Jasmyne A. Cannick - Journalist & Political Communications Strategist
*For a while now, I am sure there have people have been wondering, what the hell is wrong with Jasmyne? Or where is Jasmyne? Why isn’t Jasmyne speaking on this issue or that issue? For a time, I wondered the same thing. So, I am going to try my best to tell you a story. This is my story, a true story about love, denial, shame, anger, and just living life. While what I am going to share with you happened without a commercial break for me to catch my breath, I can’t relive it that fast and so I am breaking it down into parts. Talking about it is still too hard for me and to be honest, it’s even harder for me to take this first step and open up about my personal life in this way and on this subject. While writing for me is a sort of therapy, in this instance it’s helping me take the shackles off with the hope of helping others do the same. Through my story I want to empower other people going through the same situation as well as shine a light on what many of us believe can’t ever happen to us so that when it does, we know how to deal with it. All of us are susceptible—even me and even you.
Part One: My Mind Is Playing Tricks On Me
When I got the text from my best friend that she was being admitted into the hospital at 1:30 in the morning, I immediately called her back to find out what was wrong. You see, it’s not unusual for me to be up all night working, especially if I have to be at the radio station by 4:30 a.m. I’d rather sleep later than risk oversleeping and missing the show.
I never reached her that night and so when I was done with the show at 6 a.m., while my intentions had been to go home and go to sleep for a few hours, something inside of me wouldn’t let me.
So at 6 a.m., I got on the freeway in search of my friend.
I went to her house and she wasn’t there so I called her cousin in hopes she would know what hospital she was at—no help there. I often forget that while I am an early riser, most people are not.
So I went to the closest hospital near her house thinking that’s where she would be, call it logical deduction. She wasn’t there. And then it came to me to read the text message again. In doing so, I realized she had actually said where she was at and when I asked the emergency room attendants at the hospital I’d mistakenly gone too where the hospital was, they pointed me in right direction.
I don’t know what I expected when I finally reached my friend, but I do know that what I saw when I walked into that hospital room nearly killed me and is something that I will never forget.
I practically collapsed on the spot when I walked into that hospital room and saw my friend hooked up to an IV, withered down to skin and bones. She had lost a lot of her hair, including her eyebrows and her skin color—it just wasn’t normal.
I immediately burst into tears crying and asking what’s going on. I had seen enough with family members to know that what I was looking at wasn’t normal.
My friend, always the protector of everyone else but herself, immediately explains to me that it’s just stress from working two jobs and not eating. She told me that she was dehydrated and that stress had done this to her.
I wasn’t buying it. I didn’t tell that, but inside, I didn’t buy that excuse for a minute. I know stress and what I was looking at wasn’t stress.
For the sake of my friend, I pretended to go along with the story. I comforted her, I talked to her, I held her, I kissed her, I loved her.
I didn’t want to leave my friend’s side not even for a minute after I got there but after a while I suggested that I should run to her house and grab her clothes and other toiletries she might need—she agreed.
After giving me a laundry list of things to bring back with me, I left the hospital to go to her house.
In the car, I called a mutual friend in tears explaining what had just happened. I needed to talk to someone who knew us both. I was so scared for my friend.
I was still on the phone with our mutual friend when I reached my friend’s house. I remember walking into her house looking around and surveying her refrigerator. Why the refrigerator? Because she told me about not eating and I wanted to see what food she had.
Still crying while I am talking to our friend on the phone, I began to gather her clothes. While digging around for a shirt she wanted, I came across a stash of medicine hidden in a hamper. I remember thinking, that’s weird, why is the medicine in the hamper under all of these clothes?
I abruptly ended the conversation I was having on the phone and pulled out the pills and took a closer look at them. They were awfully colorful, all packaged up by day and time of day. How efficient. They weren’t opened. That can’t be good.
I managed to read the names and numbers on the pills and I started punching them up on my phone’s Internet browser to find out what they were for.
Orange pill. TMC. So I searched for TMC pill.
Pill imprint 400 TMC has been identified as Prezista 400 mg. Prezista is used in the treatment of hiv infection and belongs to the drug class protease inhibitors.
I thought, okay well it must treat more than that. Let me search another pill.
Blue pill. Gillead 701.
Pill imprint GILEAD 701 has been identified as Truvada 200 mg / 300 mg. Truvada is used in the treatment of hiv infection; nonoccupational exposure and belongs to the drug class antiviral combinations.
Cue the denial.
White pill. 227.
Pill imprint 227 has been identified as Isentress 400 mg. Isentress is used in the treatment of hiv infection and belongs to the drug class integrase strand transfer inhibitor.
