This is one of the most frightening days of your life. As usual, when filled with anxiety you have created a sense of security by dressing up. On the day of your diagnosis you are wearing a royal blue A line vintage skirt with matching blue suede jacket, belted at the waist, adorned by a glamorous fur collar. Long hair, middle parting, burgundy knee high leather boots, pounding the hospital corridor. Like a character out of some 70’s B movie. You are in the Policlinico Umberto I in Rome. Going from room to room. It seems like no one wants to give you the result of the HIV test you took 3 weeks ago, while in hospital with malaria.
Dear Silvia, it is only me 20 years later wanting to tell you: you will be 50 one day. You will be alive in 20 years. You will be loved. You will still be wearing vintage clothes!
I see you crying, terrified and lonely in a small hospital room. Doctors and nurses around you seem unprepared, and awkward around your unstoppable tears. It is not just the fear of illness and death that make you cry so desperately. The HIV diagnosis has just confirmed to you what you have felt about yourself for a long time: that you are damaged beyond repair, faulty, unworthy, tainted.
Dear Silvia, 20 years to this day life will still not be particularly easy. The world will be confusing, and just as full of sorrow, bad politicians, and injustice. But nevertheless, on this day, you will be very different. You will be really strong, because you will not take your life for granted. You will wake up in a dark and damp February morning, you will feed the cats, you will practice yoga, like every day, and you will feel pure delight in moving and breathing. Most days you will be surprised how healthy and strong you are. You will appreciate the great fortune of having a decent job, a home, a garden. You will feel incredibly grateful for people around you who care for you, and the people you care for. Grateful for the one pill a day that keeps you well, and that you get free on the NHS; you may have to fight for it soon, who knows. But nevertheless you will know that there is something within you that cannot be broken, or damaged. It is soft and real, and allows you to continue loving.
If only I could have told you so, 20 years ago.