I thought hard about which of my blogs I wanted to be the first included on my site and this one, first published in 2015 at Beyond Positive was the clear choice. It still means the most to me and appears here, updated, as my personal introduction.

Dear M,

This is a letter I never thought I would be able to write. Indeed, it has taken me almost 10 years to get to a point where, finally, I am able to say your name and not feel a visceral pain.

You’ve had, to date at least, the biggest impact of any of my relationships and I am starting to come to terms with the way things panned out.

‘thank you’

I want to start with a ‘thank you’. Does that surprise you?

When we met, I was 18, you were in your early 30’s. I was working in a gift shop in the town where we both lived and, though I knew I wanted to try getting in to teaching, I had no real drive.

You and I first met when you came in to the shop. We then started chatting online and a short time later, started dating and then sleeping together.

It’s been nearly a decade, but I can still remember our first kiss.

I remember the way your stubble felt against my cheek. Your lips, your voice and your deep brown eyes.

I also remember the sex. It was passionate, it was fiery and it set the bar high.

It came as no surprise to me when I found out that you were also sleeping with friends of mine.

I’ll admit I was surprised you didn’t think I’d realise. The gay scene in our town was, to say the least, small. You must have known that we all knew each other?

I had known for a while that you had an appetite I would struggle to satisfy and I knew that, in the long term, ours was not likely to be a relationship that would endure. But it still hurt.

Whether you meant to or not, you taught me self-respect in that moment. I realised that I didn’t deserve to be messed around with or lied too. We split up, but stayed in touch.

‘ I was diagnosed with HIV’

We had always been careful, but, knowing you had messed around, I wanted to get checked out just in case. Within a few months, I was diagnosed with HIV.

My diagnosis at 19 drove me to pursue my goals. I sought out work. I learnt how to be resourceful and to grab opportunities as they arose.

Somewhere along the path though, I got lost and scared. I made poor choices, I ran away from my family, my friends and isolated myself because, though I knew how to handle a change in my life, I didn’t know how to live with it. – so, I hid away until I could make sense of my new life and learn how to manage it..

I lost some of my strength through fear and uncertainty and it was several years before it came back. .

So here I am. I’m now over 30 myself. I am, in fact, the same age now that you were when we first met. I have found a job I love, I have found deep reserves of resilience and perseverance.

So I want to thank you. You taught and helped me to learn a lot about life.

I may never understand what happened, or why – I may never understand why you were never honest with me, or your other partners, – I know some of them fared much worse than others at what followed.

‘I forgive you’

But I wanted you to know that I forgive you, because without you and without the HIV, I would never have pushed myself, further and harder to get to where I am. A place of safety and security.

You changed the course of my life and even though we were together a relatively short time, in the years that followed you enabled me to learn so much about myself without ever realising it.

I am sorry for the way things turned out and how it was left between us. I was afraid, angry and hurting and I was scared that you would cause more people to feel that way.

The truth is I have no idea what you were going through either. Our diagnoses took place when the landscape for people living with HIV was still very different from the way it is now.

I know you must have had a reason for doing what you did and though I may never understand that, as I get older, I am realising that I don’t need to understand it, – I just need to accept that it happened.

It is now nearly 14 years on and I can say that time heals even the deepest wounds. Sometimes, you’re left with a scar, you just have to strengthen the rest of the body around that scar.

I am stronger.

I may not owe you my life, but I certainly owe you for helping me to change its direction.

If we ever meet again some day, I may even be able to look you in the eye.