WRITTEN BY FAREEZA HANIFF
How did he get the virus?
Jason began having unprotected sex with older women. He did this so that he could fit in with his friends.
“At age 10, I started liming with boys at the corner. Dem a gallis (Men with lots of women), dem a look girl, dem a look the latest car and the latest clothes wear. I was like the youngest one trying to fit in,” Jason said.
One day, he observed a ‘rash’ on his skin. Jason didn’t take it seriously and took the advice from his friends to drink some “bitters.” Instead of helping, the liquid weakened his system.
“So it end up that I stop tek it and mi end up going to the Health Center and dem tell mi do an HIV test.” Back in 2004, persons had to wait an entire month before they received their results. What did Jason do during the month he waited?
“Ah went home sit down and flash back in ah mi mind because they neva had no counseling back then so mi wonder if mi have HIV, but then mi seh it can’t be positive because I’m a kind of person that date older females. It end up that I only dated fat girls and those who already had kids. Mi seh no man, mi can’t be HIV positive,” Jason explained.
After a month elapsed, he went back to the Health Center. He sat in the doctor’s office, and was not prepared for what came out of her mouth. Jason burst out in laughter when the doctor read the results to him. He didn’t believe it. He thought he was dreaming. However, reality eventually stepped in.
“The doctor said I was HIV Positive. Mi laugh about three times. Mi laugh man and then mi tek the paper out of her hand and mi see a real thing ah go on. Mi blank out a couple minutes well…the brain just shut down. It end up that the only thing that was going through my mind is that boy I gon dead. I will die a very painful death,” Jason recalled.
He left the Health Center in a daze and went straight home. At that time, his mother knew he had taken the test and that his results were back. Jason, however, lied to his mother and told her he tested negative. The next morning, Jason left his home and tried to commit suicide. He thought his world had ended.
Fortunately for him, he was stopped by a man who persuaded him that life is worth living.
“The man said, you know seh young man, anything at all wah yuh in or go through right now, you can come out of it and from there, I went back to the hospital the next day and hear the doctor just repeat that line again… “You’re HIV positive.”
Breaking the news
Jason didn’t go home that night and his family frantically searched for him. Jason said he didn’t have the courage to tell his mother that he had tested positive for the virus.
He eventually went home knowing that he had to tell his mother the dreadful news, but he didn’t know how to do it. Jason said he mustered all the strength he could and told his tearful mother who immediately telephoned his father and informed him.
According to Jason, his father left his work place to see him. “The first thing daddy seh, ‘wait ya sleep with man now?’
His entire family was informed. The disclosure triggered chaos in the family, and accusations were wildly thrown at him. His family could not believe that a doctor would reveal such delicate information to a teenager.
One of his uncles managed to calm the family and they all went back to the Health Center the very next day. The news didn’t change. The doctor told them the same thing she told Jason. Jason’s mother was terrified. She threatened to poison his food so that he would die.
His father went into a corner of the room and began to cry. His parents started to argue and blamed each other for his way of life.
However, Jason sought medical attention. His CD4 count (white blood cells that fight off infections) was low and the doctor told him he could have died. He received the anti – retroviral drugs but no one told him of the side effects – the constant diarrhea, the nightmares, and the breakdown of his system so that it could be rebuilt.
At only 17 – years – old, Jason endured the horrors, but he is grateful for the support he received from his family. Despite the support, he isolated himself. He recalled the days of this ‘high scented’ cream he was given to rub on his skin for the rash. As a result of the high scent, he stayed indoors during the day and would only venture outside during the night. He didn’t want to face anyone.
Luckily for him, he visited Jamaica AIDS Support, made up of a network of counselors. While there, Jason was convinced that there is life after contracting the virus. He started to work for the support group and during that time, he was asked to speak to someone who recently found out that he, too, was HIV positive. Jason was very hesitant to do it at first, but he eventually conceded.
“It let down a stress from me when I did it.”
In 2004, HIV/AIDS was taboo in Jamaica. People would not publicly discuss the virus, and they ridiculed those who were infected. This was no different for Jason. The rumor mill went wild in his community and people started to gossip about him.
His mother would hear neighbours talk about him and she would go home crying. But Jason is no ordinary HIV patient. When he saw people clustered together on street corners and looking at him, he knew they were discussing his status so he would walk right up to them and ask, “Yo ah mi ya talk bout?”
They would obviously deny, but Jason didn’t back down. He told them bluntly, “Yea man. Mi HIV positive.” They would laugh because they didn’t think he would be that frank and tell them the truth to their faces.
His friends, on the other hand, gave him as much support as they could. He even encouraged them to get tested because most of them felt that they were immune to the virus.
“Mi have to give mi hats off to them because when them hear about my status, they really look into it and supported me.”
Although it has been seven years now since he has been living with HIV, Jason is still exposed to some amount of stigma and discrimination from persons, even more so now that he publicly talks about the disease.
Who infected him?
Jason does not know which one of the women he slept with gave him the virus. As a matter of fact, all the women he had sex with, denied ever having sexual contact with him when he told them he was infected.
“No, mi nah know ah which one of them girl them that infected me. It is my fault because I never used a condom.” This is one of the main reasons why Jason decided to publicly speak about his status. He encourages persons, especially the younger generation, to always use a condom.
During his time, society held the perception that only ‘slim’ persons were infected with HIV/AIDS and that fat people did not have the virus. Jason had the same perception, thus his reason for dating ‘fat women’.
Jason fears that there might still be youths out there who hold a similar perception and he intends to change that.
For the past five years, Jason has been employed with the Ministry of Health in Jamaica as an outreach officer, spreading information on how to prevent HIV. He is trying to save money to purchase a piece of land in his country. “Ya see right now, things hard in Jamaica,” Jason stressed.
Although he is healthy, he still suffers from terrible mood swings. Every morning he wakes up to the grim reality that he is a victim of HIV.
Jason would scream to the top of his voice when the truth kicks him in the stomach. This is one way he releases the tension, but he is a typical example that life does not end when you have a deadly disease.
He still engages in sex with one partner. As a matter of fact, Jason even has a girlfriend, whom he has been with for approximately one and a half year. And yes, she knows about his status. According to him, he has a draw filled with all type of condoms.
Before hooking up with his current girlfriend, Jason said that he had sex with other women since he became infected. He claims that he told all of them about his status, except for one. He said that he used a condom, but the girl eventually found out the truth after one of his friends told her about his status.
“It is my right to tell a person that I am HIV positive or not,” Jason said.
His advice to people: “Seek the information; get tested even if you are a virgin. This will prepare you for future relationships and use a condom, every time. If someone tells you that they are HIV Positive, love the person same way, respect the person same way.”
Jason Richards continues his journey in life as a very optimistic individual. Just like us, he has dreams and aspirations to become someone with a purpose. The fact that he has HIV does not stop him from being happy and being the man he wants to be.
Some of us may think that we are facing the worst, but listening to Jason and his situation one can only be inspired. Like all of us, Jason knows he will die one day, but he still manages to smile through the tears and fears that come with living with HIV.
Talk Up Yout
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