Dario : We met in 1996. I was visiting my stepbrother. Monique was the head of the household where he lived.
Monique : We became friends, then we became lovers.
D : We've helped each other through some tough times.
M : We've bugged out together. Good times, bad times.
D : Arguments, too.
M : But we're here now, together. He's 31 now. I'm 43.
D : I first got tested for HIV when I joined Daytop Village for drug treatment. It was mandatory to get tested. When I got the results, I was shocked. My t-cells were 7. My jaw hit the floor. I had tears in my eyes. I wasn't aware of all the risks I had been taking.
Daytop asked if I had any significant others I wanted to inform. I told them about Monique, so they arranged a meeting where I would tell her. So we did it. I had very strong feelings when I was looking into her eyes telling her.
M : I was shocked. I didn't understand. We'd been such tight friends for so long. I wanted to know how he got it, what was happening outside our relationship. But I knew he needed support. That was the most important thing. And I was going to give it to him.
D : What's scary is that if I hadn't been required to get tested at Daytop, I wouldn't have gotten tested.
M : Now, we just take it day by day.
D : After I found out, I didn't take care of myself. It wasn't clicking.
M : He'd been in and out of the hospital. He barely weighed 90 pounds.
D : A Columbia Presbyterian doctor referred me to ASC for case management. My ASC caseworker, Millie, came to the hospital. That meant a lot to us.
M : ASC is like our family.
D : We get tested together about every six months. We do it as a couple, the same way we do everything as a couple.
M : For other couples where one partner's positive and the other is negative, I'd tell them, If you love the person and have been with them, just keep talking through the emotions and expressions. Get all the feelings out.
D : There's where depression comes from, when you can't express your feelings.
M : Tell the person you love them and will be there no matter what else is happening in your life.
D : There are so many what-ifs in a relationship even when you don't have to deal with this. There are so many doubts.
M : You think about, "Am I getting it?" You just have to put your cards on the table. If that's what you're thinking, you've got to get it out there somehow.
D : It's been almost 14 years for us. Sometimes I wonder how we've done it. I've grown so much from being with her.
M : I just deal with it. My mother died of cancer. My father died of natural causes. I dealt with that too. God is with us. You never what what's going to happen. You just have to take it straight ahead.
D : I don't know how she's been so strong.
M : My strength comes from you.
Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC