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Standing Strong: An Unlikely Sisterhood and the Court Case that Made History

Standing Strong: An Unlikely Sisterhood and the Court Case that Made History

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Standing Strong: An Unlikely Sisterhood and the Court Case that Made History

4.5/5 (4 ratings)
320 pages
8 hours
Apr 5, 2016


Diane Reeve thought she had found everything in handsome Frenchman Philippe Padieu. Believing him to be her last great love, she spent every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday with him for four years, and they were about to buy a house together. When Diane learned he had Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday women, too, she was devastated. But the pain was just beginning.

A week after their breakup, during a routine exam, she tested positive for an STD. After calling every woman she found in Philippe's phone records, she was told to get tested for something much worse: HIV. The sick reality was that Philippe was deliberately infecting multiple women—women in their 20s through 60s, with little in common except their vulnerability. It was a sisterhood none of them wanted to belong to, but it became their lifeline as they struggled with anger, the specter and stigma of an HIV diagnosis, and failing health.

Despite plummeting t-cell numbers and declining health, Diane vowed to stop Philippe from victimizing anyone else. In a race against time, she tracked down as many of his conquests as possible. Against all odds, this unlikely group made legal history, successfully prosecuting Padieu and sending him to prison for assault with a deadly weapon. This fascinating case—won only through the help of new DNA science—is Diane's story of victory and her mission to bring awareness and empowerment to others. As she explains, "Courage is doing what's right, even when you're afraid."
Apr 5, 2016

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Standing Strong - Diane Reeve


Chapter 1

Black Corvette

That son of a bitch.

It’s not like I didn’t know. In my heart I knew, but I had to be sure, which was why I was sitting in Philippe’s driveway dressed to the nines at 11:00 pm with hot tears ruining my perfect makeup.

It was the night of my daughter’s wedding, for goodness’ sake. He had come with me to the ceremony and cake and champagne afterward, but then there was a break before the reception. I was feeling run-down, so I went home to take a nap, which was interrupted by the ringing phone.

Sweetie, I don’t think I can make it to the dinner tonight. I’m just not feeling well, Philippe said.

What do you mean, you’re not coming? It’s Stacy’s wedding dinner!

I just can’t. I’m too sick to go.

You’re sick? What’s wrong?

I don’t feel good. I need to just stay home.

My sleep-haze lifted as I tried to process this.

Seriously, my ex-husband is going to be there with that evil bitch. Don’t make me go there alone. I am not going to be the odd man out.

Sorry, I can’t go, he said again.

What else was there to say?

I hung up and stared at the caller ID for a second. He had called from his cell phone, and the lack of specifics really made me suspicious. He didn’t say he had a headache, or that he was nauseated, or that he had a fever, just this vague don’t feel well, when he had seemed completely fine just an hour earlier when congratulating my daughter on her marriage and offering words of wisdom for her future.

I called his house phone a few minutes later and got no answer. Where exactly was this sick guy resting? A hard knot formed in my stomach.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. After four and a half years together, he was bailing on a day this important? But I couldn’t spend my energy thinking about it too much—today was about Stacy and her new husband. I went to the reception dinner, feeling self-conscious about the fact that now everyone would see that my boyfriend had ditched me, and I smiled and toasted and did all the things that a good mom should when her daughter has just gotten married. I even felt them. But then I drove right over to Philippe’s house to check on this poor, ill man.

It was no great surprise that his car wasn’t in the driveway and the lights were off—and yet it still punched me right in the gut. I felt so stupid. I’m afraid it wasn’t the first time. Earlier in our relationship, he had left me for two months for an ex-girlfriend who supposedly thought she had cancer, and then there was the time I nearly caught him with another woman. He apologized like crazy and swore it would never happen again, and I let him sweat it out for a few days before I chose to take him back. If anything, I thought we might become closer because he had come so close to losing me.

Despite such incidents, our relationship had been really good in my view. He was so focused on me when we were together, so attentive. He made me feel strong yet protected, desired, and cherished. We traveled well together—the universally accepted test of a relationship. We swam and climbed mountains and kissed under stars and mistletoes. We’d gone to Vegas six times and sang along at a Cher concert. Wherever we went, he had his arm draped around my shoulder, and I felt safe with him. And he was always in a good mood. Even when he lost his job, he had such a positive attitude. It made it easy to be his girlfriend. I could remember only two arguments, aside from the ones about the other women, and even those were quickly resolved. How had it come to this?

