Living with the shadow
Open , honest and frightened , Alvin and Donna share what they have learned from battling HIV.
Both struggled to deal with the diagnosis , Alvin in 1991 and Donna
Alvin walked to the Wasena Bridge with the idea of throwing himself off , and Donna
turned to crack cocaine.
had been a basketball and track stand-out at JMU
and at Northside High School in Roanoke County
, where she
still holds the record in shot put.She
was living the life of a young barfly , she
says , waitressing and bartending , driving a Trans Am.She
dad with his
rental-property business on the side , working on houses and mowing yards.She
still looks back on those years and wonders : If she'd been able to land a job using her
sociology degree , would she
have stabilized.Would she
now be HIV-free.
I've never really been promiscuous.I mean , it's kinda hard to date when you're six-feet-one..
Shortly after the HIV diagnosis , she
was pregnant , too.Her
daughter , Alysisa now 12 , does not have the virus ; nor does her
son , Marcus , 8. Donna
was married once , to Alysisa's father , for two years.But making him wear a condom - and submit to frequent HIV testing at the health department - put too much strain on the marriage.
became pregnant with her
son - after another night of being talked out of using a condom , she
says - she
was so distraught she
turned to crack.Depressed and on drugs and fearing for her
baby's health , she
finally hit bottom and called her
pastor at Hollins Road Baptist Church.That's when I got saved , she
son weighed a healthy 11 pounds at birth - and he
tested negative for HIV.
That was the beginning of the change of my life , Donna
joined support groups for drug users and people living with HIV.She
even wrote a health newsletter for women with HIV and for a time worked as a street outreach worker for the AIDS Council
depression caused one drug relapse , she's
been clean for the past 18 months and attends three Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week.On disability since 1996 , she
lives on slightly more than $600 a month , including the support she
receives for one child.And she
still helps her
dad with odd jobs , living rent-free in his
Northeast Roanoke house in exchange for fixing it up.It's a quiet spot on a dead-end street with a small vegetable plot out back and a few flowers in front.Her
family has been supportive , Donna
says , as has her
mother died a year ago , Donna
seat as organist for Washington Heights Grace Brethren Church
, playing every Sunday morning.She
doesn't hide her
HIV status the way most do.The guys she
plays pick-up basketball with at Washington Park know , she
says.So do acquaintances from Fallon Park pool , where she
swims with her
considers openness critical to her
Years ago , she
tried to hide her
illness.But word spread anyway , and someone once threw a brick through her
window and flattened her
One guy threatened to kill me after we kissed once.He
said , 'You didn't tell me you had AIDS.'.
It's easier , she
says , to be open with everyone.And to remain celibate.