The Underground Woman: From Prisoner to Freedom
by Asha Molock
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
Alice isn’t the only one to tumble down a rabbit hole and find herself in a strange hard-to-understand place. Asha Molock travels down her “private rabbit hole” more than once in her memoir The Underground Woman. But hers is a place of refuge; and she “slid down from time to time to connect with people who understood. I was harboring a secret and this underground world was the only place where I felt free to be me and my secret was kept.”
The secret is that Molock is living with HIV. After her first marriage ends and she re-enters the dating scene, she meets up with a man named Barry: Barry complains mightily about using condoms, and Molock, eager to please, stops insisting on it. She realizes that her self-esteem has been coming off “every time I took my panties off”—that she has been more concerned with how Barry feels about condoms than she has “about my own health and welfare.”
Only after she acquires the virus does Molock learn that she is in a high-risk group: black, female, and over fifty. She also learns that “heterosexual sex was becoming the leading cause of Black women contracting HIV.” She and Barry end up getting married, but it only lasts two years.
Molock gets involved in the Philadelphia FIGHT Project Teach HIV Training Program in the fall of 2001. And she begins to make contact with the other denizens of the rabbit hole—“other people living with HIV, peer educators, doctors, nurses, support groups and people who knew my secret and supported me.” But her feelings are mixed. She separates herself from “my supportive rabbit hole” at Philadelphia FIGHT and other groups—partly out of denial and partly out of a need to find a group that she felt completely at home in. In other words, she is looking for a group of older African-American women with HIV/AIDS or “blood sisters.”
Molock is unflinchingly honest with herself when she receives her diagnosis; and she’s unflinchingly honest with us as readers. She shares every step of the journey with us. This is a heartfelt and heart-strong book. “I don’t like to say that I am living with the virus,” she reflects. “That sounds too much like I didn’t have any place to stay and had to move in with someone and abide by his or her rules. I like to think that HIV has to live with me. It moved into my house, so it has to abide by my rules, and I’m in control.”
T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.