Community: It’s a Wonderful World
Support Is Part of Living Well with HIV
by John Francis Leonard

It was a walk over to the store where I work to do my grocery shopping one day that gave me the idea for this column. My apartment complex sits right behind a Wegmans and it’s a five minute walk from door to door, which is one of the main reasons I chose to pursue a part time job at that particular store. That and the fact that I had shopped there, as my whole family does, for years and was on a first-name basis with so many of the employees. A brief shopping trip that should have taken under a half hour took over an hour and that was because of my bumping into so many friends and neighbors on the walk there and in the store itself. It was a sunny and temperate fall day, and I first ran into into my friends Russ and Janice walking their terrier, Sugar, and stopped for a chat. Of course Sugar had to be greeted and received a scratch on the head and her dad Russ, a Texan by birth, loves to chew the fat and catch up. Then, it wasn’t long before I ran into my friend Lisa out walking her Labradoodle, Brownie, who I love to play with. And of course, another catch up with Lisa was in order! When I finally got to the store, I was greeted by so many friends and good customers that I ring up, it was slow going, but I loved every minute and stopped to talk to many. I love where I work, it’s a great company that’s family owned and treats its employees very well. That was the reason I chose to work there in the first place and I’ve never been disappointed. My fellow employees are like family members and I have close relationships with so many. I pride myself on having as positive an interaction as I can have with each of my customers. Two of my dearest and closest friends were people I was actually ringing up all the time who like so many of my customers, look for me when they’re ready to check out. I don’t know what I’d do without my friends Jackie and Tei, both incredible women that I love dearly. Just the other day, I was texting back and forth with my best friend who lives in NYC and ended up having a conversation with both Tei and Jackie at the same time. It was somewhat confusing, yes, but all I could think was how lucky I am to have three such dear friends!

When I moved back to my home town ten or so years ago, it was a lonely road for a while. As an HIV positive, gay man, I felt isolated and alone sometimes. Community and the support of friends is so important when you’re poz. All of my closest friends and family know of my diagnosis, but even those who don’t, are valuable as part of a support system. Also, in my life, and as the part of different communities, I can find additional support. Writing for this magazine has made me part of a national, sometimes international community of advocates and activists, sometimes poz, sometimes not, but always sympathetic to our cause. That has meant the world, and while many of these people I haven’t met in person, yet, I look forward to the day that I can and stay in touch electronically in the meantime. There are so many people I’ve interviewed for the magazine who do incredible work in our field and that I admire greatly. They inspire and motivate me to do my best and make a difference with my own work.

I used to spend a lot of time worrying about when I’d meet that special guy again, I wrote about it here far too often. I actually made a promise to myself and my readers some time ago that I’d stop. Now instead, I look at the blessings that I do have. I concentrate on those special people already in my life and worry more about making myself a better person. Do I still want a partner, a boyfriend? Certainly. But there have been a few men in and out of my life and what I’m not doing is projecting my need for a relationship onto each and every one any longer. I have something so much more important right now, friends and family who support and encourage me. Even people whom I’m not as close to have a role to play. I waited a long time, it’s so good to finally be part of a community. Whether they know it or not, so many people that I know and interact with make this poz person able to navigate a tricky and sometimes challenging world so much more easily.

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 fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.