Lorrie Goss was the youngest of 6-children. Not knowing her biological father, her mother married her stepfather just before her seventh birthday and she grew up in a blended, military family. The family was such a stereotypic military family that Lorrie was born in Ft. Benning, Georgia and her 5-siblings were all born in different places. They finally settled in North Carolina.
"I met the man of my dreams when I was seven and he was nine. I knew I would marry him." Lorrie said, "Of course, that didn't happen."
Lorrie graduated from high school at 17 and she decided to finally meet her biological father. So in 1983, she moved from North Carolina to Texas.
Meeting her father went well and she stayed in Texas for close to 8-years. During that time, Lorrie had married, her father was diagnosed with colon cancer and she had become pregnant by another man. Lorrie said, "The father of my child didn't want anything to do with the child or me, so I decided to move back to North Carolina temporarily, where my mother was to help with the pregnancy. I had no family in Texas other than my father and he was very ill. I had planned to go back to Texas to continue taking care of him, but he passed away while I was gone."
With the passing of her father and her child's father wanting nothing to do with her, there wasn't any reason to move back to Texas so she decided to stay in North Carolina and lived in a trailer that her mother owned. That was 1991.
"I was on my way from the trailer to my mother's house one day and I saw a man walking. As I got closer, I started honking the car horn at him...I'm kind of an extrovert like that. He turned around and it was the man of my dreams from when I was seven!" Said Lorrie.
She continued, "He was divorced and I was going through a divorce. I was 25 and he was 27. I invited him to my mom's birthday party because we all grew up together and he and one of her sisters were best friends when they were younger. Within about 2-weeks, we were moved in together and began having unprotected sex."
In February of 1992, he had left the house for awhile and she received a call from him. Lorrie said, "He told me there were things going on in his life that he had to deal with and that I shouldn't have to deal with and we needed to break up. I told him I'd be out in and hour. I called a friend and was out in half-an-hour."
She temporarily moved in with her mother and then got a place of her own. Knowing what it was like to come from a broken home and not knowing her own father growing up, she wanted her son to know his father so in 1992, she moved back to Texas.
Lorrie says, "My son's father met him and everything went fine, he just didn't want to be a dad. So in 1993, my brother was a carny and was working at a music festival in San Antonio. I started working with him at the event and it was long days, leaving home early and getting home late. A friend of mine from back in North Carolina was leaving me messages nearly every day saying it was urgent. We played tag back and forth and after about a week and a half, we finally talked. She told me that the man I'd lived with, my childhood sweetheart, was dying from complications of AIDS.
"I knew I needed to be tested. I was thinking of 'Philadelphia' and all the horrible stuff. I mainly wondered if I had killed my son."
She called an HIV hotline that directed her to a clinic in San Marcos, Texas for testing. When she was tested, in 1993, there was a 10-day wait for the results. She asked when she could have her son tested and was told he had to be 22-months-old and he was just 21-months-old.
She said, "There was no doubt in my mind I was going to test positive. I'd been living with him for a year. When the nurse told me the test result was positive, my only question was 'can I make an appointment for my son?'"
Her son was tested and was not HIV positive!
"The clinic had offered to notify everybody I'd been with that they needed to be tested, but I contacted
everybody myself, face-to-face, with the exception of my son's father because he was somewhat unstable.
"I called my mom and told her that I needed to talk to her. When I told her that I was coming to North Carolina to tell her what I needed to, she asked, 'Lorrie, are you dying?' Once there, she asked me what I wanted to do? I told her that I needed to tell all the family." Lorrie said, "They were all Southern Christians, so it was hard to tell them but I had to so I could stop any rumors or gossip. They didn't want anything to do with me. The only accepting one was my grandmother. She said, 'loving my granddaughter isn't going to kill me'".
It being 1993, Lorrie was convinced, she was going to die. She said, "I took up extreme sports and started bungee jumping. I wanted to have fun but I also didn't want 'HIV' on my death certificate. Then a friend of mine told me that my son needed his mother."
Lorrie moved back to Texas after making the rounds to all her family in the southeast. Two years into her diagnosis, she married a man that she'd known for 19-days. He knew that she was HIV positive and they were divorced after 9-years in a marriage she described as "pure hell."
She said, "The one good thing that happened in that marriage is that he moved me to New Mexico and I met my doctor, Trevor Hawkins. He's just an incredible HIV specialist. I was going through serious depression about 18 years into my diagnosis and had stopped taking my meds. I asked him if he'd be there at my funeral. That's when he asked me, as a friend, if I'd see a psychiatrist."
At her doctor's request, Lorrie began seeing a psychiatrist. "One day I said, 'I'm OK, I can either dwell on it or deal with it.'" She said she chose to deal with it.
In 1999, Lorrie began speaking as an invited speaker to groups. She said, "I began talking to people and realized that the more I talked about it, the less power it had over me. I began speaking all over Northern New Mexico. I wanted people to know basically anyone could get HIV. It's not just a gay disease or a disease that drug users get. Everyone needs to know that unless you're with someone 24/7/365 you don't know their deepest, darkest secrets - they could be HIV positive. Also, If you're in a relationship and are HIV positive, you have to be mindful of your HIV negative partner. You have to do everything right - condoms are not always 100%."
There was a desire building all this time in her to do more. She began participating in testing and clinical trials in the hopes that there might be a breakthrough one day. But, she said, "I also wanted to bring awareness back to HIV and at the same time, most of all, memorialize all of the warriors who lost the fight."
Lorrie had envisioned a sort of personal HIV/AIDS walk for about 10 years but her husband at the time wouldn't have gone along with the
idea. Things changed in April of this year when she married her new husband, Mike Jones.
"We were married in Niagara Falls, Canada on April 1st and Mike had to stay there while I drove back to New Mexico. While I was driving back, I decided it was time. I called Mike and told him I'd been thinking about the walk for 10-years and told him my reasons. He agreed that I should do it." said Lorrie.
Lorrie chose to walk from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Austin, Texas. The significance for her was that the David Powell Clinic in Texas was the first place she was treated and the Southwest CARE Center was the place she'd been treated for the last 18-years in Santa Fe. She picked October of this year as the time for her walk simply because it was about the coolest month to walk in New Mexico and Texas.
The walk lasted 5-weeks and consisted of 673.1 miles. She said, "I walked every day but one. There was a bad storm that day and I've been struck by lightning twice so I didn't want to try for a third time."
Besides her goals in the walk and her effort to "Pay it backward and forward," as she said, Lorrie also found it to be somewhat spiritual for her.
She said, "One of the things that I experienced was the help that we all got from people along the way. That reached out to me and our team truly renewed my faith in humanity. The people who stopped by and gave me a hug or a bottle of water, it allowed me to see the love of people to the HIV community. It blessed me."
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