Two years ago, I was enjoying being a grandma, reflecting back on a successful career and looking forward to retirement. I was also looking for someone to share the remaining—and hopefully best—years of my life.
I met a very attractive, polite, physically fit Frenchman named Philippe Padieu. After a year together, the future looked promising. That is, until I heard from one of his former girlfriends that he was dating over nine women at the same time—including me!
This was hard to imagine, but his ex-girlfriend, Diane, mentioned that Philippe also had a prison record and may have given her an STD that was causing her to have early signs of cervical cancer. Philippe said she was just jealous, crazy and out to ruin his life. I decided to run a background check on Philippe, and it came out fine. Despite this, I grew increasingly wary, and a few months later I broke up with him. Shortly afterward, I asked my doctor to give me "every STD test available." What happened next is a nightmare that will haunt me every day for the rest of my life. I tested positive for HIV.
When I found out about my condition, I was in total denial, shock and panic. I thought: "Oh my God, I'm going to die a horrible death! No one must ever know!" I daydreamed about various ways to kill myself before anyone could find out. I was overcome with panic, obsessing about losing my job and insurance, wondering how I could possibly support my kids. I imagined people backing away and looking at me as if I was dirty. I wondered how I could possibly explain this to my family. How could this be true? How the hell could I have been SO STUPID?
Suicide was attractive but not an option. My family depended on me. I would just have to find a way to survive as long as possible. I worried about Philippe. I was sure he had infected me. I called him right away and urged him to get tested. I assured him, "We can get through this together." When he didn't follow up with me, I became suspicious. After contacting the health department and sharing my concerns, I provided them with the name of his former girlfriend, Diane. She rushed to be tested and was diagnosed with AIDS.
Diane and I were certain that Philippe must have known his condition but wasn't telling his partners. Using records from the cell phone Diane had given Philippe, she gave the health department a list of over 29 names. We followed up with the women to offer our support, and were horrified as the number of victims continued to grow. Many were already seriously ill or had developed AIDS.
I confronted Philippe, who finally admitted he was HIV positive. He was defensive and angry, claiming that no one would ever be able to prove that he was the common denominator. We learned that he continued to see women without telling them about his HIV status or using protection.
Diane and I decided to take action and filed a criminal complaint. We had taken a huge personal risk because the story was sure to be publicized and our identities would be exposed, but we were absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do. Fortunately, the police provided us with pseudonyms. This did a lot to calm our fears and also helped give other women the confidence to come forward and join the case.