My best friend has HIV. That sentence is not meant to be a plea for pity or a space for judgment from anyone. What that sentence means to me is freedom. The fact that I’m able to tell anyone that fact gives me a freedom that I never knew that I would need. Secrets are exhausting, and I don’t have to be exhausted with this secret because of the fierce love and honesty of my best friend.
Two years ago (almost to the day), I was working on a final exam for one of my grad school classes. I was probably stressed out because of my own self-sabotaging procrastination, but I was working diligently regardless. My phone buzzed with a text message from Jonathon that said, “Text me when you’re done with your exam.” I didn’t really think twice about the message, turned back to my exam and finished writing about categorizing data (or something else librarian-y).
When I was finally done with my work, I let Jonathon know that I was able to talk. That’s when things changed, forever. He told me that the diagnosis he had been anticipating for the last seven months was a reality. He tested positive for HIV earlier that day.
I had known this was coming, but I am an eternal optimist and had conjured some other reality where he’d come out of this experience unscathed. As tears filled my eyes, I pulled on my combat boots and ventured to buy him his favorite soda and candy from the gas station down the street. I drove to his house with no other wish than to hug him tight and make all the pain go away. In a truly dramatic fashion, I pulled up to his house with treats in hand and called his phone over and over to no answer. A little panicked, I decided to leave the treats hanging from his doorknob and left a tearful voicemail full of my love.
About an hour later, Jonathon called in tears thanking me for the thoughtful gift and apologizing for worrying me. He was doing his own sort of processing that involved turning off his digital connection to the world. We exchanged words of love, but I felt my own sense of helplessness seeping in like a flood approaching a structurally incompetent dam.
The following weeks were filled with me scrolling through websites to learn more about this diagnosis that didn’t quite feel real yet. Jonathon faced his reality with bravery, vulnerability, and honesty. We spent hours upon hours talking about what steps needed to come next. Who should he tell? How was he going to talk to his partners? How was he going to get the best care? How could I help?
I reflect on that time with such awe. We were new friends in the grand scheme of life, but we were already so invested in one another’s lives that there was a sense of urgency and intensity that I had never experienced before. He was so courageous, and I still live in overwhelming admiration of that strength.
What I wasn’t thinking about during this time was how emotionally exhausted I was because of this information that was still mostly a secret to the other people in our lives. All of the helplessness I was feeling was only matched by my frustration with how angry I was that this could happen to such a beautiful and generous human being.
After seven months of toiling and turmoil, Jonathon offered me a gift that I didn’t know I needed. He chose to announce his diagnosis on Facebook through a truly thoughtful (and highly-edited) post. It was in that moment that I was given a freedom that has shaped our relationship and my ability to live authentically in more capacities than I can count. He was thinking about how much the people in his life needed to be able to talk about his and our own experiences with HIV.
This week, after two years of doctor appointments, hours of conversation, workshops, and new relationships, I watched as Jonathon shared his story with a room full of close friends and strangers looking to learn more about what it’s like to live as an HIV positive person. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the ways that Jonathon has made me proud over the last few years of our friendship, but that night will live on as a highlight in the ways that he inspires me with his raw honesty and ability to find strength in his own vulnerability.
“This is a public announcement about something very personal. I apologize for how jarring it is.
Seven months ago, I was diagnosed with HIV. It was a relief. I had spent the prior seven months knowing I’d been exposed and that testing positive was a waiting game. It felt like playing chicken on the freeway, but not at all thrilling. In fact, the waiting period was ten times worse than the moment the nurse said, “You just tested positive for HIV.”
I am telling you this because I want you to be aware of what I am going through. I do not want you to feel sorry for me and I do not want you to spend time and energy worrying about me; although I know how futile this plea might be.
So here’s the deal: I want to share my journey with you. I don’t want to go to the doctor all the time and wish I could let the details of my journey be free. I don’t want to take my blue pill every day and wonder if there will ever be a time, a way, a place that’s appropriate to share this news with you. There’s never really an appropriate time or way to tell your friends, family, and acquaintances “I have HIV.” So, I am opting for this mediated, and highly edited post here on the mighty Facebook.
I know you’re wondering how I am doing. If everyone had the same knowledge of HIV, this would be a lot easier to do. But since testing positive, and having to share my status with past and present sexual partners, I have discovered that the spectrum of knowledge and understanding of HIV is as broad as the spectrum of color.
The basics: I am fine. I am well. I will be well for a very long time, at least as far as HIV goes.
The specifics: I have just begun a prescription called Stribild. It’s one pill that is a combination of three pills meant to treat symptoms of HIV and corner it until it is “undetectable.” It is not a cure. Either that does not exist or our government has yet to release it from Area 51. I have a doctor, Medicaid, a full-time caseworker, a therapist and psychiatrist, and most importantly, my best friend Joanna working hard to keep me well and informed.
The tough stuff: Yes, I know how I contracted HIV. I know who it was, and there is no malice involved in this circumstance. That is all I can say about it at this time. He is also well.
Again, please forgive the untimely nature of this post. But please allow me to revel in the fact that my condition can now live beyond a small circle of friends and family. And please, PLEASE, do not be angry if you were not among the chosen recipients of this information. I would not have wished it upon any of them. Some were not a choice. This type of information, while not TOP SECRET, is not held lightly.
Certainly I have not shared all of my story, but now that I have shared this information with you, there is no going back. So please oblige my promise to be forthright with you henceforth. Please do not be afraid to ask questions, but not in the comments of this post. My email is jonarntson AT gmail DOT com.”