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Brenda's Journey
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Summer 1997

Brenda's Journey
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The Changing Face of HIV -- One Woman's Story
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By Mona Gable
Lara Jo Regan, photographer

Even as the AIDS virus rages inside her, Brenda Gonzalez swells with new life and the promise of motherhood.

Eight months along, she rubs her large belly in the instinctive way pregnant women do, cooing to the tiny being curled inside. The day before her mother, Alma, who lives in the apartment next door, threw her a baby shower. A sea of orange, yellow, red and blue balloons float along the walls. A car seat, a layette and other baby gifts fill a corner. "I'm sorry about the mess," she apologizes. The studio, little bigger than some peoples' master bedrooms, is immaculate.

Dressed in a red sweater, black leggings, her long dark hair neatly curled, Brenda sits at her kitchen table on this gray morning, sipping herbal tea. A bright, articulate woman, she openly shares her thoughts on the disease that has invaded her life.

Brenda got infected with HIV sometime last summer, from a man she was seeing in her native Guatemala. They were good friends, working together at a large American hotel in Guatemala City. He was married, with two small children. One day he showed up at her house unannounced and they had sex. She vowed she wouldn't sleep with him again. She did.

Brenda didn't use any birth control, though she thought of using condoms. She's not sure why; perhaps that would have meant admitting intent. She never thought about the HIV virus.

In July, she discovered she was pregnant. In August, she decided to take the HIV test. She asked her partner if he wanted to take it, too, but he declined. He was healthy, he said. Her test came out negative. In December, Brenda returned alone to Los Angeles, where she had lived when in high school, and moved in with her mother and stepfather. "I had to be realistic," she says. "I wanted my baby to have a good education."

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