A Letter to Myself at 18

Hear me now—make yourself heard!

by John Francis Leonard


I’m forty-eight when I’m writing this and I want to let you know a few things. Not a total rundown of everything that happens—your future should, and will, hold so many surprises. What I’d like to impart are a few things about something that has informed your life since adolescence and is just beginning to affect it greatly now. I’m talking about AIDS and the crisis you are living through and that will continue to shape you.

First of all, obviously, you will make it. You’re fatalistic predictions of your own demise from this disease will not come to fruition. It seems dark now, but there will be light for you and your peers. That’s not to say that there won’t be loss ahead. You will lose many friends and lovers to this disease. Continue to be there for those friends, hold them dear and don’t forget them. Learn from this loss; you, unlike so many before you, have choices to make. Continue to make the right choices, and save yourself a lot of pain and trouble to come.

The most important thing I can tell you looking back is to love yourself enough. Love yourself enough to protect yourself. In the heat of the moment, many moments, and under the influence of drugs and alcohol—cool it on that, by the way—you will forget danger. Pleasure will be too important, but it will never be as important as your health and your life. There won’t be a cure for this disease, but there will be great advances in treatment as well as prevention. You will be able to live a normal life span, but don’t let this make you careless. There will still be many co-morbid complications that can arise from being HIV-positive as well as a logistical nightmare in securing the medical treatment and medications necessary to keep you alive. Even with treatment making an HIV person healthy and subsequently not infectious, there will still be great stigma arising from the fact someone is positive. This stigma will be from society at large as well as, sadly, from your own community. Fear of the disease will not dissipate in many, even with effective treatment and prevention all but guaranteed for those who seek it.

You are now witnessing, and will continue to witness, a great and ultimately effective political movement in the face of AIDS. This movement will eventually help bring about the advent of medications to combat the disease. You will feel already burdened by helping your friends that are dying and witnessing their ultimate demise. As I said already, there will be more. Don’t let this burden keep you from standing up for what is so badly needed and making your voice heard. Your voice will be as needed as much as any other. You will witness a revolution—don’t stand on the sidelines and later regret what you did not do. Make yourself heard.

As always, politics and public opinion will have its own ebb and flow. There will be a two-term president who will make the causes of you and your community his own. You will feel that the negligent and abhorrent years of the Reagan administration are something well behind you, but take heed. A new administration will follow and you will see your civil rights and all the incredible progress on the HIV/AIDS front come under threat. Once more, the religious right will be pandered to and once again their most cherished cause, thwarting the rights of those they hate in the name of God will bring women, gays, and all minorities under attack once more. Again, the budgets for research as well as assistance to those in need regarding this disease will be threatened. You must remain vigilant and not be afraid to make your voice heard.

What it all boils down to in the end is loving yourself. Loving yourself enough to know in your heart that you can avoid contracting HIV yourself, but still fight for those who do. The disease is not inevitable, not a foregone conclusion. But the fight is.

—With love, John




John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.