And then I scream.
Looking back now, I know her neighbors were probably like what the hell is going on next door.
I screamed. I cried. I ran around her apartment and then I literally collapsed right there on her living room floor into a ball.
I’m not sure how long I lay there crying and screaming “why” before I dialed the one person in the world I felt I could talk to about this…my grandma.
Part Two: Welcome to the Terrordome
I called my grandma but I couldn’t get any words out, I was sobbing too hard. My grandma kept asking me, “what’s wrong Jazzy, what’s wrong?”
When I finally recapped everything to my grandma she said “oh, I’m so sorry Jazzy.”
I told my Grandma that she didn’t deserve this. That she was a good person. Why her? It’s not fair. I asked why God would do this to her.
I’m not sure how long I talked to my Grandma that morning, but when I hung up the phone with her I was faced with the daunting realization that my friend has been living with HIV and for some reason had stopped taking the medications—or never took them at all for all I knew and was in the process of dying.
That’s a lot to take in for anyone—even more so when the realization hits you that it’s not just your best friend, but it’s also your first girlfriend and your first love.
Looking back to when I was 19, today, I can admit that I wasn’t the best girlfriend to her. We had our ups and downs. We didn’t end our relationship on good terms and it was several years after we broke up before we were able to come back together as friends. And that’s just how we have been all of these years, friends, as close as two can be—or so I thought.
So here I am standing in the middle of her apartment and really seeing things for the first time.
Here was someone who was obviously lying in the bed it seemed almost waiting to die in shame and embarrassment. I know her, and that’s why she never told anyone. She was too embarrassed and too ashamed. Fearful of being judged by her family and friends.
And then came the anger. I couldn’t understand why she felt like she couldn’t tell me. As much as we’ve gone through together, I thought she would have known that of all of the people in the world, I’d never shun her.
Looking back, maybe she realized that and that’s why she texted me. Because had she not texted me, I’d have never known and the thought of that just makes me start crying all over again.
But what to do now? She obviously didn’t want me to know—or maybe she did because I could swear she’s the one who told me to find her favorite shirt and that it was in the grey hamper full of clean clothes she’d just washed.
But that’s neither here nor there. It’s a short ride back to the hospital and I need more time. I just found out myself and am not dealing with it to well so after talking back to our mutual friend, I decide that now is not the time. I haven’t slept and my emotions are on overload right now.
It’s at this point that I realize that I am talking to myself out loud. Oh well. I am in shock right now. I cry all the way back to the hospital and then decide to play it off and not let her know that I know.
Back in the hospital room I am cheerful Jasmyne concerned with my friend’s “stress related” health problems. She’s refusing to eat but makes playful banter like everything’s ok.
After a while she’s sleepy and so am I. I tell her that I am going to go home and get some sleep and that I’ll be back in the evening. She likes that and we say goodbye.
On the way home I cry some more. I make a few calls to friends who I know are HIV positive and explain the situation and her current state. What they tell me makes me cry even more. What they tell me about her symptoms scares me. I can’t handle it. I go into the house and just fall out on my couch and there I stay until I wake up.
I remember thinking, damn, that was a really bad dream but then the reality sets in and I cry some more.
After talking to a few close friends, I make up my mind that when I go back I am going to tell her that I know.
This secret has got to be killing her inside—literally. To go through something like this all alone—I can only imagine.
My friend isn’t like me—meaning we don’t run in the same circles. I have a network of people I know I can call regarding anything HIV/AIDS related. She doesn’t.
Let me tell you, up until this point, I can’t think of any harder conversation I’ve ever had to initiate or been a part of.
I fought with myself the whole way there. First I was ready to do it, then I wasn’t. It was like that for whole ride back to the hospital. When I finally got there, it took a minute for me to get out of the car and find the nerve to just do it.
She was happy to see me when I walked into the hospital room and I was happy to see her.
I pulled up a chair and I closed the curtain around her bed and I took her hand, looked into her big brown eyes and I said two words, I know.
She opened her mouth to continue the lying and I said, uh uh, I know, I saw the medicine.
At that moment it was like a load was lifted off of her because she slumped back down into the hospital bed and said, okay, you know.
Part Three: Deep Cover
I don’t know what I expected from my friend after I told her we knew. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her.
How long did you know? Who did this to you? Why didn’t you tell me? How long have been off your meds? Have you ever taken the meds?
But I guess if you’re so use to living a lie that you have to constantly repeat over and over, it’s not that easy to come out of it.
So even though she knew I knew she wasn’t, let’s say, forthright or free flowing with the information, if you know what I mean.
