Sitting on a patio overlooking English Bay, I am eating dinner and talking with a woman I have met only hours earlier. A memorable evening for both of us, it will see us share some of the most difficult and personal memories we have. Details will be different, but the trajectory similar, in both our cases centered around death. Not one, not a few, but hundreds of deaths. For each of us.
Okay, one, don’t worry, we’re getting to the sunsets! And two, please be assured that despite what it sounds like, I do have appropriate boundaries. Because what I have just described is the life of an HIV researcher. In town for an annual research and treatment conference, it was three days of the latest science, prevention, and support findings. And meeting people like Leena, who, like myself, is a qualitative researcher, working exclusively with women who have contracted HIV from rape or abuse. While my field is HIV, PTSD, and stigma, we do share the same approach, which uses a narrative model of inquiry. Meaning, our data is the individual and community story of HIV. If you’re interested in reading more about what I do, check out the piece below.
Not surprisingly, we had a lot to talk about and found we had many things in common. Like, for example, sunrises and sunsets. For both of us, seeing them is inexplicably tied up in remembering loss from HIV. Something else she said really hit me. Originally from San Francisco, Leena talked about how HIV had literally torn her city apart. But then, oddly enough it became the shared history that helped it mend.
Last night as I watched the sunset you see above and below, I thought again of what Leena had told me about San Francisco, inspiring me to write the poem that follows below the next image.