Images and text created for The Los Angeles Times. Below is the published text.
My name is Tom. I come from the Czech Republic. I left my country
when I was 18 to escape communism. I love to meet people and travel.
When I got sick after traveling I assumed that I had Malaria. After
doing a blood test doctors said, 'It may be HIV." I didn't say
anything. I didn't scream, cry, nothing. Where I come from you can't
talk about these things. People gossip. For that reason only my
brother knows my illness.
Walking down the street is like being naked among a crowd. I feel
like everybody is staring at me without uttering a word to me. Every
day I encounter so many people and yet they are all strangers. People
hear my accent and they don't want to get to know me. How could I
tell them I am HIV positive? Despite living in Los Angeles for nearly
29 years, I just can't make any friends. I have neuropathy in my
legs, which is like walking on broken glass all the time and it
doesn't go away. I cannot drive. If you don't go out, if you don't
drive... then you don't meet anyone. All I want is a friend to go to
the movies with. I would like to peel off my skin, layer after layer,
and become who I was before because what you see is not me. I just
happen to be how I am and I have no control over it. We are all just
trying to live normal lives.