‘If you don’t leave him, I’ll end up burying you.’ I was like an addict. Then I saw a red positive sign on the doctor’s sheet.’: HIV+ woman escapes abuse, ‘Live out loud and free’

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic and sexual abuse that may be triggering to some.

“As I grew up on the beautiful island of St. Marteen/St. Martin in the neighborhood of Hameau du Pont, my family was close-knit, like most families on the island. One day, I was taking a bath on my grandmother’s back porch in a big basin, which I liked to do as a child. I remember a neighbor coming up behind the tub and holding my head under the water for a few seconds. He let go and I looked around but saw no one. He did this a few more times before revealing himself while laughing as if it was some type of joke. This was the beginning of a chain of violent events.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

I remember a family member had passed and my family was in mourning, dealing with the loss and grief. This same neighbor asked me to come by his house that day and acted inappropriate with me. His behaviors repeated over the years.

One day, at twelve years old, I was playing and he called out to me to come to his house. I finally told him I was NOT coming and if he didn’t leave me alone, I would go to my uncle’s and tell him what happened. This was the day the molestations stopped. Unfortunately, this led me to develop an infatuation with older men. At sixteen, I remember debating with my parents over whether it was time I could have a boyfriend, and it was a battle I was determined to win.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

My parents would never go for it at my age, and because they didn’t know what happened to me when I was younger, they didn’t understand why I was acting like this. Hell, I didn’t understand why I was the way I was, at least not until later on in my adulthood. The relationship with my mom back then was estranged, and I did not communicate to anyone about what happened to me at seven years old, nor how the predator almost drowned me. At seventeen, I finally took matters into my own hands and I moved out of my parent’s house so I could live with my boyfriend. The first couple of months were okay, until the day everything changed.

I met him when I was about 17 through a mutual friend. He was a tall, handsome, charming, and a very ‘well-versed with words’ kind of man. He was 10 years older than me, so I thought I was with a real man. I thought to myself, ‘Well, he can provide and protect me.’ Or so I thought…. When people started realizing we were getting close fast, I started hearing things like, ‘Why are you with that guy?’ and ‘You’re too good for him, you can do better than him.’ I would always ignore these comments. After all, I thought they were just jealous of us—jealous he was finally with someone who could be his equal, jealous because he was all mine. He was always very possessive, wanting to know my every move, calling my phone every minute. I liked it because it made me feel like I was wanted.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

The annual 14th of July festivities in Marigot took place on a beautiful summer day in July 2001. I had on a pink halter top and pink Capri pants. I felt like doing something different, so I glued some blond weave in my hair and I did my make up. My boyfriend wasn’t home yet, so I got dressed and started to leave. To my surprise, he was downstairs talking with some fellas, so I walked up to him and greeted them, trying to be polite. He leaned toward me and said, ‘You think you look good?’ I gave him a confused expression and then he asked, ‘Where you think you going looking like that?’ Before I could finish my answer, I felt my face burning and tasted the blood in my mouth from my busted lip.

This was the first time he hit me. I felt in my gut then I shouldn’t return after I left with my god sister, but I didn’t listen to my instincts. I went back to my apartment later on in the evening to find my stereo set, my trophies, and many other items lying broken on the pavement of the street below my apartment. I still ignored my gut and went upstairs. The door was unlocked; when I opened it, I found the glass table was shattered and the refrigerator was on the floor. I proceeded to the bedroom, where he was laying on the bed drunk and asleep. My clothes were out of the drawers, most of them ripped or had bleach on them, and my pictures were also ripped. I wanted to call my god sister and tell her what was going on but I didn’t—I went into the living room and l laid on the couch.

He woke up during the night and realized I was home. He asked me, ‘Who were you with? Where did you go? Why did you get back so late? Are you cheating on me with someone else?’ Then he started punching and dragging me on the floor by my weave. I just laid there, completely numb. I never even disclosed to anyone at the time what happened that night, but the bruises on my face and my left side of my body surely showed evidence of the attack.

The next day the landlord received a complaint about the commotion and he came over to the apartment. Of course, my boyfriend didn’t allow the landlord to see me. He spoke to them and promised to replace the broken glass from the table, as we lived in a furnished apartment and they provided everything except the bed we slept on.

