His Garment, Her Faith: One Woman’s Journey to Healing By Connie Johnson y mother died of AIDS when I was 18. There are no real words that can describe seeing the strongest person you know at their weakest point. It was absolutely devastating. My parents were divorced by the time I was five years old. I grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina. My mother was a single mother. But she was an awesome mother. She worked hard to make sure that everything we needed was provided. After I finished my first semester of college, I came home and my mother was really sick. I almost didn’t recognize her. I dropped everything to take care of my mother. I washed her and fed her. I took care of the bills. I was the sole caregiver. She passed away January 26, 1995, just two days shy of her 45th birthday. No one knew my mother was sick. She asked me and my sister not to tell anyone. The only person who knew that she was sick was my father’s sister who took us in when my mother died. I went back to college. But school became an outlet to party, drink and smoke to dull the pain that I couldn’t deal with at the time. I studied electrical engineering and I went to three schools before I earned my bachelor’s degree. At the age of 25, I moved to Columbia, S.C. By then I was in a space where the smoking, drinking and partying was getting old. Time was not stopping just because I wasn’t dealing with my pain. I decided to buck up and try to be the woman that my mother raised me to be. I enrolled as a sociology student at Allen University. I was doing great. I was on the dean’s list. I had a job that I loved and I volunteered at an after-school care program. In 2002, on World AIDS day on campus they had a testing van. I walked over to the table and I saw socks that they were giving away and I wanted them. “I don’t want to get tested,” I told them. “I’m sure I’m fine.” “If you want them you have to get tested,” they informed me. At this time there was a three-week waiting period to find out the results of an HIV test. “If you don’t hear from us in three weeks, you’re fine,” they said. Three weeks passed and I didn’t get a call. I thought eve22 The Well Magazine/ Spring 2013 M rything was fine. But that following Monday, I got a call saying that I needed to come to the Department of Public Health immediately. I prepared myself for the worst and hoped for the best. I went to the health department and they sat me down in an office about the size of someone’s bathroom. A man came in and just started talking, saying, “You’re going to be fine.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Nobody told you?” he asked. “You have it.” Immediately I collapsed in his office, sobbing. I had not felt anything like that since I lost my mother. It was almost an out of body emotional experience. I was like this cannot be happening. All of a sudden a nurse showed up and says to me, “Baby, if you do what these people tell you, you are going to be fine.” I tried to believe her. That was the day I found out I was HIV positive. A New Creature Once you find out you’re positive, the questioning begins immediately. You had to tell all your business—all of your sex history. As I collected myself to answer the barrage of personal questions, I asked the man if he knew how long I'd been infected. He said about ten years. Although I couldn't be 100 percent sure, everything in me screamed that I had been infected by a 22-year-old man who raped me at a party when I was 15 years old. I felt like I had to tell somebody. I was not going to deal with it in shame like my mom did. I told my best friend. I called my aunt, dad and sister. I started saying it. The more I said it. The more I was able to deal with it. I was still addicted to alcohol and marijuana. So I drank and I smoked to help me deal with it. I went in for an interview for a volunteer position at an afterschool program. I sat down with a lady at the after-school program to see what they needed and she invited me to church. I grew up in a Baptist church in South Carolina. Although I went to church, I didn’t know God. I had not been to church in probably seven years and I was really cynical. I was really sarcastic and told the woman, “If I go, you’re going to have to come and get me.” She picked me up to go to church.