I remember when I first learned about his HIV. It was a slow revelation. A little at a time, it became painfully clear. It started about six years ago near winter time. My son, Antonio Terry Jr., my "Sunshine" I called him as a boy. He's in heaven now. But, he left a message here on earth.
My name is Iris Venable. Although God has given me peace since my son's death just this year, I represent the face of the pain, the mothers and the loved ones left behind by the scourge of HIV/AIDS in our community.
It was six years ago when my son, Tony, then only about 24, lost his apartment. I went looking for him and I found him in a crack house. At that time he seemed more concerned about his music albums than himself. He asked me to take them to safety. I took his albums, knowing how much they meant to him. But I also invited him to come to live with me. He came with a family — a girlfriend and two children who also needed a home.
But, he also brought with him a shroud of secrecy. His girlfriend was ill much of the time. She was back and forth in the hospital with ailments like pneumonia. Unable to turn away my grandchildren, I helped the family the best I could.
I asked him repeatedly, 'Are you sure that girl is alright?' He'd say yes. But then I'd see her with these big bottles of medicine. She said it was nothing and that she was just anemic.
Finally, over time, I kind of guessed it because I'd gotten a letter at my house saying my son needed to be checked for HIV. Medical personnel also constantly called, asking him to be checked.
So, I pled with him too. But, he just kept saying, "No, Mom I'm fine." I would say, "You're in denial."
It took him at least two years before he got checked and the doctors finally confirmed it. He confessed that he thought it would just go away if he ignored it. They got him started on his medications and for a while he was happy - even relieved.
But, then the side affects of the medications seemed to have a worse affect on him than the disease itself. The constant diarrhea and nausea were unbearable. The medications also gave him mood-swings. Then, he started having seizures.
I watched as my son slowly deteriorated, his legs weakening, sometimes unable to walk.
As he neared the age of 30, I would often recall him in his prime. He had a gift. The gift was that people hung on to his every word. They didn't have to know him and they still hung on to his every word. There were people on my front steps all the time. I would say, "Tony, why are those people on my front steps?" He would say, "I have no idea. I asked them to go home. But, they're waiting for me to come back out."
Even when he attended church, those who ministered to him the prayer of salvation now chuckle that he did more talking than they did.
The last seizure that he had was in August last year. That is when he also began to hallucinate from the medication. He never came back home from that one. The doctors diagnosed PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy), a condition in which a virus had attacked the brain because of his lowered immune system, causing it to shrink. Ever since then, he lived between hospitals and nursing homes.
On Feb. 12, the Lord took Tony home. He would be turning 31 this year had he lived 'til Mother's Day.
I would often talk heart to heart with Tony when the medications were not causing him to be delirious. I can hear now the essence of the message that he desired to bring to other young men and women. I hope they will hear it too:
He'd say, "Mama, they need to know, if you have to have sex - even safe sex - don't just jump anything. Don't take sex casually because you don't want to be where I am. You don't want to know when your last day is. You don't want to take these medications for the rest of your life. You don't want people looking at you funny. You can't get a shot for this. You don't want this. You don't want any part of it."