My brother and I had a normal childhood in Orlando. Our father was sick a lot but we thought, and were told, that it was because he was a hemophiliac. When I was twelve my father became very ill and was hospitalized, which didn't seem that out of the ordinary. I was in the car on the way to visit him when my mother told me he had HIV/AIDS. It was like puzzle pieces fell together to form a brick wall right in front of that car. Everything became a little clearer: the aggressive panic to get me out of the pool when my father got a bloody nose, the trips down to Miami to see a special doctor, the trips to Washington to protest. He had been infected my whole life. About the time I was born, he found out. A transfusion he was receiving to help control bleeding, something the hemophilia doesn't allow his body to do, was infected with HIV and had not been screened. My mother said they didn't think my father had long to live. About two weeks after I found out, he died. It was my first exposure to the harsh reality of the AIDS stigma. I had been lied to, to protect me from people who make assumptions and act on fear and ignorance. Thankfully my family and friends were there for me. I miss him. My mother put both of us through college. We both consistently made honor role. I wrote a paper in college on the AIDS stigma for a class on prejudice and gave an oration in a speech class on growing up not knowing my father had AIDS. It was a very unfortunate thing. I think about it every now and then, like when the people at work make an AIDS joke, or I see articles about victims of AIDS. I don't really tell people about it unless they ask. I'm not ashamed or scared, but I think people still don't understand that anyone can get it for any number of reasons. That's why World AIDS Day is a great way to educate the population. That's how AIDS has affected me.
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