September 15, 2016
Written by Charles Sanchez, from TheBody.com
Charles Sanchez is the engaging creator of Merce, a comedy musical series featuring a leading man living with HIV. Sanchez is heading to the 2016 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) as a social media fellow, where he’ll be blogging about his experiences. But first, he shares his journey to this opportunity with TheBody.com.
It was November 2003, and I was living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I woke up in a hospital room surrounded by my family, doctors and nurses. I wasn’t quite sure why I was there, but I knew it wasn’t good. I was told that I had been brought in almost three weeks earlier with acute Pneumocystis pneumonia, histoplasmosis and thrush. I had been kept in a drug-induced nap all that time while my body and the doctors fought for my life. I had a viral load that was through the roof, and my T-cell count was 4. That’s how I found out I was HIV positive.
I’d like to say that, in that moment, my inner diva (so many gay man have one) rallied, stood up and belted, “I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going” as fiercely as Jennifer Holliday on the 1982 Tonys. When I write the movie, that’s exactly how it’ll happen.
In reality, it was a much quieter thing. I was shocked, scared, confused and sad. My first reaction was to calm my family about the news, but they’d already been told three weeks earlier. My family knew about my HIV before I did. I was told that the worst was over; and although I still had a ways to go in my recovery from all the infections, if I just did what the doctors recommended and took the medications prescribed, I’d be fine. I wasn’t going to die of AIDS in 2003.
But I still had to figure out how to live. I didn’t know what to do or what it all meant. Once my family and the doctors and nurses left the room, I was left alone with my thoughts. “Well,” I said to myself, “I guess that’s it. It’s all over. Now I’m just a pathetic AIDS victim. I’ll just have to sit quietly in the corner, a living red ribbon, sipping herbal tea and mournfully humming songs from Rent all my days.”
Then another voice (perhaps my inner Jennifer Holliday?) thought, “WHAT? Quiet in the corner, Cinderella?? That’s not who you’ve ever been! Why start now?”
I remembered that I have a big mouth, and that I’m funny, and I can write, and I’m not afraid to get up in front of people. What if I used those talents for good? What if I could be the guy who has HIV but is okay? What if I could show a positive view of positive people?