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Dear HIV

Good evening, HIV. I appreciate you for joining me tonight. I’ve imagined what this face-to-face would look like for some time. Us sitting across from each other.

Me glaring in complete repulsion as you sit with a malevolent grin, eyes cold and void of all emotion. I hope you weren’t expecting a warm welcome. This is not a friendly occasion. It’s not a celebration of your existence, nor a chance for us to catch up after 7 years.

This is a reckoning. This is LáDeia, giving my truth sound to your face.

I’m not here to pussyfoot, sugarcoat, or make small talk. You are the uninvited entity that invaded my life and refuses to leave. You are the thief that (at one time) stole my sense of security, peace of mind, and hope for the future.

You are not just a virus. You are a force of destruction. You are a weapon that has been used against marginalized communities for over 4 decades. You have been used to stigmatize, and discriminate against, the Black community, folx of color, LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, and anyone else society deems less than.

And for this …

I hate you with every fiber of my being. I hate you for the way you cloaked me with shame, making me feel less than and “othered.”

I wish for nothing more than to personally escort you to the fiery abyss for the way you’ve consistently attempted to make me feel like a prisoner inside my mind, body, and soul … questioning my own intuition and existence.

I vehemently despise the way you’ve influenced and impacted ALL my relationships. You have made me feel like damaged goods. Your unwelcome presence ingrained in me the idea that I was an undesirable, unlovable woman unworthy of anyone's affection.

The overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness you've caused had me convinced I was doomed to a life devoid of the comfort and support of a loving partner and devoted tribe. You tried to brand me with a permanent scarlet stain and keep me from again experiencing closeness and connection.

And yet, as much as I detest you, I admit you’ve taught me valuable lessons. I loathe the circumstances in which we met, but you’ve taught me that life is fragile, health is a gift, and loving myself is my greatest responsibility.

Now, this bittersweet journey ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s been full of trepidation, insecurity, and agony. But it’s also been full of growth, resilience, and community.

You’ve shown me the resilience of my own human spirit, revealed a reservoir of inner strength I never knew I possessed, and emboldened me to face challenges with a whole lotta chutzpah.

You’ve taught me that stigma is a real and formidable force, one that hurts even more than the physical effects of your virus. You’ve illustrated that people can be cruel, ignorance can be dangerous, and fear can be paralyzing.

But you’ve also taught me that people can be kind, education can be empowering, and courage can be contagious.As much as I abhor you for wreaking havoc in my life, I can’t ignore the fact you’ve given me something unexpected – a proud sense of purpose.

In your irksome wake, you’ve transformed me into an advocate, activist, and voice for those who’ve been silenced and dismissed. Through you, I’ve discovered a global mission to educate, raise awareness, and translate what it means to be a Black woman thriving with an HIV diagnosis.

You’ve given me a platform to share my story, shatter stereotypes, and empower others who show up in this world like me to live their most fulfilled lives.

And as I bid you adieu, recognize that I am more than my status. I am a magical Black woman, daughter, sister, friend, advocate, writer, warrior, and so much more. While you’ve been part of my story, you’re not the totality of it.

Please know I no longer feel ashamed of who I am, what I’ve experienced, or what I’ve survived. I refuse to let you continue to define me by your narrow-minded stereotypes, your misguided assumptions, and your cruel judgment.

Instead, I will define myself – on my own.

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