My mom was born and raised in the Philippines. In the ‘60s, she left for the United States to advance her medical profession. She was successful, driven, hard-working and no tolerance for nonsense.
At the age of four, my mom sent me to the Philippines for several reasons. One was she recognized that due to her work and lack of family in the US, she could not care for me full-time. Also, my older sister, her child from a previous marriage, was already living in the Philippines. I went on to spend my entire childhood there before returning stateside.
When I was around ten years old, my mom remarried and this time it was a White Jewish man. They seemed happy from what she shared in her monthly letters. I spoke to him occasionally over the phone as well during one of my mom’s regular check-in calls.
We received a letter from my mom one month that said, “I caught him (her husband) in bed with a Black crack prostitute.” She was devastated but they didn’t separate or end their marriage even after catching him again several times.
In 1990, my mom wrote a letter that said she contracted the virus. No questions; it was clear how it happened. Her late diagnosis revealed the disease was in its advanced stage and she only had months left to live. She passed away on May 17, 1991. On that day, I made two personal promises: if I were to become blessed with a daughter, she will carry my mom’s name as her middle name and whenever I become sexually active, I would get tested annually.
I returned stateside immediately. It was not our plan; the plan was for me to return in time for college. I learned to cope and deal with the thought that she will never be around to go through my life experiences with me. My teen years went on without my mom. I’ve graduated, had my heart-broken more times than I can count; got married; given birth; divorced; and so much more – all without her in my life.
As promised, my daughter’s middle name is Zenaida; Zen for short. Also, every year, even while I was married, I get tested.
Losing my mom to HIV/AIDS, shaped my adulthood. I am very discriminating of who I date, not just for sexual health reasons. My mom’s experience showed me that while I can be as careful as I can as far as being pro-active about my sexual health, it is just as important for me to be fully aware of the character of the person I choose to share my life with. As a mom, I want to insure as much as I can that I will be there for my daughter and who ever else enters my life in the future.
I have played what-ifs in my mind a thousand times and none of it will ever change anything. One of the few changes I can make is to live my life in her honor… Live life by Zen.
Today on World AIDS Day, I urge you to get tested and know your status. Take control of your life not just for your self but for those who are presently in it and those who have yet to touch your life.