As many of you know, today is World AIDS day.
Once upon a time there was a woman whose husband contracted HIV. She didn't know that she was a carrier. Already a mother to several older children, she had a beautiful healthy son and a few years later a baby girl. Not long after baby Z's birth, the husband learned that he had HIV; the woman learned she was a carrier; the family learned that the beautiful baby girl was infected.
She was a slip of a girl when I met her. She controlled her brothers with a glance of her big brown eyes or a frown on her lovely lips. She was raised in the hospital as much as in her troubled home. Her doctor, who adored little Z, promised her that if she made it to her 16th birthday he would buy her a car. Everyone who met Z hoped she'd make it that long; she knew she would. She wanted that car. She wanted to live.
And she did. She grew into a beautiful young woman. She got the car, but she never managed to pass her driver's test. Z studied hard at school, went to the prom, graduated and started college. She was living on her own for the first time, another milestone everyone hoped she'd reach; a milestone she knew she would.
But Z got embarrassed to take her prescription cocktail in front of her roommates. She didn't want anyone at school to know about her disease. She wanted to be normal for once. Just another girl who liked clothes and getting her hair done and boys and hanging out with friends.
She got sick. She had to leave college. She faded before the eyes of those who loved her.
On her 19th birthday, a crowd gathered with pizza and cake and even a family dog in her hospital room. Z glowed with joy. Her brothers doted on her, teased her, and loved her. She grew tired, and as people left the celebration, she held each hand, accepted each kiss and told each person that she loved them.
Not long after, Z passed away, AIDS taking this beautiful young woman who had the grace to smile even as she lay dying.
The face of love, as the singer reminds us, is a smile, thrown up in the face of despair.
Z will always be the face of love.