DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's Friday, which means it's time now for StoryCorps. Cristina Peña was born in 1984 with HIV. Her father died from AIDS, and her mother is still living with HIV. Cristina was told she was HIV positive when she was nine, but she and her family kept it a secret from her schoolmates and friends. In high school, she started dating a boy named Chris Ondaatje. One day after school, Chris decided to tell Cristina that he was in love with her.
And Cristina sat him down for her own revelation.
CHRIS ONDAATJE: I remember sitting on your living room floor, and I could tell something was wrong. You started off telling me your dad had passed away of AIDS, and I thought to myself, ah, that's the big secret. But then you kept going. And you said your mom was HIV-positive. And then you told me that you were born HIV-positive.
CRISTINA PENA: I remember saying to you, I'm okay if you don't want to keep dating me. And you could have reacted any way. You could have gotten up. You could have called me horrible names. You could have ran out. But you said, babe, I'll pick you up for a date tomorrow. You gave me a big squeeze, and that meant so much to me.
ONDAATJE: We really learned how to communicate with each other. And it's definitely forced us into having to grow up faster than we probably would have otherwise. I struggled with telling my parents about it. And my dad, he was pretty upset. He tried to talk me out of dating you.
PENA: I remember I'd walk into your house and he'd get up and leave, without saying anything to me. That was the first time I had ever realized that I was actually a threat to someone.
ONDAATJE: I said, look, here's this piece of paper. I get tested every six months. We're safe. I love this girl. I want to be with her. And all I wanted was acceptance. It was a few years of being really distant with my mom and my dad, and really only in the last five or six years have we started to mend those issues. And we have a great relationship now. Their biggest concern is when we're going to get married and start having grandkids for them.
PENA: You know, when I found out I was HIV-positive at nine, I had no idea what my future looked like. And now, as an adult, obviously still HIV-positive, but I have a future, and I have a future with you and we've built that. And you've made me feel so beautiful and loved. And I didn't think I could have that.
GREENE: Cristina Pena and Chris Ondaatje at StoryCorps in San Francisco. They have now been together for 13 years. This, and all StoryCorps interviews, will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at The Library of Congress. And you can get the Story Corps podcast at NPR.org.
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