The morning of Tuesday, July 16 began as a normal routinely unexceptional beginning to my very busy day. I woke up, got dressed, grabbed some coffee, and made my way to the University for a series of meetings to finalize the Student Government agenda for the fall semester.
Having been in college for almost four years, I have pretty much mastered the art of “paying half attention” to everything that is happening around me, so as my first meeting began, I pulled out my laptop, opened my browser, and logged onto Facebook.
After sifting through countless updates discussing the recent George Zimmerman verdict, the death of “Glee” star Corey Monteith, and the uprising in Egypt; I ran across a link to an article that drastically changed what had been a truly unexceptional day and inadvertently caused me to reflect, and come to terms with one of the darkest moments in my life.
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The article was about Carlos Vigil, an openly gay 17-year-old high school student from New Mexico who committed suicide this past Saturday after being subjected to intense bullying from his classmates.
After reading Carlos’ tragic story I immediately became emotionally distraught, so much, to the point that I decided it was no longer feasible for me to continue with any business or school related matters for the reminder of the day.
The entire bus ride back home was confusing.
Initially I could not understand why Carlos’ story had elicited such a strong emotional response from me. His is a tragic story with a tragic ending, but no less tragic than the hundreds of other stories I had read in which a young person had been bullied and then committed suicide; each of them, equally as devastating as the last.
Perhaps it was our shared interest in government and public policy? Maybe it was the clear articulation of his frame of mind that day through a posting I had read on his Twitter account? Or perhaps it was my empathy for his family and what they must be going through during this harrowing moment in their lives?
As I pondered these questions I quickly came to the realization that selfishly, my feelings had little to do with Carlos or his family.
It was because of me.
For the past five and a half months I had been living a lie, and that lie was consuming me.
Just like Carlos, I too had been the victim of an extreme case of bullying. In March of this year my HIV status was published on a flyer that was distributed around the campus of the University of Houston-Downtown in an effort to defame and smear my campaign for Student Body Vice President.
That much is true.
What you may not know is that on that fateful day in March when I discovered that I was on the receiving end of these devastating attacks; I almost became another causality in the long line of bullying-related suicides.
In all honesty, I’ve had a great deal of difficulty trying to articulate my thoughts and feelings leading up to that moment. I just know that I began to question everything. What about my future? I’d worked so hard to overcome my past as a child who grew up in the foster care system. Now all that work had been for nothing.
How could I ever enter the realm of politics now? My life’s dream was to help change the world through policy. I could never get elected as an openly HIV-positive individual. What about my education? I simply couldn’t imagine ever returning to UHD again. What will my peers think of me? Only a handful of people knew I was HIV-positive, now the whole campus knew.
How can I ever show my face in public again?
All of these questions lead me to believe that my life as I knew it was over. It was perhaps the darkest moment in my existence, and at that time, I decided that my life was no longer worth living.
So I tried to end it.
Unlike Carlos, who also questioned his existence and made the ultimate decision to end his life in an effort to escape the torment of bullying. I was fortunate enough to be unsuccessful.
In the weeks to come as I began to pick myself back up and collect the pieces of my shattered world, things only began to get worse.
I felt as if I was in a very costly war with myself, and what seemed like everyone else around me.
There were subsequent attacks that included graffiti in various bathroom stalls throughout campus that read “Isaac + Kris = AIDS,” flagrant rumors that circulated from every corner of the University in which I was accused of “spreading AIDS” to the student body, petitions to recall the elections before they even took place due to the media attention, and mass cyber attacks solely devoted to the defamation of both my character, and that of my running mate’s.
At one very pernicious moment, I was even accused by the University police of having orchestrated all of this on my own to promote my campaign. In sum, it was a complete and utter nightmare.
Still I fought on.
The sole reason I was able to maintain was the encouragement and support I received from the community. I would literally get hundreds of messages everyday from people all around the world encouraging me to stay strong and preserver no matter what happened.
Others would share their life stories with me and tell me how much I had inspired them. Countless more identified themselves as HIV-positive and pledged to live the rest of their lives open and without fear of their statuses, something they had been unable to do before.
I know that personally, I will never be the same person I was before all of this happened. Some of the scars, both emotional and physical, will never go away. Some of them will heal with a little more time. What matters most is that by the grace of God, I am here.
Whether you want to call it divine intervention or a twist of fate, I have a renewed sense of life, and I promise to use it to fight for people who don’t have a voice, people like Carlos.
Rest in peace my friend.
Dedicated to Carlos Vigil