Poem 216 ± January 6, 2016

Catherine Martens
Rewind a Positive Life

Can you believe it 17 years living as a positive female I’m sitting here on my bed just rewinding my life the last 17 years I had my ups and downs my mountains to climb my oceans to swim I hit rock bottom but I got myself back up again I found the strength in me I found the strength in the Lord. What a trip this has been. People ask me every day how did you get here in life, this very moment. I respond with this is how it all began…

At the age of 18 I was raped and beaten by someone I thought was a friend someone I trusted someone I had faith in well he turned out not to be a friend he was the devil as evil can come he kept me prisoner in his house raping me and beating me over and over again for three long days till he finally passed out I ran I ran so fast I wasn’t looking back I ran for blocks no shoes no coat just a button-down shirt I found as I ran out the door it was cold and at least four feet of snow I didn’t care I wasn’t stopping I kept running till a police officer saw me and took me to the hospital after being examined the police officer came in and started asking me so many questions I was scared and afraid what was my mom going to say and my boyfriend how do I tell him I couldn’t think straight I was going crazy in the end the guy was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years about four years into his sentence the Brooklyn D.A. called me to tell me he was killed in a prison riot. I didn’t feel anything I wasn’t happy or sad I felt cheated I had to live life remembering what he did and he doesn’t have to. A few months passed and I found out that I was pregnant the timing had me unsure if my boyfriend of a year who stood by my side throughout this whole ordeal was the father or was it the guy who raped me. Back then I was a strong Catholic and decided that I would have the baby my boyfriend said it didn’t matter if he was the father or not that my baby was his and he would raise the baby as his own.

Five years later we gave birth to a baby girl we were the all American family we both had jobs a nice home two wonderful children a boy and now a girl we had it all until my boyfriend got sick and had to go into the hospital he had pneumonia and TB. Turns out he tested positive for HIV right away I was tested and I was negative I chose to stay with him I loved him and he stood by me when I was raped. Life started to get hard he couldn’t work no more and I had to quit working to care for him and the kids three and a half years later he passed away from pneumonia we had ten beautiful years together we loved each other to death and we had amazing kids. I wouldn’t trade a moment we shared together for nothing. I will always have my memories of us.

A year later I decided it’s time to make a change and we moved to long island in hopes to start a new life. Two years later I met someone who I married after dating for seven months and thirteen months later I got pregnant with my third child when I was six months pregnant I was called into my doctors office she said she needs to talk to me about some tests I had I asked for an appointment but she insisted on it ASAP it was Christmas eve of 98 I remember it clear as day I walked into the office and my doctor was already there and so was my nurse I had a seat and I remember my nurse placing a box of tissues in front of me and the doctor started to tell me I tested positive for HIV what you’re wrong I always get tested you know that you have been testing me for a couple of years now I was six months pregnant and HIV-positive what did this mean how, how could this be I never had sex with no other guy except for my ex who passed away and my husband turns out he knew he was positive and decided not to tell me my life was falling apart again the doctors put me on meds right away and because they did my daughter was born HIV-negative I could no longer love him and the sight of him just got me sick to my stomach I really hated him for taking my right away he made the decision for me when in fact he had no right I wanted a divorce and he would not give me one he would not let me leave with my daughter they told me I could go but she was staying and if I tried to go he would stop me so for the next 7 months after my daughter was born I lived in hell with him until one day he was stupid and committed a crime he went to prison for 7 years I was relieved when I sat there in the courtroom and heard the judge say the sentence I felt a relief in my body of peace I knew now I can get away and start over again.

Now here I was a mother of three who is HIV-positive starting over for the second time I was scared I was afraid I felt shame I was embarrassed I didn’t know how to tell my family or my friends I didn’t want them looking down on me judging me blaming me my mom she cried when I told her but she stood by my side all the time most of my family stood by my side my friends as well I couldn’t stay in the house no more it reminded me of my husband too much so I took my three children and moved to a different part of Long Island.

Two years later I was on my way to work it was 8:46 in the morning when I stepped off the elevator on the 78th floor of the North Tower of the Twin Towers when the first plane hit us I didn’t know what hit us I didn’t know what was going on all I know I was in pain I was scared people crying there were dead people next to me hurt people all I know if I could hear my children calling me calling out mommy please come home that is all I remember I woke up in the hospital I had a broken shoulder and a broken leg and a lot of cuts and bruises but I was alive and I think that was because of the will and love of my children. I can’t say I am recovered because I always have nightmares if not about 9/11 then it’s about my rape or the betrayal of my husband.

A few years later I was diagnosed with HPV and vulvar cancer. Then five years later I was diagnosed with cervical cancer just this month I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on my spine. And through everything I have gone through I am so grateful to be here still. I am a fighter always was always will be. I am very active in my HIV community I am co-chair for our Ryan White part D program I have been chair and co-chair of a few different Ryan White committees I am a mentor for other HIV-positive people in my state I am a certified health educator for not only my state but nationwide. I have written grants and proposals to receive funding for programs to help support people living with HIV and AIDS I had the opportunity to attend five different conferences on HIV and I speak to youth groups and I have gone into our high schools to educate the teachers on the basics of HIV and AIDS.

I don’t believe I am being punished for anything I did I believe I am right where I am meant to be in my life GOD did not put me here to suffer he put me here to be his warrior and to fight this till the end and I might have fallen a few times but I always get back up on my own two feet and I spread the word you don’t have to feel ashamed or lonely we are here and we aren’t going nowhere. I am doing great with my HIV health care. My viral load is undetectable and I am strong and living a beautiful blessed life. Please don’t ever give up on yourself know your worth and share it. I am strong I am a survivor I am a warrior.

Catherine MartensCatherine Martens is a single mother of three awesome children ages 29, 24, and 16. She is a proud grandmother of a beautiful 7 year old little princess. Catherine lives on Long Island where she works as a mentor and health educator for the state of New York. Family means the world to Catherine and over the years she has found that you don’t have to be blood to be family. She believes she is truly blessed to have the life she has.

The essay is not previously published.