At the height of my pain killer addiction I was taking anything that had a CAUTION: THIS MEDICATION MAY LEAD TO DROWSINESS sticker and hoping for the best. Anything from my mom’s blood pressure medication to my younger brother’s flu meds would do – I just wanted to feel numb, or at the very least hazy.
I’d begun to go on ‘pill hunts’ around our house, where I’d collect as many pills as I could and Google their side effects to know what to take and what to discard. It was during one such occasion that I stumbled upon a strange canister tucked into the back of my mother’s wardrobe. The packaging gave no clue what it was for so I went to Google and as it turns out it had one use and one use only – getting one’s CD4 count up.
My mother definitely didn’t look like someone with HIV and neither did my father.
I sat on my bed, container in hand, Google before me and scrolled. There was no way this meant what I thought it did – absolutely none. My mother definitely didn’t look like someone with HIV and neither did my father. I wondered if he knew, if it was true and how she’d got it, assuming the pills were hers to begin with. The stress jolted me back to life and I decided I needed something else – something stronger – so I left the house to get wasted.
By the time I strolled back into our large yard, in our middle-class neighbourhood, the idea that my parents could possibly be suffering from an incurable disease had left my mind completely and like I’d intended to do, I simply forgot it ever happened.
A few weeks later I was sent reeling in shock when a routine check up revealed that I was pregnant. At 20 years old, I was in no position to take care of a child, hell, I couldn’t even take care of myself, and as I walked out of my gyno’s office I decided to think awhile before telling anyone or deciding what to do. I had decided that this would be my year to put more effort into my job and get ahead, not become a mother. It felt like a sick joke and, as I mulled it over that night after everyone went to bed, I started to chuckle.
Oh my god, I’m a statistic, I thought, whodda thunk it?
Here I was, having barely escaped teen pregnancy, with no degree, a job, sure, but no degree, and one or both of my parents were probably living with the HI virus. It was funny because I was certain my parents had worked hard to NOT have this happen. Growing up relatively poor, they probably worked like mules to not end up with the kind of life that’s usually depicted as a result of poverty somehow – the teen girl would have been pregnant because of some intergenerational transactional relationship and the parents HIV Positive as a result of the man cheating then passing it on to his poor, good wife.
It wasn’t something that was ‘supposed’ to happen to people living in a fairly large house in a nice neighbourhood who’d sent their kids to the best schools in the country and had the awards and certificates to prove it. It wasn’t an upper-middle-class story, and yet here we were.
I knew my parents well, about as well as I knew of my father’s various infidelities.
The realisation that this could happen to anyone stung me as harshly as did my ignorance for believing that we were somehow exempt from dealing with real life because my parents had somehow managed to make enough money to.
To be honest, we were barely scraping by and struggling to keep up appearances. I’d seen the truth about being a part of the so-called middle class – our parents took out loans to take us to school with the rich kids and subsequently went into debt while we blindly asked them for more money to assimilate into the social circle we thought we were a part of. They ended up broke and frustrated and with only a small percentage of them being able to still communicate by the time we’re teenagers, they turned to their various vices and coping mechanisms for comfort.
I knew my parents well, about as well as I knew of my father’s various infidelities. If I was to be honest with myself, he was probably the original carrier in my family because a man who’d been cheating on his wife for close to thirty years was unlikely to have used a condom every time he did. I’d hoped common sense would have appealed to my mother and she’d have stopped sleeping with him ages ago but how does one bring that up? The inevitable had happened and that was the case when it came to my pregnancy too. Somehow, I’d been careless and the gavels had just happened to strike at around the same time.
We weren’t bewitched (as my mother would later tell me my father said we were when they received his results) or anything of the sort, this was simply our chickens coming home to roost, and there was no one to blame but ourselves.
They weren’t going to die anytime soon because of the disease (it’s not 1996).
I couldn’t be mad at my father (for cheating and contracting the virus) or my mother (for staying and staying and staying and…) or myself (for not checking if he’d really put on the condom that night) because it was pointless. The choices had already been made and what we were beholding were the consequences.
It was humbling to realise that we were so human, and I not as wise as I thought. I knew nothing if I still thought I was exempt from any human experience based on whatever amount of privilege I had. Did it feel like a sucker punch to the gut to learn this lesson?
Absolutely, and at the time I was devastated, but once the shock wore off and I was able to think rationally and talk to both of them I calmed down. They weren’t going to die anytime soon because of the disease (it’s not 1996) and I wasn’t going to somehow be rendered incapable of doing anything professionally or academically because of the baby I was carrying. My initial fears were wiped away and almost two years later not a lot has changed except I run away from my mother AND my toddler now. (LOL)
Is it a happy ending? Well, it’s neither of those things. While the relationship between my parents is still sour – no, there was no forgiving or forgetting there – I’ve got my hands full trying to raise my child (yes, alone, obvs) and sufficed to say there was a lot of growth last year. It’s the beginning of a journey and I’ve no idea where it’ll take us and frankly, I don’t really care right now. I’m just trying to keep afloat. That’s good enough for now.