This is my story and how things came to be…

 

c294082ceb89b0c8809b2b655b82ed7c_3It was January 2008 when I went to boot camp at Parris Island, SC. to join the United States Marine Corps. I went in knowing I was gay and was proud of it. On February 23, 2010 I was diagnosed with HIV. It was a life changer for me. I didn’t know where to turn or who to go to. This is the story of what happened to when being a gay Marine, I was diagnosed with HIV.

I was on pre-deployment leave for a total of two days when my LtCol called me personally on my cell phone. To say the least I was a bit surprised because here I am an LCpl (E-3) getting a phone call from my Co. (commanding officer). I was told he was flying me back to San Diego the very next day due to “legal” matters. I kind of had an idea at the time but I was not willing to admit it to myself. I never thought that something like this could happen to me. I was scared that this was going to be the last time I saw my family before my first deployment and I only had the chance to spend two days with them.

I arrived in San Diego on February 23, 2010 and was picked up by the DNCO (duty noncommissioned officer) at the airport. I was taken directly to the Squadron where I meet with my Co. I was then informed that during my pre-deployment blood screening my results came back to show that I had contracted HIV. I was mortified and no words can explain what I was feeling at the time. I wanted to ask God what I had done to deserve this and “why me”. I had always told myself since I realized I was gay at the age of 14 that nothing like this would ever happen to me and if it did then I would end it. At the time I was so confused and hurt that I really wanted to end it, I wanted to take my life and put this all in God’s hands.

To make matters worse when I was told I was taken directly to the hospital to see an Infectious Disease Doctor even before the news had time to sink in. That was all fine and well once I talked to my new doctor, but then I was taken back to base. I was left in my barracks room for a solid week alone, no one to talk to, no support group, and not knowing where to turn. I was alone in life for the first time I could ever remember. I was scared to tell my parents what was really going on because I didn’t want them to hate me or more yet be scared of me. I shut myself off from the world. I started to drink every night to try and numb the pain that I was feeling inside. For a week I was my only company, just me and my thoughts to help pass the time. I had nowhere to turn and nowhere to run. On top of it all I was beating myself up because here I was a gay man at the age of 24 trying to live in a straight man’s world and act like I was no different than anyone else who joined the Marine Corps. I have learned now I am not different than anyone else, I am serving my country and doing what I feel like I need to do to better my life and that of my fellow countrymen.

After my first week I started what they call Initial Evaluations at NMCSD (Naval Medical Center San Diego). It was a two week process where I went through classes with other Marines and Sailors who are in the same situation as I am. These classes were the world to me because they showed me that I am not alone. I was not the only gay man in the military to get HIV. I learned so much through these classes and made a lot of good friends who are even there for me today. I learned everything from living with HIV to the different medication. I learned that this was not the end and that I could live a full life with having HIV. So here I am a gay Marine with HIV.
After my two weeks were up at the hospital I was put on two weeks of convalescence leave to give me time to adjust to my new diagnosis. I spent those two weeks with a guy in the Navy I had met during my second week of classes. He was there for his yearly evaluations. He and I started dating and sooner than expected I was living with him. Things moved way too fast and I think back and I believe part of it had to do with I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I was still scared. After my two weeks of leave were up I did not return to work. I told the hospital that I had and I told work I was still at the hospital. I was scared. I didn’t want to go back. I was scared people were going to find out and judge me. It is hard enough being gay in the Marines but having HIV made it even harder to keep my personal life my own. I went UA (unauthorized absence) for two months. It is not something I am proud of but I just couldn’t bring myself to face the people that I had worked with. Like I said I was scared.

I finally went back to work and confessed what I had done. It was another hard time for me and one I am not proud of. I was a total mess and didn’t know again what to do. That day that I went back to work and told them of what I had done they took me back NMCSD and I was placed in the psychiatric ward. In all I was in the ward for 3 months because I was scared to face the world and scared to face the fact that I was gay and had HIV.

I finally got discharged when I was ready and have been picking my life up ever since. I have done things I am not proud of but I truly believe that I am a better person due to the things I have learned. I was medically retired from the Marines in 2011 and have moved back to North Carolina, where I am currently enrolled in school and perusing a degree in Information Security Technology.

I started writing a blog about my situation soon after I was diagnosed and have been doing updates on it regularly in hopes to not only tell my story but to show others they are not alone.

COMMENTS

  • YOUR story is completely touching and it is a great honor to have had the opportunity to have read it and those of others who chose to share their stories due to your selflessness and openness. As your title reads: Be Strong, Fight on and Semper Fi!

  • Mario Madrid

    My story started November 1985,I had just turned 18 (literally two days after my birthday ). I had begun the process of entering the Marines. I had gone to MEPS in southern California and did all my paperwork and medical stuff. Than around Xmas week of that same year, I get a call from my recruiter saying that I needed to come back home from my vacation and report to him so we could go back to MEPS. I met him and we took a three and a half hour drive down south. He never said a word to me the whole way down. On arrival at MEPS, I was put in a room and told to wait for the doctor. Two hours go by when the doctor finally came and blurted out that my blood test came back positive for HIV and that my application had been terminated. He left and hour and a half later my recruiter came into the room and said it was time to head back home. Another three and a half hour drive in total silence. He dropped me off in front of my parents house.
    I went into my parents house not knowing what to say or do. It took me three weeks of self destructive behavior before I could gain the courage to tell my folks of my status and my sexuality. They did not take either news well. I than spiraled out of control into drugs and alcohol for four years, never tending to my HIV.
    I had dreamed for so long to be a Marine. Forged both my mind and body to make myself an irresistible candidate. My recruiter treated me as if he had found gold in recruiting me. We talked almost everyday and when it time for me to go to MEPS, he upgraded my plane ticket to first class. But, when the diagnosis came through, he couldn’t wait to offload me. The military never even offered information as far as civilian treatment or care. I was an 18 year old who’s entire world had been completely destroyed and been made to feel like grossly damaged goods with no hope of any future.
    It’s been 30 years since my diagnosis. I think I could have been a great soldier. I’m telling my story just because I needed to so that others will know how lucky they truly had/have and that I am so jealous of others for being able to serve their country. I have meant no disrespect. I just wanted to tell my story to others that might understand the same way that I felt about serving my country and than being forced to live a life with that deep seeded desire unfulfilled.
    My love and respect to you all. My would be brothers.