So I just let it be. Right now, we both needed to focus on getting her healthy again—if that was even a possibility. At this point I really didn’t know.
What I did find out was that apparently her right leg basically went numb and I guess her mom had stopped by to visit her—because she was keeping herself basically hidden away from everyone. Her mom saw her and took her to the nearest hospital—again under the illusion that her daughter was suffering from “stress-related” health problems.
At the hospital my friend never told them her status, so while they were wasting time testing for this and that, she just let them knowing all along what was wrong. Why? Because she couldn’t let her mother, her “up in the front pew, every Sunday church going, sanctified and holified” mother know. She would rather die first, and was well on her way to doing so if you ask me.
Well, sorry, I can’t play that game and I told her that I was going to tell the doctor and the nurses immediately.
She almost had a heart attack.
I had to explain to her that they couldn’t tell her mother anything because of patient confidentiality. I had to explain that they weren’t going to treat her like a leper and that she wasn’t going to be shipped of to some remote area of the hospital and left to die alone.
She didn’t believe me.
It took some convincing to get her to the point where she would let me know do it. I had to. We were wasting valuable time and according to my friends who work in this field, they don’t always test for HIV when a patient comes in so it can be overlooked.
Once I told the RN, it was like, ah hah, okay now we know what to do.
My friend begrudgingly signed papers at the hospital to allow me to make decisions for her and for the doctors and nurses to talk to me. I was her “sister.” The lies continue.
I, in turn, made sure all of the shifts knew not to speak freely about her illness in front of her mother when she was visiting. The code word for her HIV pills became “vitamins.”
The infectious diseases doctor asked me to go to her house and bring back all of the “vitamins” I could find. I did. It turns out, she had “vitamins” hidden all over the place, even the refrigerator, which I overlooked on my first visit there because I thought the brown bag was just some leftovers. I guess that made God mad, so he made sure I couldn’t overlook the “vitamins” stashed in the hamper.
Some of the medicine was no good but most of it was still good. Turns out the hospital didn’t have any of her medicine there and so they needed it.
Her liver and kidneys were being tested—for what I didn’t know. She needed an MRI. Her leg was still numb, and she had a fever. She had a rash of some sorts on her top lip but it eventually disappeared.
I practically moved into the hospital with her and only left when I had to.
Of course, being who she is, my friend started to worry about her job. I told her that she’s in no position to work anyway. But she insisted that I go to her job and get her check and talk to her boss and tell them that she was sick and would be back soon.
Now I knew that wasn’t happening. Even if she was released from the hospital today, she wasn’t going to back to work as a nurses assistant in an elderly care home. Her immune system was too vulnerable right now. But because of the economy and the pressure we place on ourselves, even from a hospital bed, we’re still concerned with keeping our jobs over our own health. It’s a sad world we live in.
I did go to her job, and I did pick up her check. I explained that she was in the hospital to her boss and I left my card if they had any questions or concerns.
As the days went on, I got more and more information out of her.
She mentioned a doctor at a clinic in Watts. She said she couldn’t remember her name only part of it.
I knew the clinic. It was the Oasis Medical Clinic at Charles Drew University. I went there and explained the situation in hopes that her doctor, any doctor could come and see her. The lady at the window was less than helpful and actually said to me “what do you want us to do?”
I think sometimes people look at me and don’t assume I will grab a person by the collar and pull them through the sliding glass window that separates us and beat the crap out of them in a time of extreme crisis and when I am emotionally unstable.
Lucky for her, I caught myself.
Instead, I made a few phone calls above the lady in the windows pay grade.
I don’t have time for people’s crap when there is a life at stake and she doesn’t know who I know and what lengths I will go to for my friend. I’ll deal with her later though.
After I was satisfied that the information was going to be relayed to the right people at Oasis, I went back to the hospital and tried to get my friend to eat. I brought her fresh fruit and something from Denny’s.
She smiled and she ate. Only a little but it was a start.
She was eventually transferred to a larger hospital and that made me really happy—sort of. I didn’t care too much for the reputation of the hospital she was going to, but it was bigger than the one she was in, so I thought maybe bigger means better. Sure the staff at her current hospital were nice, in fact one nurse in particular, Charlie, really went out of her way to help my friend. Because I was there all of the time, for the few times when I wasn’t there, the doctors would ask my friend, where is Jasmyne? They made sure I was always in the loop but they knew my friend needed more help than they were prepared to give at their facility.
My friend, living in her own special world of shame and embarrassment, thought she was being transferred to an AIDS ward to die and had to be talked off of the ledge so to speak.
I was there when she left the old hospital and was there when arrived at the new hospital.
