Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pretty Boy with the House In Virginia

The best interviews are the ones that you walk away from feeling like you’ve truly connected with the person that you were interviewing.  You can have an agenda but never be afraid to let the Spirit take over and lead the way.  Yesterday was an afternoon filled with laughter, tears and real connection.  It was a day that brought me closer to another human being in a way that my interview questions never could have.  I hope that you'll enjoy this very personal glimpse of my interview with a young and talented author from Brooklyn that isn’t afraid to be candid when sharing his naked truth. After reading his book, “Pretty Boy with the House in Virginia”, available at, you will be forever changed.  This raw and gritty story is emotionally charged and filled with the type of loss that many of us will never experience in one lifetime. Readers will get the real scoop on down-low homosexuality  and they'll get to see what HIV looks like in 2013.  After reading this book you'll see that no one is immune from contracting this virus, not even wives that are faithfully waiting at home for their husbands. B. Styliz Ortiz has changed the face of HIV as we once knew it to be or at least what we thought we knew. I strongly encourage you to get this jaw-dropping book and to let me know what you think after reading it. B has become and HIV activist and a role model for his peers and for Brooklyn youth.  He is encouraging those with the virus to be honest and to share their status with their partners rather than recklessly continuing to spread the disease.

After canceling and rescheduling our interview several times; my nerves are completely shot as I'm pulling up to author B. Styliz Ortiz's home. I'm trying to remember how important it is to breathe as I see him eagerly waiting outside to greet me.  His dynamic smile is something that I find myself fixated on.  He's so humble and he surprises me by bearing gifts and a hug.  I smile and nervously accept the package but I wait until much later to look inside.  I feel like I know this young man and as far as physical features are concerned he can easily pass for my little brother. B has a doctor's appointment later in the afternoon on this day but he has graciously pushes the time back so that we have a sufficient amount of time to talk.  We pick a restaurant in Park Slope with outside seating and we are both delighted that it isn't raining at this moment. (NYC has received record amounts of rain this month).  As we're seated I thank him for pushing his appointment time back and I innocently ask him how he finds a balance between his career and his illness thinking that his appointment has to do with his HIV.  B explains that he has a non-cancerous mass that has been growing in his left leg since childhood.  He has a vascular specialist and he's scheduled for surgery to remove this mass in early August.  Needless to say, I was completely blown away.  I'm the type of person that complains when I don't have enough money to purchase my morning cup of coffee and I can't completely wrap my hands around how this man is so genuinely happy and how he continues to smile as he's explaining this upcoming surgical procedure to me.  He goes on to explain that the only reason he's really dreading the surgery is because it will leave him wheelchair-bound for the duration of 8-weeks. He explains how a recent career day discussion at a local middle school in Brooklyn has left him understanding the great need for HIV awareness within our community and how important it is for him to keep talking to the youth.  Once again, I'm floored because nothing that comes out of his mouth is about him. It's all about educating others so that they don't end up in a situation like his yet if they do he'd  just like them to know that they're not alone.

God is talking to me during this interview and I'm truly realizing how many of my own blessings that I continue to take for granted; from having good health to still having my family members here in the world. B is teaching me through his words how precious the gifts of life and good health  really are.  B fills me in on the numerous projects that he's currently working on and his days are filled to the max. He's already writing his 2nd book which is a tell-all about being a gay male dating with HIV.  B has also recently wrapped up filming of a documentary that can be viewed on You Tube at which chronicles his life with HIV, what he's gone through leading up to his diagnosis and the journey after. B lets me know that he's taking really great care of himself these days.  He takes 1 medication daily and he is currently asymptomatic which means that he has no HIV symptoms.  He's completely involved in his healthcare and after 5 minutes of conversation with him anyone would pick-up on that.  From knowing his viral load counts to meeting with his therapist when he needs to release anger and/or resentment he's on it.  B is fluent in medical terminology with both his HIV and with the mass that is growing inside of his leg.  Listening to him makes me feel as if I'm sitting with a young doctor.  I look at him so strangely because his age doesn't suit his level of maturity.  

B was diagnosed with HIV just 3 years after his mother's untimely death from cervical cancer.  The same year that he was diagnosed with the virus his father committed suicide for his own personal reasons. He chuckles as he tells me what his diagnosis day was like. He says, "It was this same damn leg that brought me to the doctor's office in the first place".  He suggested that his doctor test him for HIV while testing his leg for cancer because it had been a few months since his last HIV test.  B's face begins to change a bit as he reenacts what the doctor said to him on that grim day, "I have good news and I have bad news".  B says he had a bit of an incline as to what the doctor was going to say because he kept calling for his HIV results which were inconclusive for weeks.  His immune system was so strong that testing could barely pick up an accurate result.  He had to undergo extensive western blot testing in order to determine whether or not he was positive for the virus.  B remembers the entire ordeal being awful and scary. The good news was that the mass in his leg was cancer free.  The bad news was that he had HIV. His doctor has been treating B's leg since childhood and he asked him the one routine question that would provide the most important answer to a betrayal that B was unaware that he was in, "Does your partner know that he has the virus?"

