That’s When I Realized that I was part of the Problem.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
The last time I saw Kuya Bot healthy was February 23 2014. It was the last day of our three week vacation in Manila. He started getting sick mid 2014. It started with nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea. He also developed a skin allergy. I didn’t realize the extent of it until my father-in-law came back from a trip to the Philippines. He told us that Kuya Bot was very skinny and his skin allergy was really bad. It was so bad that he thought it wise to have refer him to my mother-in-law’s dermatologist friend. Because of his alarming attitude, I bugged Kuya Bot for a video call. We messaged each other weekly but because of a poor internet connection, it was not easy to video chat.
I called him on Facetime and was shocked to see how much weight he lost.
My kuya has always been a skinny guy but he had gained a little bit of weight which he was proud of. To see him skinnier than usual was alarming indeed. I asked him for his symptoms and my immediate gut reaction was; “Your immune system sounds weak.” That was far from a medical diagnosis, but it was a heavy dose of mother’s instinct. I relied on my trusted friend, Google, to research my brother’s condition.
I remember typing the words: weak immune system, rashes, flu like symptoms, Philippines.
The results showed a list of different illnesses but the most prevalent one was HIV. The mounting information was overwhelming and quickly overloaded my apprehensive tendencies. For some unproven reason, I just feared the worst. I talked to Jahan about it and he reminded me of one of our conversations with our good friend Nikko; who writes for the Philippine Inquirer.
During dinner with family and friends, on our last night in the Philippines, she mentioned that the HIV epidemic in the Philippines was steadily rising. Kuya Bot was with us then.
I honestly don’t remember the conversation. Maybe, because it was our last night, I was more focused on watching Ayin and Alexander’s interaction and not paying attention to some random conversation about the current events of the country. So with that bit of information, it made my suspicions stronger that Kuya Bot may have HIV.
But just like with the idea of starting a conversation about his sexuality, I couldn’t confront him with my suspicion. I was too worried about offending him. Instead, I asked him to go see a doctor for a blood test to get his immune system checked. He told me he’d done it and the results came back negative; the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. I believed him because I wanted to. I was wrong.
I didn’t understand the shame or stigma HIV testing brings. I should’ve been more specific and forthright. I should’ve have been firm and insisted that the reasons to test far outweighed the reasons not to. I should’ve been honest with him so he could be more honest with himself.
But most of all, I should’ve reassured him that his sexuality or test result would never make me love him any less.
Knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that someone in his family would never judge or shame him for who he is, could have, hopefully, somehow, someway given him a better chance at living. The one person in his family who suspected the worst didn’t have the balls to speak out. I carry this guilt with me every day. I am so sorry.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A whole shitload of uncontrollable shit can sometimes randomly lead you somewhere you never dreamt of wanting to be. And when it does, we all tend to look for someone (specially ourselves) to blame. A subliminal, Hail Mary chance to clean up the past. Finding the root of a problem gives us the illusion of control even when we probably didn’t have much of it to begin with. Thankfully, we all still have the unique ability to control the chances we choose to take in our everyday lives.
So if you ever have a chance to help lift someone’s burden; take it faithfully. It has a stubborn way of lifting you up just the same.