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It was 5 years.

As I tell you this story, please be patient with me for what I am going to tell you comes from a place of uncharted territory, a place where I did not speak my full truth on what was on my mind. A place that I have not visited in a few years. Thank you.

It was the summer of 2013, a year that blinded me. Lost in the sense where my life became lifeless. My mind was a magic 8 ball that no matter how many times I tried to shake the idea, it kept giving me the same answer. I would never forget the thoughts that ran through my veins... Dirty… Worthless… Unlovable... Untouchable… Infected… Suicide ran alongside those words like it raced to see who got to veins first... It was the year I was diagnosed with HIV.

I was diagnosed with type 1 HIV. Which simply means Sexually Transmitted Infection. I was 20 years old. Clueless to the idea what everything even meant, simply just sitting in the testing room with a paper the size of a gift card and a business card with doctors information. Still fairly new to the state of Florida. I remember looking down at the paper and just looking at the word…...HIV. Everything around me was dull until I heard the voice of the tester asking me if I was okay and if I had any questions. I looked up slowly and knotted my head “No”. Walked to the car with tears down my face, screamed as soon as I touched the car… my life is no longer a life… I called my parents. They were the very first to know about my diagnosis. Automatically, they told me everything will be okay. All I needed to do was breathe. So I inhaled but was too afraid exhale….

About a few months after my diagnosis, I became undetectable but in 2014 I made the decision to move back to Philadelphia. It was best for my health and my well being. I lived with my mom because my father moved to Arizona right after. Being home was a sense of relief, I was around those who, I knew would support me and take care of me. I had friends and family back in Florida but they just didn’t understand what it was like living with someone who is HIV positive. My first year was the roughest year, I was juggling a new life that I was denying. I was denying a life that I didn’t want at the same time popping a pill at 10 pm every night because I knew in the back of my head, I heard my mother’s voice. She told me …”You can either let it consume you or you can get up and do something about it..” and that pill was MY doing something about it.

Another pill. Another year. I continue to move forward with life as if it was a never-ending party but continue to have my mother’s voice play on repeat like it was my favorite song. Life was easing up on me, I finally got a hold on things and thought life was finally going to be in my favor. I worked full time at Chipotle, I took care of home the best way I could and I was managing the relationship I have with HIV. We had a love/hate relationship with each other. Some days we would get along great and other days I would yell at them, and they would yell back but in reality, I was just yelling at myself in the mirror looking at the tears that rolled down my face because deep down inside I was still afraid of them… Summer of 2015, I met a man who knew exactly what I was going through and understood what it felt like to be consumed by the pain of what felt like a heartbreak. In short amount of time, he showed me life through a different lens. And named my story Jorian’s Heart. From that point on I knew what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to be that sound soul that gave a voice to everyone who walked the same dull path. I wanted to be the sound body for the tears that created an ocean. I wanted to be that sound mind that gave everyone the hope and dreams that being HIV positive is no longer a coffin to lay in…..

As the year continued into 2016, HIV and I came to a compromise about our life together. We knew that we were going to be in this forever and we grew to be okay with it. We promised that as long as I take my medication every day, they would allow me to smile. No longer haunted by the idea of rejection. I started to find ways to love myself and forgive myself. As the winter months were turning into spring I became NYHAAD’s new ambassador! I was given the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C.; I was nervous as hell because I never traveled to another city alone. Given the moments to speak out about what I believed in, knowing that sex education needed to change and learn that HIV was not like what it was made out to be back in the 80’s and early 90’s. I was standing up for what needed to change and in return, Cory Booker documented me into one of his articles. It was the starting highlight of my year! Soon after I called my mom and told her everything that happened and how this man I never met until that day documented my words... The sound of her voice was the affirmation that I needed. Later on, in the year I was given another opportunity to travel back to D.C., to be included into the Advocates for Youth familia and met individuals that created numerous stars that shed light into my world that I was creating. The best part of 2016 was on December 1st. I received the Dale L. Grundy award for youth leadership. I was a representation of him, in creating a path for individuals like myself.

I walked in 2017 like I was on cloud 9 but that is all I could say for 2017. It was the year were things I thought I let go came back. I lost friends, family, and loved ones. Depression and anxiety knocked at my door in the middle of every night telling me to wake up because there were things I needed to think about. Tired and lost of focus I had these moments where I sat with my boss for 1 on 1 session and she would ask me how I was doing personally and I would break down like she was a therapist. My mouth became word vomit. It was like the emotional bottle that we keep filling up inside us to prevent people knowing how we really feel had finally tipped over and everything just spilled all over the place, the crazy thing was, I was okay with the mess being all over the place. The year only became more vile, the world became cold and it got colder on my birthday. I turned 25. The year where I’m not too young but definitely not old(er) yet… I didn’t receive a happy birthday from my father. I remember like it was yesterday. I had the day off. And I waited for him to call until I called and when he answered he dismiss my birthday like it didn’t exist. He told me it is not in his religion to celebrate birthdays. Inside I was lost because I knew what that meant for me. To say the lease... What was once my biggest supporter is no longer my supporter. I will love him unconditionally but I learned that he is simply a man who I must love from afar. The crazy thing is that my diagnosis was what brought us closer for a little bit and it might sound extreme but I fought tooth and nail for my father to love and accept me even when he looked me in my face and told me everything will be okay.

I have been broken and I have also fixed myself. As I continue to grow into the man I know I am supposed to be. I am reminded by those who love me and have supported me since day one. I am finally happy and in a place of greatness. I am who I am because of the last five years and I will be who I am in the next 10, 15, and 20 years. I will have days where I want to sit down and it will be not because I want to give up but because I am tired fighting alone. I will walk these streets with a red umbrella and my fist held high!

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