I am from El Salvador. I came here in 2003 to be reunited with my mother. When I arrived she gave me one hug and one kiss. That was it. I expected more after such a long time. I was 18 and I hadn’t seen her in 13 years.
My dream was to go to school, but I never got the chance because I needed to make money. I got a job in construction. For six years I worked long days, with no opportunity for anything else.
When I was 24, I felt a curiosity and started a relationship with a man, someone who was not out about being gay. (It’s complicated.) We broke up. I got depressed and was getting drunk every day. And then, suddenly, in my mind I said, “OK, I have to start again. I want a new life.” So I turned to another guy who was supposed to be a friend. We didn’t use condoms. That turned out to be a bad decision.
One month later I got really really sick with all the symptoms of HIV, and realized I needed to get tested. The person who tested me didn’t counsel me at all. He just said, “You know you’re positive, right?” I cried for three days.
My mother doesn’t know about any of this. I’m scared about her reaction. I still have a lot of problems with her.
The guy I slept with, when I told him I tested positive, he just said, “We all have to die some day.” I said, “OK. Thank you so much.”
I know it doesn’t make sense, but since this all happened, I feel free. I have a lot of friends who have helped me. I feel so strong now.
I had always loved to draw, from the time I was seven years old. Now I paint. At La Clinica del Pueblo, where I volunteer, I painted a mural of condoms and funny cartoon characters, with a positive message. I’m taking photographs too, of my new job delivering a local newspaper, and of myself as an angel. I’m happy. I see light in my life now. I take pictures of lights, like the sun. And I feel it’s my light. I feel I am alive. I don’t know why but I feel that. I can express myself, how I am.