I went through the same routine there with all of the nurses to make sure her privacy and “secret” was safe.
At this point my friend is really fighting for her life. I didn’t know how bad it was but I knew it was bad.
I consulted with many people in the HIV/AIDS arena about her situation because I just didn’t think that the hospital’s nurses and doctors knew what they doing. I’m just being honest. You can tell when someone is out of his or her league, and some of the nurses there didn’t have a clue and that’s just being real.
Some of the people I spoke too were helpful, many were not. But for those who actually gave a damn when I called them in my frantic state of mind and talked me through next steps and what to do and who to call, I will forever be grateful. Paul, Phill, Vallerie, Wendell, Carrie, LaWanda, and Glenford—thank you so much for being there for both of us.
Some of what you told me scared me so bad I was angry at about the bluntness of the delivery of the news, but I know that it had to be explained in such a way that I understood what I was dealing and what to do. For those of you who made phone calls on my behalf to certain people to get the ball rolling for my friend, again, thank you.
Throughout this process, I had to learn about HIV/AIDS all over again. Yes, I’ve been active and vocal in speaking about HIV testing, prevention, and the stigmas faced in the African-American community. Yes, I was the communications director for the Black AIDS Institute at one time. But I realized that what I thought I knew about HIV and AIDS, was not enough in this situation.
Thanks to my friends, I learned that I needed to request an infectious diseases doctor for my friend. I learned that I had to ask for my friend’s T-cell count and viral load. Numbers that I didn’t really want to know but knew that we needed to know. You see I had a bit of my own denial going on because I knew the lower the T-cell number and the higher the viral load, the sicker my friend was. T-cells are basically white blood cells and are cells of the immune system involved in defending the body against both infectious disease and foreign materials. They basically protect your body. Your viral load is a measure of the severity of a viral infection and tells the story of the amount of virus is in your body.
I had to ask about cancers, failures of organs, and her central nervous system.
All of it scared me because there were so many tests and waiting on the results of those tests was enough to drive both of us insane.
We both knew that what those tests revealed, would dictate the next chapter in her life. And at this point, it’s just her and me, because she was in no way about to involve her mother or any other member of her family.
So we eat, we watch TV, we sleep, we reminisce, we laugh, and we wait day after day—no one tells us much of anything.
She’s back on her meds or I should say “vitamins.” The side effects are horrible. Watching her go through them is hard but I stay strong and refuse to show my true emotions around her. We will go through it together.
I begin to notice her mental state is changing. She becomes very forgetful and combative at times. She hates me, then loves me.
The meds bring on a wicked fever that brings on some form of dementia. That wasn’t pretty. But I remember thinking, at least we’re at the hospital going through this.
She’s still not eating much and she’s still got an IV.
This goes on for days and then one day, the nurse comes in and says we’re going to send you home today and I’m like, you’re going to do what?
Part Four: The Next Episode
Now I already knew that my friend couldn’t live alone if and when she was released from the hospital. The doctor had already made that clear. I had no intentions on moving into her apartment because it was just too far for me. So we had already discussed her coming to live with me until she got better—well enough be back on her own. That was our game plan.
However, I didn’t think it was going to be that soon and when the nurse said that the doctor cleared her to go home, a whole new panic set in.
As you know, today’s hospitals get you in and get you out. If you have the baby at 6 a.m. by 3 p.m. they are waving goodbye to you from the front door. So, I am not really all that surprised.
What I am upset about is that we never got any test results. I never got the T-cell count or the viral load number. I just felt like maybe they did what they could for her and it was like see you later and have a nice rest of your life.
So fine, if it’s her and me against the world then so be it. You don’t have to tell us twice.
Now I am a bachelorette. No kids, no pets. If I’m messy the only person that has to see it is me. I haven’t slept in my bedroom in probably a year. I relegate myself to the front part of my house only. My bedroom has been for the most a closet.
So now I am in a mad dash to get home and clean up my house like it’s never been cleaned before.
I am bringing home a person where any little thing can make her sick. I never cleaned so much in my life as I did that day. Lysol, bleach, Pine-sol, you name it.
While my friend was just fine with getting out of the hospital, I wasn’t so happy about it. Her mother wasn’t pleased either and I don’t think she was too happy that she was coming home with me and not her.
I’m getting tired of the lies but I save face and make up some reason why it’s better for her and my friend explains that she really wants to be at my house for a while.
So there I am, sitting in my car in the front of the hospital as they wheel her to my car and I keep thinking, oh my God. What am I doing? I am not a nurse or a doctor. What if she gets sick? What do I do?
She did get sick. Before we even made it to my house she had thrown up in the car.