Rain fell on my windshield, the most clichéd backdrop for my tears. I tried calling his cell phone again, but there was no answer. I sat in his driveway for an hour, feeling hurt and miserable before the hurt gave way to a more powerful and ultimately more helpful emotion: anger.

His cell phone was in my name because I’d added him to my plan a few years back. Some quick thinking led me to call customer service and pour on a little Texas charm.

One of the kids got ahold of my phone and somehow changed the password on the account, I said. Now I can’t get into my voice mail. Can you tell me what it is?

Well, I can send you a text message with a link to let you reset it, she said.

Oh, that would be just fine. Can you send the text message to my other phone? The one I’m calling from now?

Sure can. Thank you for being a good customer for the past twenty years. Is there anything else I can help you with?

No, dear, that’s all.

A minute later, I took a breath before committing one of the cardinal acts of distrust: I broke into his voice mail. There were two new messages, one from Friday and one from that day.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t meet you tonight, a woman said. She sounded pouty. I had to get diapers for the baby.

The bile rose in my throat. We were both in our fifties. He was seeing a woman young enough to have a baby?

The voice in the second message was more matter-of-fact: Yeah, Sunday afternoon sounds really good! I’ll see you then.

Not only was he out cheating on me the night of my daughter’s wedding, but he had also made plans with two different women for the night before and the afternoon after. Then I realized that whoever he was with now was neither of those women, so he was already on to a third. It made no sense. We were a loving, committed couple. We were in the process of buying a house together. This was supposed to be my last true love. I felt so gullible for having ever believed in this man. So gullible, so alone, and so ready to rip his balls off when he got home.

I was going to wait as long as it took—all night if necessary. I was totally prepared to sleep in the car to ensure that I got my opportunity to see his face when I ended things. Finally, around midnight, his black Corvette turned the corner . . . and then drove right on past as soon as he noticed my car.

Oh, it’s not going to be that easy, I thought, and I threw the car in reverse and chased after him down the block. He took off like a rocket, speeding right past the police department. I couldn’t keep up with him even as I approached ninety miles per hour, but I kept him in my sights as he got onto the tollway.

We can do this all night. I have a full tank of gas, I said under my breath.

It had taken me years to control my hot temper. Martial arts had helped a lot, as I worked to stop myself from burning bridges and letting things fly out of my mouth that probably shouldn’t have. You can’t unring a bell, one of my friends once told me. Nowadays, most people would describe me as calm and even-

tempered, yet here I was, ready to blow that right out of the water with a bona fide car chase, straight out of a movie. Down wet highways and dark side streets, I chased after him with an unshakeable determination until he gave in and pulled over. He got out of his car and approached as I rolled down my window.

You checked my voice mail, didn’t you? was the first thing he said.

Hell yeah, I checked your voice mail.

You’re invading my privacy.

I pay for your cell phone. It’s not your privacy.

What do you want from me?

This wasn’t how I pictured it going. He was cold and remained distant, even as things heated up. It was hard to believe it was the same man who earlier that afternoon had held me close and toasted my daughter’s happiness with warmth and love.

I listened to the messages, Philippe. I know you’ve been cheating on me again. Not even with just one woman, but two? Three? How many?

He just stared at me combatively.

This is the last straw. I’m done, I said.

Look at why this happens! You’re meddling into my affairs and following me around like a crazy woman. This is your fault.

Don’t try that bullshit on me, Philippe. You’re not going to twist this around. I have been faithful to you for four and a half years, and I had every right to listen to those messages after the way you lied to me about being sick tonight of all nights, you sorry sack of shit!

Stop harassing me! he said, looking increasingly unhinged. I thought I was just getting started—I wasn’t nearly done unloading on this jerk—but then things took a weird turn.

My car was a convertible, and I had the top up because of the rain. He began hammer-fisting the top of the car until it shook, and kicking the side of the car by the wheel well, repeating, You’re harassing me! You’re harassing me!

I was a black belt in karate and the owner of a martial arts studio, but he was a martial artist as well. And I was also fifty-four and barely five feet tall. I can’t pretend he didn’t scare me. The way he was kicking and punching my car made me think that if things escalated any further, it was going to end bloody—or at the very least, I was going to need a new top for my car.

We’re done, Philippe. I’ll get my stuff, you get your stuff, and that’s it, I said, suddenly more tired than I’d ever felt in my life.

"Oh, we’re done all right," he said.

