Choices - "I Live with AIDS Everyday"
By Gerri Briggs, 29, Houston

I GREW UP in a small rural town near Houston. When I graduated from high school in 1984, the word AIDS didn't exist.

I had had sex - I started when I was 16. 1 rarely used protection unless it was provided by the males. My main worry was getting pregnant. I wasn't worried about AIDS. Only gays were getting it and I wasn't gay. I was not an IV drug user or a prostitute. I was a good kid. I was in band, the Spanish Club, and the National Honor Society.

Didn't Seem Real

When I was 17, 1 met Jim. We dating monogamously for 4 1/2 years and were married in 1988. A year after we got married our baby son, Jason, was born. For the first three months of his life there were no indications that anything was wrong.

Then one day, Jason caught a cold. Jason's cold developed into PCP, the kind of pneumonia that AIDS patients get. The doctors told us Jason had tested positive for HIV. They said he probably wouldn't live to be 6 months old. My husband and I were tested. Two weeks later we got the test results and both of us were HIV positive. It didn't seem real.

For the next few years, Jason was off and on at the hospital, always sick. He couldn't sit up, walk, or talk. HIV stunted his growth. He was on as many, as 20 different medicines.

So Much Loss

On December 6,1991, we were told he only had 48 hours to live. He was in so much pain. Almost mercifully, on the morning of December 8, 1991, he died in my arms. He was 2 years and 4 months old.

Me and Jim separated about a year after due to all this stress. But I was still there to support him and visit, him when he got sick. He passed away last November. Losing him has been really hard for me even though we were separated. Only he knows what we went through together.

This past year, I found out that my only brother, who was 29, had an AIDS-related illness. He said he also got it through unprotected sex. We watched him waste away. He passed away too.

It hurts to see someone you love so much suffer. A lot of times I just want to bury those memories, forget that they ever happened.

It's hard going on and yet I have to. I live with AIDS everyday. Now it's 12 years living healthy and being sick occasionally. I take care of myself - get a lot of rest, eat, and see my doctor. I take a lot of medicine. It's costly.

Being Remembered

For three years, I've been a part-time educator with the AIDS Foundation in Houston. My job responsibilities include going out into the community and educating the public, especially teens. We talk about testing issues, what behaviors put them at risk. We empower them with skills - like how to say no.

What really gets them is coming face to face with a person who is living with the illness. It's not made up. It's not just a gay disease. Real people get it, young people get it. There is no place on the earth safe from AIDS. I hope I can be remembered for something. Before I thought that the only tangible evidence that my family existed was a tombstone that sits outside of town. But there are videos and my journals - all reminders that we were here. My family served a purpose and maybe some day there will be a cure for AIDS.

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