry, you can't get HIV from women, meaning I wasn't to blame. I now know this isn't entirely true, although it's nearly impossible to transmit from female to male. However, his mom quickly implied that he'd started getting sick as soon as he and I started dating. We never found out the source of the virus, though it troubled me for years. He'd been with a woman whose husband had died of AIDS, but she always said she tested negative. Later, upon reflection, I understood that he had severe problems with alcoholism, drug and sex addiction, along with being a compulsive liar, so the source is really up for grabs. I am no longer in touch with this person, though we stayed together for another year. I don't know how he is, if he's still alive. I don't know how the virus came into our lives. It just happened.

Over the years, since then, I've embraced the diagnosis in a variety of ways--moving full throttle speed whenever I felt well enough--and then often crashing into deep dark depressions. At first, I was kind of relieved--this may sound strange, but it was one less ugly thing to be scared of. I would defy it, and everybody, by living life grandly. Which I did for awhile. To start with, I began teaching solo performance art and making my own pieces and running my own performance venue in downtown San Diego.

I also refused to give up my pursuit of romance. As soon as my fiancee and I finally split, I was almost immediately dating a lovely man who'd spent years working as a circus clown. We made performances together. However, I wanted too much too desperately from my romances and pushed a handful of men away over the years with my neediness. I still believe in romance and have a lot of hope in that area, but am finally trying to get right with myself and to find purpose in my life beyond loving another human being so that I don't sort of make him my end all and be all (which I've come to realize is too much pressure for any one person).

One thing I know about my life is that I should be dead. I wouldn't take the HIV medications for a really long time because I'd read such scary things about the side effects. Plus, I was just plain stubborn and thought I could beat it myself--with yoga and healthy eating. Now, I do yoga and eat pretty healthily--but I also take the medications. I let my immune system completely collapse--I had an AIDS diagnosis based on my t-cell count in 2002 and then my t-cell count continued to drop as I went on and off the meds over the next years, so that by August of 2006, I had a t-cell count of 6. (Normal range for t-cells is 450-1200; an AIDS diagnosis is anything under 200). Not only did I not die, I was never hospitalized, even though my t-cell count was at the same point my ex's was when he was hospitalized with what turned out to be the AIDS-defining pneumonia, PCP.

I'm alive, despite my best efforts at killing myself, despite my best efforts to let myself die. I helped this along with a lot of unhealthy habits, many of which I now abstain from.

But lately, I feel like I've lost my life's purpose--like I don't know what it is any more. I know that I have a strong faith in God and that my crosses to bear are my crosses and God's handed me what I can handle and He's handed me this thorn in my side in part so I can be useful to others, and in part so I can remember God. I can't help reflect on my AIDS diagnosis without thinking about the II Corinthian's passage: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

So here I am boasting of my weakness because it is all the more evidence that I'm meant to live.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dawn, You shine like an angel, and you have so many beautiful gifts. I am glad you keep giving to others, and that your prayers are heard. Though I have absolutely few words of advice, I want you to know I think of you all the time. Try to pace yourself as much as possible over the next few weeks. Sent with love!