How Deep Is Your Love

A story about loyalty and love, in the face of HIV/AIDS.

I didn’t ask how he felt when he knew — she had been hiding HIV in their marriage for over 10 years. The revelation would have hurled any person into a destructive emotional hurricane. Hate, love, fear, betrayal, denial and shock, a messy storm of violent feelings. Or maybe he was like, “I knew it.”

They were Ethiopian. And he said it was love at first sight. His eyes widening with nostalgic excitement and pride. Tapping furiously at his phone, he flicked through vintage photographs of their wedding day. He almost had me convinced, to be more hopeful. Because time spares no one, and illness robs a beautiful face. But what a stunning creature she was once! Ebony skin with mountainous cheekbones. Almond eyes, underneath a bountiful forehead, parted by a long and delicate nose. She could have been a Modigliani muse.

A portrait by Amedeo Modigliani

“She needs to be disciplined, by me”, chuckling softly with a voice that was neither vindictive nor condescending. What an odd thing to say to a sick person. He actually meant discipline, when it came to taking medications. They were pills that kept the disease under control. Pills that kept her safe, for now. Initially, she had vehemently refused the tablets, rejecting to stomach the horrible diagnosis. But in time, the virus only grew stronger and overpowered her cover.

Shrugging his shoulders, he continued the tale voluntarily, “I forgive her.” Later, one of the nurses would snicker, there would have been no forgiveness if he were infected too. But hey, let’s not be cynical and ruin a romantic tragedy! I liked our protagonist. He seemed nice and was a good storyteller.

So the plots thickens. Premarital bloods were checked. A few weeks before the big day, the couple had a fight. She left briefly for a fling with another man. Their relationship soon rekindled and they walked down the aisle. “I knew that guy. It was him,” he muttered affirmatively. He had a look on his face that was triumphant yet injured. It reminded me of a boy seizing back a damaged toy after fighting off a bully.

They had no children. But he glowed confidently, “We will be blessed with children after this operation.” Tilting his head to the hospital ceiling, he gave thanks to God aloud — the deity that protected him from illness, and kept her alive after all those years of denial. The nurses rolled their eyes again.

I am a spiritual human being, but not religious at all. Apparently, this is a relatively new category you can choose from in the faith section. In any case, his blatant optimism, arguably naive, infectiously struck a chord inside me that day. It felt warm, and I smiled.