    • Mario, thank you so much for telling your story. I set last night at work reading it over and over again and it deeply touched me beyond words. While a part of me understands it, there is a larger part of my heart that aches for you. I do hope that you finally found some support. I am sorry if this is short but I really do not have the ability to put into words how your story made me feel.

      • MARIO MADRID

        Brian,
        Thank you for your kind words. I denied my status and refused to take any meds. I did work my ass off and devoted my down time to fundraising for AIDS and homeless charities . I finally started taking meds around 2001 after my partner talked me into it. I have also recently as of 2010 been raising funds for our local Veterans organizations;especially those that deal with homeless and/or injured. It has really allowed me to come full circle.

  • Mark Benton

    The same was done 30 years ago, except we were discharged and told we probably had only 2 years to live. Thank your blessings you still have a military career unlike us. As a gay man of this era, you should have educated yourself concerning risk. We didn’t have the drugs and info that gay men have today. I stayed in a ward for 9 months with weekly blood samples taken. I WS brought from overseas in a contained environment. Thank your blessings. Still so much more could be done for soldiers in your situation. My deepest sympathies for your pain brother.

  • Daniel P.

    Semper Fi Brother!!! You are not alone in this fight. There are many like us afraid to speak out because of stigma. I fight it everyday by the job I do as an HIV Prevention and testing counselor. I applaud you in accepting HIV as a part of you and not as who you are!! We need to speak out and be the support that we receive while helping others. I would be honored to work with you in talking about bringing this issue to those in need and to those who stigmatize it!!

    Daniel P.
    CPL. USMC Veteran

  • Don

    I salute all of you. Being a vet myself 22 years in the military, active duty and reserved, retired in January 2005. Diagnosed in 2004 as being HIV+. I heard my news from a local clinic in the city I was living in at the time.
    I happen to go by the clinic to see my primary care physician because I had a prescription that needed a refill for allergies. I was asked to take a HIV blood test. It was one of those times there was an organized effort to test as many people as possible.
    About a week or so later I got a phone call asking me to stop by the clinic and see an individual I never heard of before. I questioned why and was told it can’t be discussed over the phone because the person had to be sure I was who I said I was. I did go by the clinic. I was told I was HIV+. I was numb, hurt, wanted to wake up from that nightmare, stunned. I had a short walk to my place from the clinic, about 7 blocks, there are traffic lights at each block. To this day I do not remember leaving the clinic. I was not drinking, I never did drugs. When I came to myself I was standing in my living room staring at the wall saying “Why me, God why me.” I cried until I had no more tears. Later, a week or so, I made plans to go to work one day (I was working for the Federal Gov) and leave work as I normally did, pack a small suitcase, take my credit cards, ATM card and cell phone. Get on a plane fly to some city live under an assumed name and when the savings (close to $70,000)I had was gone end it all. Anyway there was a great group of HIV+ people I was introduced to helped me to know I can be happy,I can be gay, and I deserve to be treated like anyone else. That was a process in itself. I did not kill myself, I did not runaway. I did see a therapist who happen to be gay, he was always willing to let me find my own way even when I was angry at the world. He helped me to realize being gay was not a crime and HIV was not a punishment.
    To those of you who are straight, gay or not into sex because you are HIV+ don’t shut people out who want to be there for you. I have made it my work now to help educate others about HIV / AIDS. I am a peer educator now we do educational classes to help others deal with stress, nutrition, safe sex, depression and other problems related to HIV/AIDS. Believe me it is not easy dealing with HIV / AIDS. Each of you are special, love yourselves, allow others to care about you, I personally know or several relationships one partner is negative the other is positive. I had to learn to give myself a chance. Was it easy? NO. Can it be done, ABSOLUTELY. Each of you have the right to live, to love, to be loved. I come in contact with a lot of ignorance concerning HIV here in NC. Not putting down NC, it is my home. I deal with the stigma by trying to tell those who will listen the facts.
    One last thing to my military family. I don’t care what branch of the military you are in or was in. Being HIV+ or being described as having AIDS does not define who you are. Hold your head up. You don’t have live with shame or guilt. Seek help, be it mental or medical. You are not alone, though it may feel that way.
    Marine, sound like you are on your the path to wellness and the path to healing, keep the mission in mind and soldier on. Stay focused on what you need to do for you. Accomplish your mission. You have my respect. You will be fine. DON

    • Don,
      Thank you so much for sharing your your story with us here. I think many of us can relate to it in different ways. I have often thought about just leaving, going to a new town where no one knew me or my status and starting over. I still think about it from time to time and who knows, I might actually do it one day. No, I am not saying I am going for the same reasons you wanted to, I just think it would be nice to have a fresh start.

      I agree that just because of an individuals status, military or not, we should not let it define who we are. We should all hold our heads up, and yes sometimes it is going to be hard to do so but we must keep fighting and pushing on.

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