Forty-eight years ago, on October 6, my mother was taken to the hospital to bring me into the world. One year ago, also in October, my doctor told me, “I have bad news on the HIV test.”

Eight little words ripped through the multitudes of words I’d written about HIV. Words I’d hoped could protect me against the plague in the two decades I’d been reporting on it—as if words alone could. Writing as an HIV negative journalist, I thought I knew what it “must be like” to have the virus. I wrote stories of loss and pain. Of fear and anger. Of lives transformed by illness. Of people living and loving at full volume.

I have come to see that I hadn’t the slightest idea of what living with HIV is really like. As I do it myself now, I would say life feels more intensified—feelings are deeper, attachments stronger, losses keener. Last spring, I watched life begin again as I watched a mourning dove sit on her eggs in a flower box outside my kitchen window, day after day, through the cold and rain, and then nurse her two hatchlings.

I recall that scene, aching with sadness, as I hold the (negative) man I love, believing he can’t possibly know what I mean when I say he means life to me.

I didn’t live and love at quite this volume a year ago. That’s why this October, I will mark both my birthday and the day I was reborn—the day I truly began to live.