We would fight if I got my nails done, my hair done, if I had on too much makeup, or if my outfit was too tight. We fought about my job and who I interacted with. He started showing up while I worked, coming in and sitting at my desk, and he wouldn’t leave until I got off at 5 p.m. He was mentally, emotionally and physically tearing me down. He would always reference one of his sisters, who at the time owned a beauty store, saying things like, ‘She would be very disappointed in me for being with a woman like YOU, you are too black for me.’ I was of a lower class compared to his family history, at least according to him. Those words would play a major role in my self-esteem. He would often compare me to other women or girls he was or used to be interested in by saying, ‘Why can’t you be like Angelica or Lisa, Jessica gifted me a Gillette gift set, and she’s younger than you, you didn’t even give me anything, you don’t give me meaningful gifts.’ Another layer of my self-esteem was fading away.

Finally, I stopped caring what he said to me, so I would ignore him when he would make those comments. I started telling him, ‘Why don’t you just leave me alone and go be with these wonderful women you love to praise over me so much?’ He was not happy to hear this. One afternoon, he gave me his working clothes to wash by hand in my bathtub because we had no washer or dryer. I would soak his clothes in the bathtub with powdered detergent before rubbing them clean on my hands and feet. I never said anything to my family or friends, because by then he had done a great job of isolating me to the point no one would come looking for me anymore, and I was okay with being left alone.

Whenever I left to stay at my cousin’s house, he would show up at my job to plead with me and ask for forgiveness. I loved him, and a part of me truly believed him when he said it wouldn’t happen again. I would leave my cousin’s safe haven and go back with him. After doing this a few times, I could no longer use her as an escape route because he would find me and come get me. He would cry while trying to convince me he wouldn’t do it again before I would finally give in and leave with him. Then he hit me again, and one time I left and went back to my mom’s house. He got wind of where I was and he showed up there to say, ‘If you don’t come back with me right now, I’m going to burn your mom’s house to the ground.’

I knew he wasn’t playing because he told me countless times no one loved me, I would never find anybody to love because I was very unattractive—but he loves me, I just have to stop making him angry. He said I had no morals or values except the ones he would teach me. I knew deep down I shouldn’t go with him, but I didn’t want my mom to lose her house because of me and this madman, so I packed my stuff up for the last time and moved back in. Things were actually pretty normal for a while, until one Sunday in April of 2002.

We had just moved from our old apartment into a newer one, and again I was washing his clothes, this time at his friend’s house who was now our neighbor. After going back and forth from my place to get clothes then the friends place to wash, then back to my place to hang out the clothes to dry, we had an argument. He noticed I was texting an old friend. I told him we were in communication because his brother worked for my office and I couldn’t get in touch with him for a job he had that weekend, so I called my friend to relay the message. He didn’t believe me. I was standing in my kitchen while he was over the counter. He took the bottle of Clorox and he threw it on me. I had enough, and I was tired of his unkept promises over his abuse.

I vowed if I got out of the relationship alive, I would go as far, far, far away from here and him as I possibly could. I went to work the next week and God and I were in alignment; I was planning to either go to England with some classmates or come to NYC with my paternal family. It just so happened my uncle was in town and he was leaving on April 15th, 2002. He went by my mom’s looking for me, and she told him I moved out and I was living with a man that beats on me but I wouldn’t leave him. My mom and I didn’t have any communication at the time, so she didn’t know I wanted to leave my abuser. The last fight we had, someone told her about it, so she did call me and tell me, ‘If you don’t leave him, I’m going to bury you.’ I knew my mom was right, so when my uncle showed up at my job and asked me what my plan was, I told him I wanted to leave. He responded, ‘You’re coming to America with me and your aunts.’

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

That Friday, I resigned from my job, my god sister and her friend took me to get my clothes from my place, I turned in my keys to my apartment, and I went to my uncle’s house for the weekend. He was calling my phone, and I never answered his calls, so my mom took the cellphone. She brought me to the airport on Monday morning, April 15, 2002, and I left my abuser for good—or so I thought. I had left the physical abuse, but the mental and emotional damage was still there. I felt like an addict going through a cold-turkey withdrawal and I couldn’t understand what was happening.

