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Paradise Found

Paradise Found


I live in paradise, the place people dream of, spend thousands of dollars to visit, and about which they often say, 'I could stay here forever.' I came to the Virgin Islands 20 years ago when I first found out I was HIV-positive. Living in New York City, there were always posters of the white sand beaches, turquoise oceans, and palm trees'so I took my savings and planned a trip. Visiting a Caribbean island pictured on one of those posters was on my list of things to do before I left the planet. At that time, there was no effective treatment for HIV and you were simply expected to die. Twenty years ago in the islands, I sat in meditation and had no outside distractions. I saw that I could be cruel and unforgiving, relentless in my critical thinking about myself. I felt those personality traits slough off, go out with the tide, and be replaced with forgiveness, kindness, and the ability to be in the moment. Back in New York, I accomplished much in two decades: I wrote books of poetry and a book on women and HIV. I also wrote a one-woman show, performed around the world, became an international speaker and columnist. And I married an amazing man. I worked seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours every day. I was living like I was going to die soon and needed to finish all these tasks. I loved what I was doing but seldom deviated from my objectives. My critical nature had resurfaced without the tides to wash it away. I forgot to stay in the moment, trying to keep momentum before it was all over. I was watching my body swiftly deteriorate and was in need of weekly IVs and strong medications. A couple of years ago, the life my husband and I had built in New York fell apart. My husband tried running his own business, but when it failed it took our savings, our credit, and our credibility. He was crushed, I was depressed, and we were broke. I started to dread my work. I felt like a hypocrite talking about joy and happiness while inside I was dying. It was ironic, because at this point my body had begun to stabilize. We went through bankruptcy and foreclosure. Do we work to get it all back? Is that what life is about'owning things? I had to do something drastic to find my purpose again. With my husband's reluctant support, I took some of the money we had left and returned to paradise in the Virgin Islands. I've confronted my demons again in the eight months I've been here. While I had learned to forgive myself in the first trip, I had not always forgiven others. I was kind and gentle with myself but rigid about others' failures. Sometimes I lie awake at night listening to the waves, wondering how this could be. Each day I walk to the beach, then come back up to my small apartment in the west end of St. Thomas. I swim and I meditate. The same answers come to me every day. They are about being of service and writing. I bring my laptop to the deck, search through the memories of my life, and try to put them on paper. I speak to my husband two or three times a day and now see how much I love him. I want him to come down here, but he found his own dream and is pursuing that. I see him every month when I go to work in the States. It is an unconventional relationship, but it works. I wonder why I'm here, why any of us are. I think of my friend Mike, who had HIV as long as I did, 26 years, and how he recently dropped dead of a heart attack the night before his one-man show was to open. Sometimes life makes no sense. So I meditate more and find gratitude in having lived so long when others have passed. I work to find a place for myself in this world, learning to think less about myself and more of myself. ---- River Huston is the codirector of Sevenminusseven, an alternative arts alliance in St. Thomas. When she's not traveling around the U.S. doing performances and presentations, she spends her days on the island, painting, writing, and walking her small, ancient dog, Buddy. Read more about Huston at

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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