Carmen was born in Leech Lake, Minnesota. Of Ojibwe heritage, she and her younger brother were adopted by a Quaker family and raised in Lake Elmo. While her adoptive parents provided a stable and happy home life, she characterizes her youth as rather rebellious. As an adult she traveled all over the country, including California and then Boston, working as a seamstress while making art with paint and textiles.
Carmen’s life was disrupted suddenly by a car accident in the early 1980s, which left her with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that has caused continual challenges. She says, “It’s really affected my thinking. I have been in nursing homes on and off since then.” It was while living in a metro-area nursing home in 2003 that Carmen first learned she was HIV-positive. “When [the disease] first hit me I was sick. I was so sick, right away,” she recalls, “and at that time it didn’t matter to me if I died or not. But now, you know, I’m kind of healthy, so that’s not what I want to happen. Even though I know it will, because nobody lives forever.”
She started taking HIV medications when she moved into Agape Dos in 2004, after learning of Clare Housing through her nurses. When asked her opinion on living at Agape Dos, she replies, “What I like about it is that I’m allowed and kind of expected to go my way. But [staff] give me lots of memory help, like with meds.” Care giving staff members also work with Carmen on the tasks of daily living. Some are easier for her than others.
She describes how different the environment is at Agape Dos than in a nursing home. “I was in so many nursing homes, it really is pretty stressful. I would call this house a peaceful setting, and that just makes [such a] difference.” Staff at Agape Dos referred Carmen to Park House, a day program for people living with HIV/AIDS. Here she is able to socialize with others who have had HIV and TBI or similar challenges. She says, “I don’t interact much socially and don’t go out a lot, because memory is so important and I always feel kind of like, what’s your name again? But people at Park House, we’ve all got similar situations…it’s a wonderful place.”
When not at Park House, Carmen loves to spend time with her 22-year-old daughter, who lives and works in the neighborhood, and her two “wonderful” grandchildren. Many afternoons Carmen can also be found playing her favorite games—Scrabble and cribbage—with a housemate friend at Agape Dos. She also looks forward to having her nails done by a volunteer who comes to the home. Carmen says she is very pleased to be living at Agape Dos. “I am well-suited for this environment,” she says, “it is a lovely place to be.”