I met him in a nightclub parking lot in Houston, Texas. I was 19 years old. At the time, I was a sophomore at Sam Houston State, planning to pledge Alpha Kappa Alpha and ride out my college experience. But, I was also at that point in life where I longed to have Prince Charming sweep me off my feet so we could live happily ever after. Admittedly, I felt that without this element of my life, I was incomplete. I was a broken, lost, and scattered soul - not at all prepared for what I was about to endure.
He was a well-known Houston area music executive. He was charming and well-connected and from the moment we met, we were inseparable. He introduced me to my first job in the music world as a promotions assistant and I eventually climbed the ladder and became a manager. Being around musicians wasn't new to me. My father was a successful writer and I grew up around artists like Mint Condition and Prince. But the hip hop world was an entirely new beast, and I was completely submerged in it.
Our life was filled with power, sex, drugs, and strip clubs.
I got anything I wanted - designer clothes and shoes and entry into the hottest parties. I was rubbing elbows with the biggest names in music and the lifestyle pulled me in. So, when the cheating, lies, disrespect, emotional and mental abuse started, I had no exit plan because I constantly pacified the severity of our unhealthy relationship. Our relationship came to an abrupt end when I found out through a mutual acquaintance that he had impregnated another woman. That was the last straw and I finally left him.
A few months later, I passed out in the shower.
When I woke up, the paramedics were doing their best to keep me conscious. After being released from the hospital that day, I went back home still not feeling like myself. I had chills so bad, I was shaking like a leaf. I had a fever of 105 and I felt as if my body was starting to leave earth, and I was powerless to stop it. I tried over-the-counter medicines to bring my fever down, but nothing worked.
Eventually, I was rushed back to the hospital where I fell into a partial coma.
This time, I was in the hospital for almost a month when my mother's long-time physician walked into my room and stood over my bed. "So, about your AIDS virus," the doctor said.
I looked at her in a panic of confusion.
I was on a breathing machine so words were not an option at the time. I could only shake my head over and over - no, no, no. She said I had full-blown AIDS and only 2 t-cells remaining. Things were not looking good for me. At that point, a million questions ran through my head. How will my life move forward? Will she tell my mother? When the doctor left my room, I immediately went numb. Before I could process everything, two social workers came in and asked me to write down all of my sexual partners. They handed me some forms and I felt like I was signing my life away.
A month and a half later, I was finally released from the hospital.
Immediately, my priority became advocacy. I never wanted another woman to feel how I felt the day I was given my diagnosis, but I didn't know where to begin. Who was to blame? Was he to blame for being careless and abusive? Was I to blame because I chose not to ask his status? Either way, everything in my life was changing. I vowed to share my story with the world and inspire others about the importance of self-love.
As my advocacy journey took off, I veered further away from my life in the music industry. A friend convinced me to confront my ex-boyfriend and share my truth. When I did, he was hardly receptive. Even as I walked away, he disrespectfully called out to me and said I should give him another chance because my ass got fatter. I was disgusted, but proud of myself for standing up to him, telling him what he'd done and showing him that he hadn't broken me.
Now, I travel the country speaking to people of all ages about what it means to live with AIDS. I'm still baffled by the level of unawareness associated with the stigma of AIDS and HIV. Often, I get asked questions that remind me how far we have to go as a society to learn about this virus, which is the first step in eradication. I've been living with AIDS for 11 years and my virus is currently undetectable, which means that is is absolutely untransmittable.
People I encounter are often shocked that I'm still alive.
Did you take the same thing Magic Johnson took? Are you rich?
It's still a little known fact that medicine has come a long way, and that staying on top of your medication and taking good care of your health can help people living with AIDS and HIV live long and happy lives without the threat of spreading the virus to their loved ones.
They are even more amazed to find out that I have a partner, and that we are planning a family together. It is possible, however, for those living with the virus to find love. It is possible to have a loving relationship with a supportive partner and also have the AIDS virus. I'm thankful to have a man in my life who, when faced with the reality of my situation, did not walk away. He came to the doctor with me, asked his questions, did his research, and stayed by my side.
Looking back on this journey, I don't blame myself but I do take full responsibility for my part and for not loving myself enough to walk away from a man who was not worthy of me.
Not only do I dedicate my life to educating people on the facts behind the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but I also facilitate self love workshops. This is what it took for me to find this incredible understanding of my own power and of my unstoppable ability to push through.
We are never defined by the mistakes we have made, but by our ability to build ourselves up despite them.
To learn more about Kecia Johnson and her HIV/AIDS advocacy work, visit her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.