That night I called my next-door neighbor and briefed her on the situation. She met us when I pulled into my driveway and helped my friend into my house.
My friend didn’t know that I was contemplating moving because I hadn’t found a regular job and was only consulting here and there. She didn’t know that I was having a hard time keeping up with the bills. She didn’t know that my own refrigerator was empty as well as my gas tank from driving back and forth to the hospital.
Me—well, I didn’t care at that point. I said whatever will be will be and we’ll just find a way. We have too. Right now, I am the only person in her life whom she can be herself with and she needs me, forget my situation.
While my neighbor watched her for me, I ran to the store picked up some food for that night and for breakfast.
I came back and got the bed ready for her.
We talked a little more and I got a little more information out of her.
She said she’s known about her status since 2007. That she went to a plasma bank with her cousin and she was called back and given the news. She said she went to Oasis a few times. Starting taking the medicine didn’t like the side effects and about five months ago just stopped altogether. No Oasis, no medicine, no counseling. Nothing. Five months.
She told me that she had attended some group counseling sessions but had stopped going to those.
I asked her about her previous girlfriends, if they knew. She got frustrated and so I put on a movie for her to watch and eventually she went to sleep.
She didn’t take her medicine that night either.
I didn’t push her because I knew that come the next morning we were going to be on the freeway headed to the Oasis Medical Clinic and we were not leaving until she was seen.
We did make it to Oasis and as soon as we got there, a man came to me and said Jasmyne? I said yes, he said I am Glenford.
Glenford was someone who I was introduced to via phone in my circle of friends I consulted. We had never met.
He immediately turned to my friend and said you must be whom Jasmyne spoke to me about. She looked shocked and surprised and said yes. He said I have something for you.
Now mind you my friend had already made a big fuss about not receiving special treatment and that she was nobody and didn’t want people to do anything special for her and that she was like everyone. She basically felt like she deserved what she was going through.
Too bad she’s my friend because that’s not an option. She is special. She’s special to me and it took a lot of phone calls and text messages for me to come to grips with the situation and to understand what I was dealing with, and people like Glenford were very helpful to me.
I didn’t know what Glenford had for her but it turned out to be a diary sent to her via a mutual friend LaWanda who also works in the HIV/AIDS area. LaWanda had written a special message to my friend in that diary that moved her to tears.
Glenford talked to both us, but mainly my friend. She was so emotional. It was the first time she said that she really talked to someone else who was going through what she was going through.
I ended up leaving her at Oasis to take care of business with the doctors and I went to a lunch meeting with a councilmember that was previously scheduled.
I don’t have kids, but I have a sick person I am now responsible so I need to up the ante and find some work quick. I can starve and be homeless—she can’t and I told her that I’d take care of everything right now and for to concentrate on getting better. That’s our deal. I bring home the turkey bacon and she eats it.
When I get back, she’s in good spirits. We’re in the lobby waiting for something. She tells me I need to fill out a paper so I can be her emergency contact, which I gladly do. The clinic never had anyone to talk to when she fell off the radar and didn’t know where to find her. That will never happen again.
I ask her what the doctor said and she just kind of glosses over it. She does show me that she’s got two weeks of new “vitamins” and we look over the schedule of when she needs to take them.
When we are getting ready to leave, she mentions she forgot to check on crème for her skin and she goes back in. A lady was in the lobby looking for her at the same time. It was the counselor.
Apparently, my friend was about to leave without seeing her counselor. She asked if I’d wait and I said of course and so while she was seeing the counselor I was in my car working on my computer.
When my friend came out she was a different person. She was flustered and upset. I asked what was wrong and she said that she was very sick. She said the counselor was surprised she could even walk and that she could drop dead at any moment.
Maybe that was their version of tough love and scared straight. All I know is that my friend was a totally different person and I think for once the gravity of the damage caused over the five months of her not taking her medicines really hit her.
I had promised her mom that after the clinic we’d stop by there. I didn’t want to given the emotional state of my friend at the time, but what are you going to do?
I left my friend at her mom’s to visit while I ran some errands. Errands that included meeting up with one of my friends, also HIV positive, so he could explain to me the writing on the paper I snuck out of my friend’s envelope.
While I love me some Paul, his frankness about my friend’s health was a bit overwhelming.
She had 4 T-cells and a viral load of 1.5 million. She was on the strongest medicine available and it was going to be a bumpy road to recovery.
I broke down crying in the parking lot of Starbucks on Centinella and La Brea Avenue in Inglewood.
I asked Paul if my friend was going to die. He said no, that if she took her medicine she would be alright.
I didn’t believe him. I hate that I always think worst-case scenario, but I do. I was miserable and I still had to go back and pick up my friend.
