Mariana

Sara de Maria

Haven't you changed, Mariana. You traded beauty for strength, swiftness for wisdom, and smiles for legs to stand up with. Why did you change, Mariana? You're ill. Your spine rots and your blood bogs. You won't live to be thirty, but your gaze knows more pain than time itself. And your husband never knew. You grew tired of smiling. Of his hands on your body and faking peace in silence. Of looking sideways while he used you like a doll. Of pretending you did not know his intentions, of sounding inno­cent, clean. Of feeling dirty on command, white vomit leaking down your dark thighs while you watched him get dressed. Of hearing him think whore every time he thought you enjoyed it, even though you never could. Of smelling a whore's perfume on him each night when he got back home, and staying silent just to please him. Of convincing yourself that you would get pregnant the next time, because if you did, it would no longer be a sin. You grew even more tired when you could finally visit a hospital, when he finally accepted. You grew tired when the nurse carelessly read to you the scribblings of some overworked doctor who could not spare a second to see you. 

"HIV."

You grew tired of the silence you kept. You did not tell your husband because you knew what his reaction would be. You're a whore, you've slept with someone else! Lesbian! Sidosa*! Even though you had always been faithful. You had more than enough in the middle of the night. You woke up in pain and angst, nauseous and repulsed, and you knew something had changed. 

You got up in silence and lit a candle.

"Forgive me, Mary," you begged to the tiny dog-eared printout of the virgin, as you left the

can­dle next to the straw mat you had for a wall. You ran away with the smell of fire rising in the breeze of dawn and a daughter in your womb, to heal the scars of hate and men, and to make sure she wouldn't get the same. 

*Sidosa (fem) or sidoso (masc) is a term used in Latin America to describe people with HIV or AIDS (in Spanish, SIDA). It is a pejorative term. In some contexts it can be used to imply homosexuality or as an insult towards homosexuals.

 

In Peru, despite polls showing that up to 90% of Peruvians want sexual education in schools, there is no clear legislation on it, leaving students of public schools with little to no knowledge on the matter. Back-alley abortions are the first cause of death during pregnancy, in particular for low-income women in rural areas. HJV and its associated stigma also stems from this lack of education, as 97% of the transmissions happen through sexual contact, and the ratio of infected men to infected women went from 15:1 in 1990 to 2.7:1 in 2000. The disease also carries a social stigma for women in the Latin American equivalent of the virgin/whore dichotomy.

 

As 75% of Peru's population is Catholic, the Virgin Mary is a revered figure, from which

"mar­ianismo" is born. Women are expected to be self-sacrificing housewives and mothers free of "sexual impurity." Most married women get HJV from their unfaithful husbands, who do not suffer from such restrictive roles. These women are usually faithful themselves, but with the stigma of promiscuity and homosexuality carried by HIV, they have to handle the health risks of the virus and aggression and the isolation from their partners and families.