I threw the car into drive and peeled out. I don’t know how I got home that night, but I know I cried the whole way. I was never going to be able to forget this night, June 17, 2006; it would be forever linked with my daughter’s wedding.

It was a miserable time trying to put myself back together again over the next few days. I didn’t want to get out of bed or do much of anything, but I had my annual ob-gyn visit scheduled two days later, and I made myself go. I had no idea that my terrible week was about to get a whole lot worse.

You have cervical dysplasia, the nurse told me over the phone when the lab results came back. There are abnormal cells on the surface of your cervix.

I swallowed hard. What stage is it?

Well, it’s not cancer—yet. It’s a precancerous condition, caused by your HPV.

"My what?"

I knew from my years as a nurse that HPV was the human papillomavirus, and I also knew it was a pretty common sexually transmitted disease that usually didn’t show any signs. I’d never had it before, though, and Philippe was the only man I’d been with for years, so it was pretty clear where it came from. Worse, the nurse said it was the bad kind—there are more than one hundred strains of HPV, and around thirty of them are known to cause cancer. Mine was one of them.

You’re going to need a procedure to remove the abnormal tissue so it doesn’t advance, she said.

That asshole, was all I could think. Not only did he cheat on me, but he gave me an STD, and now I’d have to have surgery soon, or I’d wind up with cervical cancer.

While I was stewing about it, I realized something: There were at least two other women out there who were at risk of the same thing—and I had their numbers. At least 90 percent of the reason I decided to track down the women Philippe was sleeping with was out of this altruistic desire to help. Okay, fine—70 percent. The rest of it was just the smallest bit of rightful vengeance. It didn’t escape me that the women would be unlikely to want to go out with him again if they knew he was spreading STDs, and that maybe they would give him the chewing-out that I never got to finish. It seemed a better use of my time than trying to confront him directly about it. And seriously, didn’t they have a right to know?

I sat at the kitchen table poring over the pages of cell phone records—two months’ worth of his outgoing calls. Some were numbers I recognized, like my own or the studio’s, but there were dozens of others. It was daunting, but I knew there was no point in rehearsing it in my mind over and over—it was time to just dive in and make a call.

Hello. My name is Diane Reeve. You don’t know me, but there’s something important I need to talk to you about. May I ask if you’ve dated a man named Philippe Padieu?

Yes . . . ? came the response.

Okay. Well, I don’t know what your relationship is like, and it’s none of my business, but I was with him for four and a half years, and up until last week, I thought we were exclusive—so that’s something you may wish to consider. But the main reason I’m calling is that he gave me HPV, and now I’m fighting a precancerous condition because of it. I wanted to warn you that the same thing could very easily happen to you, so it’s important to get a Pap smear soon and to make sure you get one every year.

I hoped I had said it gently enough.

"When did you break up?" she asked.

Last week.

Last week! We’ve been together for six months . . . we’re supposed to move in together in October.

Well, that’s funny, because we were buying a house together. I wonder how he was going to make that work.

What a jerk!

This is going well, I thought. I hadn’t known what it would be like to call my ex’s many mistresses and deliver news like this, but I knew it was important. And in an odd way, I felt less alone. So, over the next several weeks, I went through every phone number in his records and dialed each unfamiliar number.

Often, it was something innocuous, like a bank or a store, and if a man answered the phone, I just hung up. But if it was a female on the other end of the line, the odds were that Philippe was sleeping with her.

I crossed out numbers and wrote in names throughout the records so I wouldn’t call the same woman twice. One woman with a thick accent I couldn’t place, Nena, screamed at me to leave her alone, saying that she didn’t need to hear this, and then slammed the phone down on me. It was so confusing to me—why was she mad at me for trying to warn her? But people are weird, I reminded myself. You just never know what goes on in another person’s head.

One woman I called, Susan, agreed to meet me in person.

It’s hard to explain why I felt the need to look good for this meeting, but I made sure to dress just so, including a great-fitting pair of jeans and my best high heels, and fix my hair and makeup just right. Even though we were all in the same boat, I guess I hoped to be better and prettier than the others. Ours was the alpha relationship, and I felt like I was in an unasked-for competition to prove that he hadn’t cheated on me because I was hideous.

Susan and I met at a local upscale jazz restaurant, where she was already waiting at the bar when I walked in. I knew immediately who she was, just by the way she was sizing me up. She was about my age, with short, strawberry blond hair, and was dressed in sharp business attire. I wondered if she had dressed up for me as I’d dressed up for her.

