Photographer 1 describes himself as “into music and instruments. I play the drums, so that’s pretty much my thing. And I’m all about family and I try to just be a laid back kind of guy. I don’t really bother anybody. I just kind of stay in my lane and do my own thing and – But I’m always there to help people if needed. I’m one of them people that, if I see somebody in need, I help out.”
Hiding… I was talking to my fiancée about the stigma of when you first are diagnosed, how you feel like you have to go into hiding, so nobody knows. And that’s normally what people do. They can look outside. It can be a nice, beautiful day. And they’re in the house hiding looking in between the blinds, because they don’t know if people are wanting them to come outside. And you want to go, but it’s like – I don’t know if it’s worth them finding out. I mean, you just pretty much stay in hiding. So I took that from my kitchen window, and there’s nothing out there but my parking lot. But this is how I was feeling when I looked out the window.
Fear… That picture there is of me and a friend at my dining room table. And she brought up this picture idea. She was the first friend to know. And she said, “What is the biggest thing that you dealt with when you first found out?” I said, “The fact that people thought because they touch me that they would catch it.” She said, “Put your hand on the table.” And I put my hand on the table, and she was like, “We’ll take a picture like this, because at first, I didn’t know if I could touch you or not. You have been my best friend since like the fifth grade. I apologize for treating you like that.”
Wandering… My daughter actually took that picture and gave me the idea, because I talk to my child about it a lot. So she knows, and she’s open enough to understand. But she gave me the idea because I was talking to her about when you just – when you were diagnosed with it, I mean, me. I just felt like I was just kind of like walking, but like not really knowing where I’m going. That’s why I took the picture that way because those are not actually doors. That’s actually our bedrooms and stuff. And it’s kind of like you’re just walking, not really knowing where you’re going right now.
Educate yourself… But one thing I know everybody’s heard in their life is if you want to know something, you go find out. Go teach yourself about it if ain’t nobody else going to help you. Go get up off your butt and go figure it out. I knew about HIV before I caught it. I knew about it. I wasn’t one of those young guys who was just having sex with every girl in Kansas City. I knew about this type of stuff. But when it hit me, I was like, okay, well, I know this, this, and that. And I had books and Internet and all kinds of stuff. So by the time I had it, I jumped on top of it, and I’ve been all right.
That’s the first thing you think about. You don’t think about meds. You don’t think about girlfriends, kids, nothing. The first thing you think is, I’m about to die, and it’s probably going to be here real soon, if you’re not educated about it. So I kind of – I was driving down 23rd Street, and I remembered it was there, so I just turned up in there. And I just kind of walked around and read some of the people that have passed and was just looking. And then I saw one that was of a young guy. He had to have been about 16 on there. And they had like his whole little story. He had died, and he got murdered. And I was like, wow. Because I remember when I got diagnosed, and I told certain people, they were like, you’re going to die. And some of those people are no longer here.
And it’s like, I’m still here. I’m still here. That’s why I look at people when they talk bad about people with HIV. “Oh, you’re going to die.” To me, having it for me was a gift and a curse, because the curse is I have to live with this. I got to think about it. I’m just real about it. Like it doesn’t really – I don’t let it sit in my head, though. It’s just I try to just block it out and live my life as if I never had it.
Responsibility to educate others… I educated my friends before I told them that I had it. So we had a lot of one-on-one conversations. It wasn’t like I set them all down as a group, but I would invite them over. And I – I’d hug them. And they’d be like, “What are you hugging me for?” No reason…it’s just certain stuff like that that they’re not paying attention to, and then I’d tell them…Yeah, me to just be telling a person, they might not want to know…To me, it’s better to be prepared for all of it. That way when it hits you, you know exactly what to do and how to go about it.
A gift… Now the good side to it is, it made me stop doing drugs. It made me stop drinking. It made me slow down on cigarettes. I don’t party as much. And I actually focus on taking care of my body and my health, which before the diagnosis I didn’t really care about that. I was young, running the streets, clubbing, clubbing, clubbing, and all kind of drugs and drinking, and I might have been dead by right now as hard as I was doing all that. So I kind of look at it from both sides. Because, I mean, it’s either going to wake you up, or you’re going to let it take over. To me, you can’t. I mean, I can’t allow it to take over, because I’ve seen people like – since the ‘80s, he’s had it since – I was born in ’82. He’s had it pretty much all my life. I mean, just to be honest, like me sitting here looking at him, knowing he’s had it this long, I’m 34 years old, he’s still sitting there. That gives me a little more motivation to keep going and not giving up.
The right path… So I’m just going to make sure I go the right path, and that’s why one of those cemetery pictures, you can actually see the path in there. I was actually standing on the road. And I like that because the tree splits. So you could either pick one or the other. Either you can continue to walk this path, because that path puts you on Jackson, and you can get on about your business, or you could sit there and focus on that and end up laying right there with the rest of them.