I eventually went to school in Massachusetts and got my medical assistant diploma before coming back to Brooklyn. Even though I didn’t feel sick, I asked my aunt if she could take me to a clinic because I had been in the US for a year now and had yet to see a doctor for an annual physical. My aunt took me to the Forte Green CDC free clinic in downtown Brooklyn. On the sign-in assessment sheet, it asked if I would like to be tested for HIV and I checked the ‘yes’ box. My number got called and they took my blood and did a pap, then gave me a paper and told me they would be in touch with me when my results came in. I took the paper and went about my day like normal.

Two days later, they called my aunt’s house looking for me and I had to go back in because my pap smear was abnormal. I went back to the clinic by myself, checking in and waiting alone. Finally, my number was called and I went back to a little room. The gentleman had a set of papers in a folder in front of him. He opened the folder and placed it in front of me. There was a big positive sign in red ink with a circle drawn around it. I had tested positive for HIV.

My journey with a positive HIV diagnosis was very lonely and isolating. Many days, I felt like no one could relate nor could they understand how I truly felt deep down. I only would disclose my diagnosis to those I felt comfortable enough to tell, or if I had to be intimate—then and only then would I say something. People would treat me differently because they dehumanized me. I had suddenly become a monster in their eyes, a thing to be feared, not realizing how sensitive and very human I am. They would reject my very existence for lack of knowledge and fear of their own ignorant beliefs.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

Many don’t realize that people infected or affected by HIV are ordinary people with extraordinary abilities and personalities. They are missing out on dope people. Do not let an HIV diagnosis hinder your ability to be the best version of yourself. You are amazing, you were created to elevate someone else through your story, your testimony. God chose you for a higher purpose; He wanted you to rise above all the negative stigma, shame, guilt, self-blame, and the dark tunnels attached to this disease. As HIV positive individuals, we are the cure to stop the stigma attached to this pandemic. Here are several tools to get you started:

Stand in your truth.

Be openly positive.

Educate yourself so you can educate others.

Respect who you are and what you possess.

Always remember that you teach people how to treat you.

Fall in love with all of you, for real, love all of who you are and who you are becoming.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

Once you’ve done these steps, you are on your way to a life-changing journey worth living, getting up every morning and going to sleep peacefully every night. When you set yourself free from the shackles you’ve created, or have allowed others to create for you, your life will finally start to make sense. You will start to live a more purposeful life instead of an ‘I’m-only existing-instead-of-living’ kind of life. You and only you can determine how your story will end and how the characters in your book of life will play out. You can make it a great story! If you’re reading this, you are blessed and can change the course of things you no longer desire. I’m here to tell you it’s not going to be an an easy journey, but it’s most definitely a worthy journey.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

People are going to react to you based on the level of your mental, emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual growth and beliefs. Again, we teach people how to treat us, so create a plan, be committed and dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to it. Take chances, be free and flexible with yourself, love others no matter where they are in life. Remember everyone is not you, we all experience life differently; be mindful of what you allow and also what you do. Contrary to what others may think or believe, being HIV positive is not a death sentence. If you love you, treat yourself right, stand in all of your truths, and allow people to see and experience the real you, nothing else matters. It only becomes a death sentence when you allow other’s perceptions of who they think you are to hinder your ability to grow and to live out loud and free.

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

Stop allowing others to project their negative beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors on you. You have every right to say, ‘Enough! I am no longer going to be held captive mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, and economically, I am taking back my rightful power, I am taking back my authority to rule and govern over my own life.’ You are loved by me and you are loved by God. He loves you so much, he gives you the strength and ability to choose your path in him, with him or by yourself. In all, you have a choice and your life path depends on what choice you make. We always have a choice in every situation, in any event—you always have a choice. When you are not true to the core of you, you are easily persuaded and thrown off your path. You possess the power to create the life you desire and want. You are the author of your book called life, you are in charge of the pen, so write the best story ever told by aligning your mind, body, and soul with your lifestyle, the information, and the people you interact with. Know that love conquers all.

Love Always,

Thamicha S. Isaac”

Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac
Courtesy of Thamicha Isaac

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Thamicha Isaac of NY. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website, Openly PositiveSubmit your own story here , and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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