More lying to her mother about what the doctors said and then we go home.
We eat dinner, watch movies, take the medicine, and go to bed.
I think to myself, I can figure out our survival game plan tomorrow, for now we both need to rest.
Nobody told me about the other side effects.
Part Five: Insane in the Brain
I was never an enemy of medical marijuana, let’s just say it just wasn’t for me. I don’t smoke weed, don’t even care for the way it smells, but to each their own.
Today, I can proudly say I am definitely an advocate for it and will join the fight to make sure that it’s legal and available to those who need it.
If somebody would have told me a year ago that I’d be going to a medical marijuana clinic to pick up some “goodies” for anyone—let alone my best friend, I’d have given them a look and said “what chu talkin about Willis?”
But it’s true, I did it, and was nervous the whole time I am driving home with it in my car—and I will do it again as many times as I have to if it helps my friend get through these awful side effects.
Getting back on the medicine to save my friend’s life wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
The side effects brought on hallucinations, non-stop talking, hyperness, and reduced my friend to being almost akin to a six-year-old child mentally and emotionally.
Today, we have a deal where we say real or not real when she’s going through a trip. I got that from the Hunger Games novel I had recently read.
She likes it and so do I. She’ll say, “are the spiders and bugs all over me real or not real Jasmyne?” And I’ll say, “not real.” Then she’ll say, “you loving me, Jasmyne, real or not real?” I say, “real.”
I often take her cellphone away from her at night because she calls people like her mother 13 times in the middle of the night unable to speak and forgetting that she even dialed the number.
One night she called her ex just to tell her that she knew that her ex was doing crack cocaine when she wasn’t home.
I think the drugs are a bit of a truth serum for her too, because even though we remained close friends all of these years, I don’t know everything about the relationships she was in and the people she was around. I know some of the relationships ended badly. A couple of times she asked to stay at my house to get away from things and I always welcomed her.
One day, I went to see my friend Paul and he said, it’s time for me to meet her.
I had put together a whole team of friends in support of my friend and she’s never even met them. I call them my angels and Team “Insert The Name of My Friend Here.”
So Paul and I went to El Pollo Loco and got my friend a chicken tostada salad, just the way she likes it—just chicken and lettuce in a tostada and headed to my house.
Now mind you when I am away, my neighbor looks after her for me. Another angel.
My friend will call me a million times on her cellphone. And like you’d treat an Alzheimer’s patient or someone with dementia, I am always glad to hear from her and I never let on that she just called me five minutes ago.
One of the calls I got from her while I was out with Paul was that a red truck pulled into the driveway with two men in it who got out and walked up the driveway making notes and scribbling on a pad.
I freaked out myself. Who is that? The repo man, lol?
When we got to the house and were walking up the stairs she said who are you fighting with outside? I said no one and told her there was someone here to meet her.
She immediately got mad and defensive.
She said that I tell everyone she has HIV and didn’t want to meet anyone.
But Paul, who has dealt with this more than I have, came into my bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed and said hi, I’m Paul and I have the same disease you have.
After that, I left the room and they started talking.
About an hour later, I would have sworn they were brother and sister and she was smiling from ear to ear.
Paul explained to her and me about the hallucinations. That’s how we came up with real and not real.
He also explained to me all of the other side effects which explained her erratic behavior.
Even as I type this she’s called me three times and once to say to pick her 911 as in right now. When I called her back to see if everything was okay, nothing was wrong and no I didn’t need to pick her up.
It’s the medicine. I know that now.
From what I’ve researched on the Internet and found out by talking to people actually on the medicine, it’s rough and it’s hard. Going through it alone often breaks people and that’s why my friend opted to just stop taking them.
She stays up all night taking to herself or whomever she thinks is in the room with her.
I try not to eavesdrop because I don’t think it’s right, but I do sometimes just to make sure she’s ok.
She confided in Paul that bits and pieces of her memory are coming back and that she remembers how she found out. She remembers that it wasn’t her cousin she went to the plasma bank with, it was her ex girlfriend. And that when she found out, she ran out of the office and told her girlfriend and the woman left her. Left her right then and there.
How awful is that?
I know deep down in my heart that a lot of the inner turmoil my friend is going through while on this medicine is fueled by shame, embarrassment, her being dissed by her girlfriend, fear of her family, especially her mother. There’s an overwhelming sense of rejection that she has. That her family is going to tell her to leave and never come back.
It happens. I’ve seen it happen.
My friend has watched and listened over the years as her own family has said derogatory things about her being a lesbian and gay people in general. It’s not that far fetched of an idea.
