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Being Positive: Love And Life After An HIV Diagnosis

Dec 1, 2011
Originally published on December 2, 2011 12:37 pm

Chris Whitney lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, when there wasn't much known about AIDS. But then he tested positive for HIV in 1985. He explains what happened next to his friend Erin Kuka.

"The first person I told was the person I was dating at the time, and that was pretty much the last conversation I had with him," Whitney says. "You know, the fear just took over. That kind of made me really wary about opening up to people.

"So, I decided to do some traveling. And I met a Frenchman who would become my partner for the next 10 years," he says. "And I was freaked out about telling him. I was like, 'Well, I have to tell you something. I, you know — I'm HIV positive.' And his response was, 'Yeah, and so?' And I thought, 'OK, he didn't understand that.'"

"Language barrier," Kuka says.

"Right," Whitney says.

Believing that Alexandre Coda didn't understand what "HIV" meant, Whitney explained — and Coda listened.

"And he said, 'Yeah. No, I understand, and so am I. And, so what?'" Whitney says. "And I was so blown away by that response. I was so used to always being the person who was positive meeting somebody who was negative. It didn't occur to me that I would meet somebody who was also positive."

"And you were able to remain healthy, while he started to succumb to the disease," Kuka says.

At the time, the couple was living in France and the first antiviral drugs started to come out.

"So he was put on them right away," Whitney says. "And unfortunately, I think in his case, it was too little, too late."

Coda died 14 years ago, on Dec. 2, 1997.

"And in my case, it was just in the nick of time," Whitney says. "I've lived with this for so long. It's hard not to ask the question: Well, why me? Why have I survived? You know, why did those treatments work for me, and not for him?"

Whitney, 50, has now lived with AIDS for more than 25 years.

"I have this memory of looking out our bedroom window," he says. "It was a night with a lunar eclipse. We looked out and watched the lunar eclipse together. I remember thinking that it was the last one he would see, and we would see together. I remember, I don't know what I said, something stupid, and made him laugh.

"And I just loved, loved, loved hearing him laugh," Whitney says.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher and Katie Simon.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday morning, time again for StoryCorps, the project traveling the country collecting your stories. And today we have one man's account of living with AIDS. Chris Whitney lived in San Francisco in the 1980s. There wasn't much known about AIDS at the time. He tested positive for HIV, and explains what happened next to his friend Erin Kuka.

CHRIS WHITNEY: The first person I told was the person I was dating at the time, and that was pretty much the last conversation I had with him. You know, the fear just took over. That kind of made me really wary about opening up to people.

So I decided to do some traveling, and I met a Frenchman who would become my partner for the next 10 years. And I was freaked out about telling him. And I was like, well, I have to tell you something. I - you know, I'm HIV positive. And his response was: Yeah, and so? And I thought, OK. He didn't understand that.

ERIN KUKA: Language barrier.

WHITNEY: Right. You don't understand what I mean. And he said, yeah. No, I understand, and so am I. And, so what? And I was so blown away by that response. I was so used to always being the person who was positive meeting somebody who was negative. It didn't occur to me that I would meet somebody who was also positive.

KUKA: And you were able to remain healthy, while he started to succumb to the disease.

WHITNEY: Yeah. And my time in Paris was when the anti-viral drugs first started to come out. So he was put on them right away. And unfortunately, I think in his case, it was too little, too late.

KUKA: Yeah.

WHITNEY: And in my case, it was just in the nick of time. I've lived with this for so long. It's hard not to ask the question: Well, why me? Why have I survived? You know, why did those treatments work for me and not for him?

You know, I have this memory of looking out our bedroom window. There was a lunar eclipse. And we looked out and watched the lunar eclipse together. And I remember thinking that it was the last one he would see, and we would see together. And I remember, I don't know what I said, something stupid, and made him laugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WHITNEY: And I just loved, loved, loved hearing him laugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Chris Whitney with his friend Erin Kuka in San Francisco. All StoryCorps conversations are archived at the Library of Congress. And you can sign up for the podcast at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.