You’re so beautiful, she said, which caught me totally off guard. I had no idea how to relate to this woman as a potential friend; she was still my competitor in my eyes. And yes, I was impressed with her, too.

We had a little small talk while we ordered appetizers and drinks, and I learned that she was the vice president of a financial group. When I told her my story about Philippe, my aim was to be matter-of-fact, even though I still had plenty of anger coursing through my veins. She listened politely and attentively but didn’t react as strongly as I expected. Unlike me and many of the other women, she didn’t believe she was in an exclusive relationship with Philippe. She hoped they were getting serious, but they had never discussed it, and she had seen other guys as well.

Next to me, Susan had been with him the longest. Whereas he spent Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays with me most weeks, he was with her on most Tuesdays and Thursdays for the last year and a half. The pattern quickly filled out: on Fridays he would pick up women at a bar, and Sundays were his swing days—he might be with a neighbor, or meet someone online, or any number of other places. At this point I understood that there was someone in his bed every night, and he’d created his entire schedule around it.

I think he feels you’ve pulled the rug out from under him a bit, Susan said.

He’s told you about me? I was floored.

Well, yes. He said that he never told you it was an exclusive relationship, and that now you’ve been trying to really mess up his life because you’re upset.

Oh, no. I promise you, he told me we were exclusive, and we were about to move in together.

Okay, she replied in a noncommittal voice.

She described a man who was down and out, which made me deliriously happy. I have to admit that I’d called the unemployment office to rat him out when I found out he was working off the books while collecting benefits, so now he was just about broke and without any real prospects for a job. She looked at me like I should feel bad about that, but I didn’t. I felt really good about it. Not quite as good as I would’ve felt had she told me that he was living in a cardboard box in a flood zone, but good nonetheless.

At the end of our meeting, Susan thanked me and said she would watch Philippe and decide what to do. She didn’t say she’d break up with him; she just said she’d think about it. I just don’t think I want to abandon him right now. He’s very down. I’ll probably end things eventually, but I don’t know if I’m ready to do that yet.

I was disappointed but figured I’d done my job, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again. I had no idea that our paths would cross again a few months later for a much darker reason—and that this time, she would be the one to share a deadly warning with me.

Chapter 2

How It Began

Truth be told, if I wasn’t desperate when I met Philippe, then it was something close to that. I was twice divorced, had just turned fifty, and had spent two years unsuccessfully navigating the online dating world, mostly because a friend of mine told me that I should.

You’re too young and too vibrant to give up on love, she said, and enlisted the help of a neighbor to snap some photos of me and put up a profile on a singles site before I had much of a chance to protest.

I found the process exhausting. Inevitably, if I was interested in the guy, then he never called again after the first date, and if I wasn’t interested in the guy, he did. And then came Philippe.

There was nothing particularly memorable about his online approach—just the typical, Hi. Liked your profile. Write back if you’re interested type of introduction. But he immediately stood out because of his handsome photo, which looked like a professional headshot. He had dark hair and eyes and seemed upbeat and adventurous. I remember thinking that if his profile photo was current, then he really looked great for his age, which he’d listed as forty-five. I wrote back. If there was anything in my life that I’d like to take back, it was the moment I hit send on that first e-mail.

We had a bit of a back-and-forth and exchanged the basics (born in France? How cool!), but also wrote about martial arts, which I avoided talking about with most potential dates because it usually led to some moronic variant of, So you can kick my ass, huh? But he didn’t seem to be intimidated or patronizing about it; in fact, he seemed genuinely interested. He signed every e-mail with XOXO, a quirk I found endearing. Then we talked on the phone. I had strict rules in my mind for how online dating would work: always a few e-mail exchanges before I’d give out my number, and if we were to meet, then we’d meet somewhere in a public spot. No coming to my house or picking me up. But Philippe managed to bend my rules from the start.

I’d love to see your studio, he said.

My martial arts school. It was the joy of my life and my second career, after twenty-three unfulfilled years as a nurse. What had sparked my initial interest was the Kung Fu television series with David Carradine. When my older daughter, Stacy, was in the second grade, I signed us up for an all-ages karate class at the YMCA. I loved it; she less so. After she progressed to an orange belt, she turned to me one day and said, I don’t want to go to karate tonight.

Why not?

I don’t really like hitting people.

