About eight years ago I became a grandparent. To be both dramatic and honest, I was a little traumatized. How did this happen? Overlooking the obvious “my kid had sex” thing, I was too young at 40 to have a whole human be my “grand” anything. I made the unilateral decision he was going to call me GiGi since it sounds somehow sexier and younger than Grandma or Granny or good grief, Big Momma.
Around that same time, I had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Honestly, my age didn’t play much into that except as a footnote of gratitude that I had lived a little life and had some life experience to fall back on to help sort out what was and what would be. Folks get so caught up in what they think life with HIV is, they forget there is actually a life being lived under the acronym. It evolves for us just like it does for everyone. If I had a dime for every time someone said I didn’t look like I had HIV or looked too young to have a grandchild, I’d be writing this from my vacation in Negril rather than my bed.
Fast forward to a little over a year ago, and Gigi’s Baby came to live with me. Only now [insert more drama here], I’m too old for this grandmother thing! Parenting at nearly 50? He is a light in my life, keeps me on my toes, and on a good day both makes me laugh and need to rub Tiger Balm on my knees trying to keep up! I am simultaneously too young to be this old, and too old for this mess! I’m still trying to figure out when my joints got old enough for me to feel when it’s going to rain, let alone keep up with Fortnite and YouTube personalities.
That’s the thing about aging. It changes your reality. In small ways you’re constantly coming to terms with both your own ageism and that of society. It’s like when you were 16 and 21, with its promise of adulthood seeming to take forever. Being 25 and worrying about what you’d accomplish by 30, and throughout all of this your grandparents were practically decrepit if they were in their 60s. Your crazy Auntie June was 46, wild, smoked a little pot, and hung out with young folks, but still—she was old. My, my, what a difference living a decade or two makes for your perspective!
I’m the grandparent now. I’m the youngish-old aunt explaining to her nephew about vinyl albums and watching his fascination while the needle hits the record and his eyes light up while the music plays. I roller skate, and dance and hang out with younger folks. I’m still somehow surprised that I have an adult child. My son was absolutely mortified when my grandson found my massager (you know, the personal one). I told my grandson it was just that—a massager, to keep it simple—then proceeded to convulse with laughter over the next two days as he ran around using it as everything from a light saber and a rocket to a voice changer to tickling the bottom of his own feet with it. I thought my son was going to melt through the floor! I’m positive his dismay was more about the fact that I had a personal massager than my grandson playing with it. I can only imagine what my twenty-something self would have done if I had found one in my mother’s drawer. Forty is the new 20, right?
Our own personal perspectives change as we age, but not everyone keeps pace with our changes. Society sometimes is slower to change within a time frame. The 40s are known for being a woman’s sexual peak, but only cougars and loose women talk about that, right? It’s more socially acceptable if I sit my HIV-positive self down somewhere and be still. Puh! Not. I’m single and trying to navigate dating, the desire to mingle, and maybe find love along the way.
General society thinks I’m supposed to be and look “sick” or like I “have something” with HIV, not be a good-looking woman with great skin (even if I do say so myself). Hell, as a woman of a certain age, having acquired HIV at a certain age, general society would like to know how did I get HIV in the first place? ’Cause you know, I don’t fit the mold [dramatic eye roll]. I’m supposed to be taking a handful of medications instead of one pill once a day. All these old ideas people have about those of us living and aging with HIV have to deal with and try to dispel. I like to call how I live my life at this point living by example. I don’t have to shout my status at every person I meet or try to convince them I’m fine, or better—that I’m thriving—I can just go about my business and live my life. Which means navigating a life process that includes aging with HIV, countering anxiety and depression with hope, and counterbalancing a small human to raise in a digital age when all I want is for him to go outside and play like I did when I was that young.
Even if I can feel the rain coming in my joints and while my knee hurts when I skate, I’m still going to enjoy the rain and skate ‘til I’m 80. I’m still going to put the needle on the record and listen to it snap and crackle with my digital playlist on standby on my phone.
Oh, and get a massage every now and then.
Bridgette Picou is a licensed vocational nurse in Palm Springs, California. She is also an active HIV blogger and contributor to the CDC’s “Treatment Works” public service campaign. Finding a voice in advocacy and activism is a natural progression, since she feels that every time she fights for someone else, she affirms her own life.