When I came out of the closet at sixteen, it was hurtful to my family. They’re devout Baptists, in North Carolina, and to be gay—and then to be black, and then to be in a small town—was kind of embarrassing. When I turned eighteen, I moved out and I became homeless. I was living in my car and going to school in Fairview, North Carolina. I didn’t have anybody to connect with. So one day I just called my mom and I talked to her. This was before I was diagnosed. And we started bonding then.

I think my story is different from others. I contracted HIV through a rape situation when I was eighteen, with somebody who I was dating at the time. I just wasn’t ready and I guess he was. And it seems weird to say this, but, after the rape, we were still friends. Later on I found out I was positive and that was a dramatic moment, because, where I’m from, they don’t talk about this stuff.

Soon after I was diagnosed, my mom told me she and my stepdad had been diagnosed positive three months before. She just didn’t know how to tell anybody. We became really good friends. We went through it together, until she passed. I wish we had bonded earlier in life, so I could have enjoyed that family relationship, but it was so good to have it at that time.

Now I am thirty-one years old with three stepchildren and grandkids. My husband is forty-two. He is HIV-negative. I never knew that someone could love me as much as he does. And I never thought that I would love someone as much as I love him.