When I was 19 and she was 28, we snuck around and lied to her mother. I was her friend, her co-worker.
Looking back, I can laugh at it now, but it wasn’t cool. Her mom did find out and kicked her out of the house.
That’s when we started living together. Her family shunned her for quite sometime. They actually thought I made her gay. They didn’t know that my friend had girlfriends long before I came along.
Now I watch as her cousin, my Godson, is coming into his own sexuality at 15.
Something I saw coming a long time ago and was only confirmed when he spent the night at my house last year and I woke up to find that he’d watched everything gay on Netflix he could find—including Noah’s Arc a project he watched me work on back in the day.
I remember calling my friend saying, it’s time to have the talk with him.
I watch as he struggles with an alcoholic uncle who calls him a sissy, a father who is not around, and a mother who struggles with the fact that her son is probably gay.
All of these same people are also related to my friend.
So like I said, it’s not a stretch of her imagination to think that they might trip on her.
And inside her brain, as she’s going through the ups and downs of this medication, it’s all coming out.
Her paranoia is amazing. Does the mailman know? Does my neighbor know? Does the person walking on the street know?
I can be in my office in the front part of the house working and she’ll call me on the phone from the bedroom—just to talk.
I know that she feels that because she’s a lesbian with HIV that she’s going to be judged. That she’s less than every other lesbian walking around.
I often think that she forgets that I am not the queen of morality my damn self.
I try to talk to her about it because I am very concerned about how she contracted HIV and who else might be at risk, including myself (another discussion, another time).
I really don’t care if she had sex with a man. I don’t care if she used drugs. I just want to know. But her denial is so deep I think she believes the lies and while she’s on this medicine, the best I can hope for is that it just comes out one day.
But I have side effects too.
I am not on the same medication but I can’t sleep. I am not eating as much. I have altogether given up working out and playing tennis for the most part.
I have bad nightmares too.
I am living a life of guilt.
Guilt because every time her mother calls me and asks me how her daughter is doing I lie. I hate the lying, it’s eating at my insides.
I know her mother loves her. Everyone I have consulted about this says I have to tell her mother. But how do you tell a mother something like this? I don’t know how she will react. I don’t know how I will react to how she reacts.
And then God works his/her magic yet again.
Her mother comes over to my house to visit and to see where her daughter is staying. I guess I would too in this situation.
They decide that my friend will go home and spend the weekend with her mother.
Now I know what to expect at night with my friend, but her mother doesn’t. It’s going to really scare her.
I remember thinking to myself—uh Jasmyne you better warn this woman.
And honestly, I did try but I never found the courage and I as waved goodbye from the sidewalk, I said oh no this is not going to be good. Either she’s going to tell on herself about her status thanks to the medicine or her mom is going to trip out once she sees how she’s acting.
The next morning I called to check on them both. It was a long night just as I suspected.
That day, I did my errands for my Grandma and then I visited my close friend Venus to have a final conversation about it. Venus is someone I trust with my life. Someone who I had kind of abandoned when all of this stuff went down. So by me opening up to her she understood I think why I was MIA. As a mother, she too was agreed that I had to tell her mother.
So I set out to have the hardest conversation of my life. This was going to be harder than when I told my friend I knew about her being HIV positive.
I called Paul and asked him to meet me at the beauty salon.
I had arranged for the wonderful women at the Spice Salon to hook my friend’s hair up for a couple of hours, which they gladly agreed to do.
My friend was down about her physical appearance and it was breaking my heart every time she said that she was ugly or that people starred at her.
It broke my heart.
I took my friend to the hair salon and lied about having to get a tire for my car. I met Paul out front and we headed over to my friend’s mother’s house.
We took the streets most of the way, the one that I am thankful for L.A.’s traffic.
I needed time to get my words together.
When we get there, without thinking about it, I jump out of the car and ring the bell.
If I stop and think about what I am about to do, I am not going to do it.
Her mother opens the door and sees me and then sees Paul. Paul introduces himself and I explain that her daughter is fine and is getting her hair done and that I really needed to talk to her alone without her daughter around.
She says come in and we do, and we close the door and sit down on the couch.
And this is where I begin to say the words I have dreaded having to say ever since I found out about my friend’s health.
Part Six: Coming Clean
I did it. I don’t know how I did it, but I did. I sat down next to my friend’s mother and I told that I was not 19 and that I was 34 and I didn’t like lying to her about her daughter.
I told her that on the way to dropping my friend off at the salon she was mad and upset because her mother told her that she knows more than she thinks she knows and for her to shut her god damn mouth and not touch anything, especially her 2-month old nephew.
