Who: Linda Mclaughlin
What: Her big move
Where: Michigan to Florida
When: 08.08.03

Mickey and Donald’s new neighbor, HIVer Linda McLaughlin, 41, ditched Detroit winters for poolside nightcaps in Orlando. With $300 and a truckload of determination, she drove solo for 30 hours in a 14-foot U-Haul. POZ got the full story.

I’d always dreamed of living in Orlando. But after 22 years of National Guard service, I was afraid to move because I had never moved before. I also had reservations about having to find a new doctor. But I wanted to be in warm weather. And make a career move—to Disney World, driving a bus and greeting guests. Honestly, I just love to see people happy.

I learned I was positive in 1996 when my boyfriend died of lymphoma. We’d been together for five years, but he had never disclosed his status to me. Just before he died, he got a chance to tell me. I was furious—but I still kept by his bedside. I had also taken care of my [late] parents, in-laws, aunt and, most recently, my brother, who passed away just as I was preparing for the move. After spending nearly all my savings on his funeral, I said, “It’s time for me to do something for myself.”

Friends kept asking why I wasn’t taking anyone with me on the move. I needed to experience this on my own. But I didn’t realize it was going to put my body through so much. Five exhausting days after arriving in Florida, my body just shut down. Finally, I dropped by the ER, where I ended up staying for a four-day observation, including a spinal tap and CAT-scan. It turned out to be dehydration and some unknown virus.

The move felt like I was shedding everything that I had gone through. As I crossed into Florida, I could almost touch a double rainbow that had appeared on the horizon. It was so brilliant, right there waiting for me. It had just finished raining, the sun was out and I cried. I said, “I made it!”