Bob, age 59 and Ann, age “over 50” / Arkansas, USA


Ann:     I kept it a secret for a decade that I was positive. It would have cost me my job in my state – we don’t have job protection. And the only way you could fight it is take it to court, but when you take it to court it becomes public record, and there goes your job, and there goes your social standing. My mother had been a member of her church since before I was born. I told my pastor about it one of those times that they thought I was gonna die, and he told a deacon, it spread through the church, so my mother was expelled from her church. But I’ve been an advocate all this time for other people that have HIV. In 2004 I got so disabled that I had to give up my career, and I’ve been working with Bob, my friend here, who’s an advocate. I came out officially, to try to fight stigma, because people in my state really believe that you did something wrong.

Bob:     Quite frankly I don’t care what people who don’t pay my bills think about me. So, personally, Bob, I don’t deal with any of that stuff. I just do my doctors visits and I’m doing very well and I’m healthy. Now, I had a nephew who died of AIDS-related dementia because he could not deal with staying on a medication regime, and he was a producer out of Hollywood. He wasn’t pretty anymore, and he wasn’t young anymore, and he is part of that universe. So is there stigma? Yeah. And that breaks my heart.

Ann:     What helps me get through from day to day is the work that I do, because if I just dwelt on myself, I would sink down in a deep dark depression. I had two 401ks because I had two jobs, and I lost all of that. I was off on medical leave for almost two years and I had to pay my COBRA payments and I had to pay my drugs out of pocket, and I had a house payment – you know, all your bills that you have – your car payments, your car insurance, your taxes, all that stuff – and I had to take a hardship loan. One of my hospital stays cost me $160,000, and my insurance paid 20%, so I was left with the rest of that. It drained me. I can’t get back my life savings, I can’t get back my career back – I had the best job in the world, I LOVED my job. I was six months from having lifetime flying privileges, and I had to take early retirement because I was disabled. So all that’s gone, and I can’t get it back.  If I sit home and dwell on that, I just drown. But getting out and being an advocate and helping other people keeps me going.

Bob:     God has all kinds of little twists. I went to see a friend of mine who also worked with HIV prevention, and she said, “I’m so excited that you’re here. Did you read your email? We want you on a project to go down to New Orleans next month.” And I said, “No, but I’ll go see after I share some stuff with you.” And I said, “I found out yesterday that I’m HIV-positive.” And we both went, “WHAT?!?” Now all I wanted was a .38, because I figured a .38 would finish all this off. And the meeting that the state wanted to send me on was to participate in developing the community planning group for suicide prevention for the state of Arkansas. So the next month I wound up in New Orleans with 8 other people at a suicide prevention conference. Now that was 2003 and I’m here in, what is it? 2012. So, you know, it all sorts out. Life is what it will be.

Ann:    I think I have bruises on my forehead from hitting my head against brick walls. I get so frustrated, so I will call Bob. I’ll say, “Wait a minute, let’s just review.” And we’ll start counting the successes that we’ve had. Sometimes they’re little successes, but you start counting. Recently we had the National HIV Testing Day. We had news coverage on four TV stations, and they actually gave accurate information, and they actually said the word “HIV” in a level tone of voice just like they would say “diabetes” or “cancer.”  And this was on how it’s affecting Arkansas – our state – and the South, not like it was a disease just in Africa, or it was some disease in New York. We were so elated! So that’ll keep us going for a while. That’s what I do, I focus on our little successes that we’ve had, and how much it has changed since we first started fighting this.

Bob:     Sometimes I take a nap, sometimes I pet my dog, sometimes I watch Jerry Springer. Sometimes Ann and I walk, but that gets stressful after a while because she looks at me like, “If you ask me one more question…!”  I sometimes cave, I get away from people, I talk to my spirit guide I call God. I think about my 94 year old mother and think I’ve got a long time to go here, so I better make it good. And my concept is, “It’s the best day of my life.” And sometimes I cry, it depends on the situation. And sometimes I eat pizza.