I found out I was HIV-positive in 1987, when I went to my doctor for a regular check-up. Within a couple of years I had full-blown AIDS. I had five T-cells and I named them all: Lucy, Ricky, Fred, Ethel, and Little Ricky.

When I got to my sickest, I was in the hospital one night with a mystery fever. My temperature was up to 107 degrees and they were ready to lose me. All of a sudden I saw this brilliant bright horizon, and I saw my two grandmothers and my great-grandmother. It was so peaceful. I was so excited I started walking toward them. One of my grandmothers stopped me and said, “It’s not time yet. We want you to know that it’s beautiful here and we’re waiting for you. You need to go back and tell your family that it will be OK.” Then I woke up and my fever broke, just like that.

I’m fifty-seven years old and was born in Paris, Texas, and I now live in Washington, D.C. Before I got sick, I had three very successful careers. I was an officer in the Air Force. I was a college professor for three years. I worked for Texas Instruments. HIV took all that away from me. At first I was devastated. But after the near-death experience, I started a spiritual journey. I saw wonder in everything that I did. It’s not like I got on my knees and prayed all the time. I didn’t. I just lived my life, and I always knew somebody was looking after me.

Now I have a job in arts education for underprivileged children. I love what I do. I asked my office if they would pose for a picture, and, man, they jumped on it! I’m sitting in a chair and they are laying their hands on me. I can see in their faces it wasn’t staged. I can see the compassion in their faces.

Yes, I am HIV-positive, but I’m so many other things. I’m a gay man and I’m a father. I’m a grandfather. I’m a husband—my partner Anthony and I have been together for over eighteen years. I am many things. HIV is just a little part of me.