That was the medicine talking.
Hallucinations are no joke. They had my friend sitting on the porch crying thinking her mother knew and didn’t want her near her.
This guilt had to end. My friend can’t get well with this load on her that’s she carrying.
Sobbing and shaking, I told my friend’s mother that I only lied because she asked me to but that I can’t keep doing it any more and then I told her the whole story about how I found the medicine and that it was for HIV.
She said I was lying.
I said it was true.
She cried and I cried.
She cried for her baby. I cried for her and her baby.
She told me how much she loved her daughter, her only child, and that nothing would change that.
I cried, but really they were tears of happiness.
Paul shared his story about being HIV positive and being healthy.
My friend’s mother said that Magic Johnson was just fine.
I told her that her daughter would get better too but that she needed to eat, rest, and take her medicine. Also, she needed to be loved and needed to know her mother loved her. I told her that we can do this together. That she was not alone. She was grateful for that.
Then she said to me that she was grateful her daughter had me for friend.
I almost lost it. She doesn’t know the half of it. I would do anything for her daughter and will always be there for her.
Emotional doesn’t even describe what we went through that afternoon. I am still reeling from it and that’s why today, I am releasing it all by writing about it.
But what to do about my friend?
Her mother kept asking me, “how do I tell her I know?”
I told her how I did it and suggested that she do the same. I told that if she needed me to be there I would, but that really, it’s a conversation for the two of them.
When I left her mother’s house, I felt alive for the first time in along time. I could breath again. I hugged Paul. I thanked him for being there for all of us, especially my friend.
Deep down inside I knew that I had betrayed my friend’s wishes but this was in her best interest.
We go back to the salon, and I make up some excuse about the tire being too much money. She’s on the medicine, she doesn’t think much about it anyway.
She’s in love with her hair. She feels pretty again. She’s happy and smiling. She can’t stay out of the mirror. I am happy for her.
I take her home and walk her inside and tell her and her mother that I am a phone call away if they need anything. They are going to church together the next day and so I have the evening to myself.
I go home and collapse on the couch and fall asleep.
I wake up and see that no one has called me. Not sure if that’s good or bad. I don’t call either. I go back to sleep.
It’s Sunday morning and still no phone call.
Then my friend texts me “good morning.”
Her eyes have been damaged by the disease and so I know what she means to text even if it doesn’t read properly.
I say, good morning and how are you?
Then she calls me and she says thank you Jasmyne and tell Paul I said thank you.
Her mother tells me they talked they cried and that they are okay today and are getting ready for church.
I cry I am so happy.
I am happy for my friend and for her mother.
We’re not out of the woods yet, by no means, but we’re going to get there together.
I think my friend is going to stay with me for now and perhaps in the future she’ll go home to her mother’s permanently.
We’re in this together, all of us.
So now I need to stop crying and get dressed for the day.
My landlord is coming over to probably chew me out about the rent being late, but for some reason I am not as frantic about that as I might have been before all of this happened. It is what it is. I am doing the best I can with what I have got and I’ve got someone who needs me right now.
After I talk to my landlord I am going to pick up my friend because tomorrow is Monday and we’ve got a schedule to keep in terms of getting her well.
Her plan is about eating and taking her medicine, mine is to finish up a couple of projects and continue to look for a job.
We’re both going to be okay, I can feel it.
We are going to take it one day at time.
In closing, I want to say thank you to all of the people who I have talked to about this and who have helped me out in this situation. For those who didn’t know and wondered why I was tripping, didn’t show up to something, didn’t answer my phone, etc. etc., put yourself in my shoes for a minute and ask yourself how you’d react.
To my angels: Paul, Gregory, Alan-Michael, Nana, Isidra, Mike, Wendell, Cassie, Rochelle, Vallerie, Paul, LaWanda, Glenford, Damian, my cousin Vivian, my Grandma, my sisters, and everyone else who I might be omitting, you really helped me and my friend out and thank you.
For me, this conversation isn’t over, but just getting started. I have a lot more to say about the stigma, shame, and the state of this disease in the Black community, and I am going to say. While men are affected by HIV/AIDS, women, in particular lesbian and bisexual women, have become the forgotten victims. It’s clear to me that I need to re-shift my focus and my priorities back to us and HIV/AIDS and that’s exactly what I intend to do.
There is no reason why in 2012 any of us should be dying from this disease. The barriers that prevent us from seeking help must be addressed honestly and right now so that there is never another situation like what I walked into with my friend.
Chosen as one of Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, Jasmyne A. Cannick is a political communications strategist after having worked in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Legislature. She is also a radio and television political and race analyst and freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter@jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.