Lexi, 15, California
When Lexi was in the first grade, her mom told the teacher than Lexi was HIV-positive.
The teacher cleared out half the classroom and made Lexi sit by herself so she wouldn't infect the other children. The teacher would follow her into the bathroom and once sent her home for spitting. Her only friends were the lunch ladies in the cafeteria.
Later that year, her mother died of AIDS.
When she was in seventh grade, some boys spray-painted "Lexi has AIDS" on her locker. All kinds of kids, including ones she didn't even know, walked up to her and asked if it was true. She told them it was a lie. (It was - Lexi was born with HIV and has not developed AIDS.)
I'm on the phone with Lexi, 3 months after these photos were taken, and she sounds like a new person. She's upbeat and energetic. She's got a new mom - a nice lady named Shannon. And she's back in school.
But Lexi was different on the day of our shoot. Our plan was to meet at 8:00 AM, but she called and said the room was spinning and she couldn't focus her eyes.
That's what the pills do to her - when she takes them. She's been on powerful HIV medications her whole life, but for a long time she was convinced that the pills made her sick, and she couldn't bear swallowing them.
"My dad would be in the living room, and I'd go put the pills down the garbage disposal. My stepmom would see me, and she'd shove the pills down my throat. I'd throw them up, and she'd shove them back down my throat."
Lexi remembers her dad and stepmom sitting on the couch, wailing, "Oh my God - you're going to die!"
Two years ago, Lexi was alone in her room, crying. She was angry at her father, who'd recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. So angry that she said, through her tears, "I hope he dies in surgery." Her stepsister was close enough to hear what she said.
A minute later, Lexi's dad came to the door and said he was getting rid of her. The next morning, he dropped her off at Child Protective Services. From there, she bounced around the system - from foster care to group home to family members back to foster care.
Now Lexi has a good mother, and she's happy. She just went to a place called Camp Laurel, where everyone is HIV-positive. She says it changed her life.
"There so much love. Nobody makes fun of anybody. You don't have to worry about who you tell. Everyone hugs everyone."
Camp Laurel is free, and companies donate "angel flights" on their corporate jets to get the kids to camp at no cost.
Lexi says her new adoptive mother loves her more than anything. "She writes her goals up on the wall, and I write my goals. Her goals are to take care of me and make my goals happen."
Now Lexi sounds excited and happy. "If I want to learn Japanese, we'll go to Japan. I told her I want to learn Spanish, so she's taking me to Mexico this summer. We're going to Hawaii in the spring, Australia in the summer, and France in the fall."
I ask Lexi how she feels. "I love life," she says.
The story above is from Michael Franzini's One Hundred Young Americans, reprinted on Neatorama with permission.
Check out our review of the One Hundred Young Americans book and website - or get your copy here.