River Huston has done more in her life than most people. She’s farmed marijuana in Northern California and worked as a dominatrix and a street musician. She’s been an unwilling participant in two robberies, lived in an orange van in Mexico and she can put on a condom using only her mouth.
She’s also been anorexic, on the verge of suicide and HIV positive.
Roughly 150 people came out to the Music Building on Monday to hear Huston’s one-woman show that dealt with everything from having great sex to her battle with two terminal illnesses.
Huston said her story began a week before her college graduation. She was a fitness major, and had just gotten the perfect job.
“I had one more paper to write, one more test,” she told the audience. She had even found “the guy.” The couple decided to get tested, and Huston’s HIV test came back positive.
“‘You have a few good years left,'” Huston remembered the nurse saying. “I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this.'”
Huston, who had been anorexic since she was 12 years old, began to binge eat.
“I thought, ‘If I’m dying, I’m dying fat,’ she said.
Huston said she almost married a “stalker” who made her want to vomit when he proposed, just so she wouldn’t die alone. After she left him, she decided to hang herself in her wedding dress.
Her suicide note changed her life. Huston said it read, “like an epic poem,” and she brought it to a poetry slam, where she won the poetry contest six days in a row. But Huston’s battle wasn’t over – a few months later she was diagnosed with a critical bone marrow disease that almost killed her.
“I decided that if I survived I was going to forgive everyone – give them a blanket of immunity,” Huston said. And she did survive.
Barely recovered, Huston began training for the Philadelphia Marathon – a forgiveness run, she said. While running, Huston struggled – and succeeded – in forgiving an overly critical mother, and even herself.
Today, Huston is married, adores her three dogs, and someday hopes to adopt a child. She said she speaks to students because many know little about sex, particularly the risks of HIV.
“I just want kids to have a way to protect themselves and have fun at the same time,” Huston said. She said two extremes are presented today – “have sex and die” or “MTV, where everything is ‘back that ass up.’ There’s no in between,” she said.
Huston received a standing ovation from the audience.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Nina Davidson, senior English and women’s and gender studies major, said. “But it was great. It was good to get a firsthand perspective about HIV and AIDS.”
Rebecca Mellor, a Norsworthy Hall community advisor who helped put the program together, called Huston “amazing.”
“She’s not afraid to talk about anything,” Mellor said. “It’s a really positive experience.”
Mellor said Huston has visited the College before to perform during AIDS Awareness Week. She said she was glad the speaker could reach a larger group than usual.
The program was sponsored by the office of Residence Life, the Residence Hall Association, the Women’s Center and the Alcohol, Drug and Education Program. The Voices of Planned Parenthood, the Progressive Student Alliance, Women In Learning and Leadership and the women’s and gender and communication studies departments also hosted the event.