"Well, I understand that. But Mommy really does like hitting people, so I’m still going to go, okay?"

It was a heck of a way to release stress, and it improved my temper and taught me discipline. I’d been a nurse since I graduated from college, but as I’d moved up the ranks to become a nurse manager, I no longer felt like I was helping anybody—I was just hurting myself with a stressful job I’d grown to hate. It had been a long time since I’d felt any passion for my work. Getting into martial arts felt very empowering, and before long, I was there three times a week instead of just the once-weekly beginner class.

I had to squeeze it in amid home life—meal planning, cleaning, my daughters’ school, help with homework, day care, Girl Scouts, art classes, and ballet—so there wasn’t time for it to become an obsession yet, but everything in me was shifting inside. I became more balanced and stronger physically and mentally. I was much more toned and self-confident.

There weren’t many other women in the school, but I watched them with a sense of competition. In my third year of training, I held my breath, hoping that none of them would make it to black belt before me; one by one, they dropped off. By the time that year had passed, I had outlasted and passed all of the women who had started training with Master Yates before me. I was now a brown belt, and his highest-ranking female student.

When he blew out his knee with a self-defense technique, he asked me to substitute teach while he recovered. It was the coolest thing—I taught children’s classes and sometimes stuck around to help teach the adults, too, and I got to watch positive transformations right before my eyes: shy kids gaining confidence, standing taller, and women getting in touch with their own power. This is what I want to do with my life, I thought. This is how I can help people.

That’s what flipped the switch for me: finding a way to combine my new love for kicking butts with my passion for helping people. I couldn’t wait to be invited to test for a black belt, but that’s the thing in martial arts: you’re not allowed to ask to test; you have to wait patiently until your instructor says you’re ready. When mine did, I barely slept for the six weeks until the exam. All the major high-ranking black belts in the area were invited to sit on my exam board, and more than twenty-five of them showed up. Barely healed from a broken nose, I sparred against many of them and some of the other students who were also belt testing that day, and then I had to take on three, four, and five of them at once. When they finally announced at the end, Diane Reeve, first-degree black belt!, I about fainted from the excitement. I’d made it: I was officially a member of the Badass Bitch Club. And next to being a Disney princess, that’s what I had always wanted to be.

I was up to a third-degree black belt when I opened my own studio in Plano, Texas: Vision Martial Arts Center. For a year, I continued working as a nurse while I built up the school, but it became my sole career in 1996. Becoming my own boss was a fitting change, because I liked getting things done without having to run anything by a committee. My first marriage at age twenty-one had been abusive, and I had tolerated it until I was pregnant seven years later and realized that I never wanted my child to witness that.

My second marriage was entirely different. Rusty was my best friend. We got along well, did projects together, and he

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What people think about Standing Strong

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  • (5/5)
    What an inspirational story! I can only imagine what Diane Reeve went through. She's an intelligent, strong, business woman who is missing that special someone in her life to share it with. She finally meets who she thinks is her soulmate. She's blinded by his charm, lets her guard down knowing she's taking a big risk but she was protecting her heart, not her health. She's like many women of a certain age, we don't think of HIV or STD's when we haven't been in the playing field for a long time. We think that's more of a younger person concern.Boy, her story was just mind blowing, it's so real and really heartbreaking. We can all feel the emotions that spin through her head. When she sees a red flag it's so easy to explain these little quirks away She's in love with the man, he's like her Knight in a shiny armor. He's everything she's wants and needs. So she puts her blinders on and knows that she can love him through whatever made her suspicious. But when she gets slammed with the reality of her "exclusive relationship" and sees that her Knight's armor was tarnished beyond repair, the blinders will no longer hide the fact that she's been played. It must have been such an awful feeling. I'm amazed at how strong she is especially with everything she's lost before she even realizes she's been infected by HIV. The camaraderie of the group of woman who brought this monster down is just so inspiring. I can't imagine learning I had contracted HIV and being able to be so supportive of the "other women". It's amazing, these women were so courageous in what they did. I can't tell you the admiration for them that I felt reading this book.This is a must read for every woman out there married or single. I've been married for 30 yrs, but I've got friends who are dating men that they feel are "exclusive" but a few of them also see those red flags waving. It's so easy for someone on the outside of these relationships to say, "Kick him to the curb" but it's not always that easy for the person in the relationship. This book was such an eye-opener.Diane Reeve is a total Rock Star.I would like to thank HCI publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an e-galley of this inspiring book.