(Charlottesville, VA) Four years ago in a rural part of Pennsylvania, you could see just one of a million faces of HIV. This face of a 25 year old stuck out as it proclaimed \'My name is Tom…25 years old…HIV-positive…and in your neighborhood. Just like HIV. Have you been tested lately”. This face, was mine. I placed my face on a billboard in my community near Lock Haven, PA. My face acted as a realization to many that HIV was, indeed in their community. It showed how a healthy, young looking man was not only affected, but now infected by a virus that no one talked about in his local community.

Five years ago a phone call changed my life. It not only changed my life but it changed the life of so many around me. Five years ago, around 4:30 in the afternoon, I received a wakeup call, a call which dramatically would turn my life upside down. I would reflect on the actions of one night from this point till the day I die. This day, I would turn to my partner to tell him that I thought the doctor was about to tell me I was HIV positive. This day – five years ago, I would face nearly a stranger of a doctor – scared and shaking – for him to tell me that I was HIV positive. This day – five year ago, became the beginning of a new life – a life in which I would find a new reason to dedicate my time and energy to – and to this day, today, the last five years – I have done just that – dedicated to humanizing HIV through my first hand accounts of living with HIV.

As I write this (at around midnight) I think back about how I haven’t yet gotten that call five years ago. The test had already been taken but I have yet to hear the request to come to the office for something which my doctor told me was important. I think about how happy life was at this point. I was dating someone I really cared about – I had a full-time salaried job, I had just got accepted at Penn State and had just started taking classes again. Things couldn’t have been better.

One moment of passion, of intimacy, of irresponsibility would bring this all to an end. The end seemed so close to me, over time – reality hit me – my partner left the relationship, I lost my job – I stopped going to class – the enviable was that I would fail, that I would give up. I can’t say that I didn’t ever think about giving up – wondering what the future would bring – what my family was going to do and say – All I can say is that I am happy and proud of the way I’ve dealt with finding out. Five years later I can say that one day that followed – World AIDS Day – Dec 1, 2003 offered me an outlet to talk – to share the feelings and experiences of what was the longest two months in my life. I opened up at a World AIDS Program for the first time – there was no letting anything stay in.

Today I sit here and think about all the people I have spoken to – how I hope I have tried to change behaviors. I think about a journal. Last year for Christmas I gave a journal to my Mom, Dad and my sister. I told them that I wanted them to write moments of time we share together and I wanted them to write about them in their journal. I told them I too would write in my journal – writing directly to them should anything happen to me they would have the greatest gift from me, the memories they wrote in their journal and the memories and thoughts I would share with them.

I flipped through my journal and I am happy to reflect on some of the things I have written It feels good to know that five years ago I never gave up – It feels good to read the good times I have had since then and I look at the position I am in today. I once again have a full time job I love, I speak to my peers about living with HIV, I am in a relationship of nearly a year, I have a new car – and most of all I am able to spend time with my family.

Five years have come and gone so quickly. I am healthy. I am happy. I feel good. I often think about the line from RENT – “how do you feel today?” well today, five years after I found out I am HIV positive, I feel great! That’s why I choose not to "choose fear" my fear of the unknown future dives me to do more today – to go to work, enjoy what I do and most important make a difference in other peoples lives.

I wish I had not been infected, I wish I had made better choices but HIV is part of me now – its does\'t rule my life but it makes up a big part of my life and now has affected tens of thousands of others who i share my story with.

We who live with HIV/AIDS must not choose fear but must choose to conquer fear and live a great life. I thank so many people who over the last five years have been there for me – who have listened to me – who have cried with me and who – in the future I know will always be there for me.


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