Friday, May 05, 2006

Conquistador SIDA

April 9, 2006

It was still early so the Colonial Zone’s Parque Duarte was not as littered with its usual crowd: rebels, posers, artists, queer people, beer-bottle collectors, and sweet-talking sanky-pankies with foreign partners at their sides. Sitting on a bench, my friends and I discussed politics, gender, race, and sexuality after having just arrived back to Santo Domingo from a campo in San Cristobal. All we wanted to do was relax and keep with us as much of the campo’s serenity as possible.

Mid-way in a conversation about my hair, a woman approached us to beg for money, completely ruining the mood. I looked up at her, acknowledging her presence, but could not understand a word she was saying in her mumble-speak. Out of nowhere, she lifted up her huge, black blouse and revealed her wet, pee-stained checkered pants to prove to us that she was going to use whatever money we would give her to buy an adult diaper.

She continued her testimony by showing us different parts of her body that were slowly deteriorating: her legs, her arms, her stomach, her everything. Several times as she spoke to us, she bent over in pain clinching onto herself and scrunching up her face as though she had just eaten something sour. She confessed to us that she was dying as tears trickled down the premature wrinkles of her drawn-in face.

My Bronx instinct told me not to believe her, to think that all of this was some scam to get money out of us, two foreigners and two Dominicans with New York City flavoring, but death and suffering consumed her being. She struggled to support her thin, fragile self up, a thirty-eighth year old trapped in an old woman’s body waiting for her last breath.

After learning she suffered from AIDS, her frail appearance made sense, and I also realized that although I had worked and talked with HIV patients before, I had never known anyone with full-blown AIDS in my life. Now, all the statistics, all the scholarly journals I had read about AIDS finally had a face—a young woman, invisible to society, with no money, with nowhere to go, and with no family or friends supporting her.

Years ago, when she was a younger, vibrant woman at her job in Santiago, she was forced down by some man and raped, only to learn later on that his violent and voracious act would be the cause of her death. I sat in shock and in disbelief as she spilled out the events of her life—all the things she had done and those she will never get to do.

“What’s you name?” She asked, looking deep into my eyes through her wide-framed glasses. “Dena,” I replied eagerly in an effort to remind her of her personhood, which was lost when she was driven to make the streets her home and strangers her family. “Milagros (Miracles) is my name,” she said, and we stared at each other in brief silence as though we were both thinking the same thing: nothing about her life reflected the meaning of her name.

Then, she kneeled down to me and broke out into a bachata song about her last hospital visit. She struggled to sing, often taking short breaths from her sprinkled-with-rotten-teeth mouth. I absorbed her lyrics, as the beauty and soulfulness of her voice were mesmerizing. At the end of her song, she walked away, leaving us to try recuperating any remaining campo tranquility while she continued her begging in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, having no choice but to spend the rest of her life suffering a brutal and fatal colonization of her body.