Stranger

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.

stranger