I Was Here
Recently, I was in the clinic where I work while visiting with a patient, which these days feels like a real treat. I was stopped by a volunteer provider who recognized me and reminded me I had done her hair several years back.
For those who don’t know, HIV hasn’t always been my full-time job. For nearly 10 years, I worked as a licensed hairdresser. It was a great job that I got into at 19 and thought I would never leave.
My previous career as a hairdresser
I had a great clientele full of wonderful people from all walks of life. After I built my own business, I became quite popular with the women from the part of the metro with the big houses and the gates that kept the rest of the world out of their fancy neighborhoods.
While I appreciated the business, I never felt quite right with this part of my clientele. Something just didn’t sit well with me. Growing up in a family of 6 kids and a single mother, we did not have a lot in common. They amplified a part of me I had always struggled with, feeling as though I had not found my place in this world.
Facing my own mortality
In May of 2016, I got my HIV diagnosis and things shifted. Up until that point, I was living like Peter Pan. I thought I was invincible, that I would never grow up.
On that day in May, I was faced with my own mortality. And, like with so many things in my life, once a switch is flipped, I have a difficult time going backward.
A calling to give back to my community
The days at work following that news were a blur. Hairdressers are often sounding boards and are told everything, including a lot of complaining about people's lives. When I began to notice that some felt as though the biggest problem in the universe was a scratch on their fancy car, I began to feel very put off. But, it took a while for me to figure out why.
I couldn't stay where I was
After the 2016 election, I began to look for something to do that would mean giving back to my community. I felt the need to do something good to keep from feeling overwhelmed by all of the negativity.
I went to go volunteer at the local LGBTQ+ center after a few weeks of working with queer people. In finding a new diverse group of chosen family, I suddenly not only felt better, but I felt as though I had found something I had been looking for my entire life.
In 2017, I closed up shop, hung up my brushes, and quit doing hair. I didn’t know where I would end up, but I knew I couldn’t stay where I was.
Supporting and empowering people with HIV
I landed temping at the front desk of an AIDS Service Organization which ultimately landed me where I am today, equipping people living with HIV with education and support in hopes that they live their fullest and most empowered lives.
After being faced with my own mortality, I realized that I will not live forever. And, although I plan to live a long full life, I want to make sure that, whatever the length of my life, I have done something that matters.
It’s in a life in service for others that I have found myself. It is my way of leaving my mark, my way of saying I was here.
At what age were you diagnosed with HIV?