B was devastated. He knew that he had been on a path of destruction after his mother's death but now he had a boyfriend that he was caring for and living in his home. Was it possible that his boyfriend knew that he had the unthinkable and passed it on? B admits that he did suspect his boyfriend at the time of cheating on him. He confronted his boyfriend who later revealed that he was HIV+ and he also revealed that he chose to keep his status a secret because he was angry. B felt as if he was going to die. He tells me that he immediately felt like he was going to, "look" like he had HIV and he didn't want that. He also felt like living with the virus would be an impossible feat. From reading B's book I got a sense of the deep connection he shared with his mother. I asked him how much more difficult being diagnosed with her being gone from the world was?  He immediately lights up when he tells me, "I was her right hand".  B kept a major secret regarding his mother's diagnosis from his family members and explains how difficult that was for him because he's generally so transparent with everyone. His mother had cervical cancer but led family members to believe that she had breast cancer.  We talk a little about how she never stayed in any relationship for too long including with his father and his twin brothers father. He believes that in many ways his own approach to relationships stems from what he has learned from her. B smiles with that priceless smile that he owns when he tells me that his mom was a, "diva"! 

He goes on to tell me how embarrassed she was when she began to lose her hair as a result of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  The cancer was so aggressive and it began to take over her entire body, he explains.  I can see how much he resents what cancer did to his mother.  Throughout the entire ordeal he never lost his optimism that she would beat the cancer and live.  His mother was 36 at the time of her death (my age now), and hearing him speak about how he clung to her during her last days is making me intensely emotional.  Between visits at the hospital, school and caring for his 4 year-old twin brothers at the time, B held it all down.  Making Lipton soup dinners when his grandmother wasn't available to cook for them takes B back to a memory that is still fresh in his mind.  "One day my grandmother was over cooking for us and she pulled me to the side".  She said, "Papi, Mami probably won't make it".  B regrets his actions now but says that he immediately told his grandmother to leave their home.  He was in disbelief that she would say such a thing although he too began seeing his mother's body withering away in her hospital bed.  He refused to speak to his grandmother for weeks but as reality began to set in, he knew that he needed to have a discussion with his mother.  He said, "Mami, if you do leave this world I promise that I will finish high school, go to Virginia State University, and make something of my life".

B tells me that his family began to realize that being at the hospital was causing him to miss way too much school.  They advised him to return to school assuring him that they would take over the shift he kept by his mother's bedside. The following day while he was at school on February 9, 2006, at 2:36 p.m. he received a phone call on his cell that he was unable to answer.  He would later learn after going to drop off his mother's income tax forms that the missed call was the one call in life that he wasn't ready for.  B's mother passed away that afternoon at exactly 2:36 when his Aunt attempted to call him.   The one day that he wasn't by her side, and she was probably able to do so peacefully because her oldest son wasn't there to witness the pain of watching her go.  I'm sure that she was holding on for him.  He tells me that the blow of the news immediately left him feeling alone. He explains how he knew that he had the support of his family but that without her in the world he felt terribly alone. After learning all that he had been through I was so touched.  B reminds me so much of myself when I started to write my blog 3 years ago.  I was holding on to years of hurt and pain and many people found my early writings too raw and too emotional.  I decided to share that with him and I also decided to go against my better judgment and give him a word of advice that I believe will serve him well in the future.   As I sit across from him I encourage B to embrace who he is right now, today, at this very moment.  I can see his nerves in some of his online interviews but what I see more is his humble and blessed spirit.  I tell him to take whatever advice from others that he feels pertains to him yet to immediately toss what doesn't.  I give him a brief overview of how I've grown as a writer in such a short amount of time and smiling I let him know that he too will grow.  I encourage him to be easy on himself during the hard times.  I don't have to tell him to seek our Heavenly Father because I can see clearly that he already does that.  His motto is this, "I walk by faith and not by sight", and his belief in God adorns his face with the smile that he wears. 

I walked into this interview expecting to learn more about this author.  I walked away from this interview with a little brother.  All the Glory and Praise in that goes to God. 

I hope you'll take the time to read  this very unique and personal book by B. Styliz Ortiz. Fairytales, castles and prince charmings are a very far reality for many of us. 

Much Luv,

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