By Lillibeth Gonzalez
I was a happy woman. I used to model, I was going to college, had a great job as administrative assistant to the personnel director at a well-known hospital.
I met a lesbian, fell in love with her, lived with her for 8 years and had a baby with her. She used to beat me and always had other women in the house while I was at my job. I thought it was love because I saw my mom get beaten by my dad every day. She lived in fear he put her in the hospital (insane asylum) when I was very young. But I had no idea this was wrong. I saw the fear in my mom’s face, but I was too young to understand.
I eventually left the woman after my son was born – my love went directly to my son. But my self-esteem was so low I felt I was not worthy of anyone’s love.
I started to get high on heroin, cocaine, crack, alcohol. I lost my job, my modeling career, and stopped going to college. All for love! I met other women – one was worse than the other: hitting me, getting high with me and just making me feel like I wasn’t worth a cent.
Then I met a man – I said, “Oh, I’m changing my lifestyle and will go straight.” Biggest mistake of my life – he used to beat me too, and we got high and had condomless sex. After 2 years, he wound up in the hospital. He told me he got a disease from the garbage (he was a sanitation worker). Stupidly, I believed him; I saw pills on his dresser and asked him, “Why the pills?” He said they were vitamins, I believed him.
I went to visit my brother in jail. He had AIDS, and I saw the same pills in his room. I asked him, “What are those pills for?” He said, “For thrush,” and my heart went cold.
I got tested and was told I have HIV. That was in 1992. My body went cold and numb–I had decided to stop getting high and drinking so I could change my life for the better and raise my son properly. I saw my boyfriend’s friend and told him I was positive and that I had to tell Mike. His friend said, “Mike’s been HIV positive for 2 years – I told him to tell you, and Mike said, ‘Fuck them, let them all die.’”
So my point is this man was really trying to kill me: he beat me and infected me knowingly.
But that did not break me. After a couple of years of denial, I decided to get my life together and live for my son – he was the most important person in my life (he was 10 at the time, today he’s 31 and my biggest supporter). I attended trainings on HIV got a job as a peer educator, and today I’m a public speaker. I bring information to women so they can make their own choices, use preventative measures, get tested, get treated, get virally suppressed and become independent – free from violence, free from financial dependence, so they can live a free happy life and love themselves.