"THE AIDS GIRL"

THAT'S HOW RONDA CRACE WAS KNOWN IN PRESCOTT AFTER DRUG COPS INVADED HER HOME. AGAINST ALL ODDS, SHE'S REBUILDING HER REPUTATION

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@body:But the damage had been done to Christian and Crace. That October, the Prescott Sun published a long letter from audiologist Robert Crace about his daughter's plight.

"How many young people who have contracted this grim purveyor of death will not shrink and hide in fear of senseless exposure and persecution?" Dr. Crace wrote. "These unfortunate people can no longer trust in a constitutional right to privacy. My hope is that the words 'fairness' and 'compassion' will not be as foreign to PANT and the Courier as the words AIDS and homelessness are foreign to Reagan and Bush. . . . I am outraged. . . ."
Dr. Crace says he wrote the letter because "two very good people got hurt very, very badly. What really hurt is that we had fallen in love with Prescott and planned to stay here forever. I'm still angry, very angry."

A malfunctioning heart had forced Dr. Crace to Arizona from his native Ohio in late 1988. He moved to Wickenburg, where he waited to be called by a Tucson hospital for a much-needed heart transplant. (He received his new heart shortly after Christmas 1991 and says he is doing well.)

Dr. Crace's surviving children--Robbie and Ronda--followed him to Arizona. The trio stuck together like survivors on a life raft, which, in a sense, they were.

Before Ronda was born in 1963, a brother, 3-year-old Robin, had died in an Ohio house fire. When Ronda was 16, her mother jumped off a bridge and drowned. Rosemary Crace died two days after Christmas, but authorities didn't discover her body until the river thawed out months later.

Because of unfortunate circumstances, Ronda had to identify her mother's body at a county morgue. After the suicide, she tried to remain the effervescent, popular cheerleader and good student she had always been. But, she says, the "abandonment issues" that have troubled her deeply to this day started to fester within her.

After high school, Ronda attended Miami (Ohio) University for three years. Her grades were okay, but she says she spent much of her time playing with friends and writing what she calls "bad poetry." (She didn't complete the requirements for her degree, which she says she hopes to do someday.)

On her 20th birthday, in 1983, Ronda arrived in Los Angeles. She lived with friends there, and found secretarial jobs to earn a living. She also did more than her share of partying.

"This is no excuse," she says, "but I wanted to escape me. It was easier that way. Old story, huh?"
In 1986, she married a drug dealer named Charlie. Charlie provided Ronda with an unlimited supply of cocaine, which she snorted and freebased daily. Though she left Charlie after about a year, Ronda didn't leave freebasing--a dangerously exhilarating and addicting way of consuming the drug--for some time after that.

Sadly, Ronda had to face another family tragedy. It happened during a time, Ronda says, that her mother's death was weighing heavily on her mind and she was having her own suicidal thoughts.

Ronda's 28-year-old brother, Roger, encouraged their father to "try to save my life," she says, and Dr. Crace flew to Los Angeles to be with her. While he was there, they learned Roger--a father of three--had committed suicide in the same way as had Rosemary Crace, by jumping off a bridge.

Ronda's next few years were a blur of off-and-on relationships with men and cocaine. But July 4, 1988, she says, flashing a huge smile, she did cocaine for the last time. It happened after someone beat her severely in a clash she can't bring herself to discuss. "I just basically prayed to stop and I stopped. I've never, ever, done that stuff again."

After that, Ronda says, "I finally started to like me again a little." In late 1988, she migrated to Arizona with her father and her lone surviving brother, then moved to Prescott in June 1989.

"I felt such a warm sense of community," she says. "I planned to live here for a long, long time."
Ronda found a secretarial job at an accounting firm--the one she works at today--and met a young man. The two attended church together and set a wedding date for May 1991.

In November 1990, however, Ronda asked a Prescott doctor to treat her for swollen, aching lymph glands. He took some tests, then sat down with her a few days later to report the awful results. She was HIV-positive.

Ronda says she's not sure exactly how or when someone infected her with the HIV virus. It may have been her drug-injecting ex-husband or one of the eight or nine men she had sex with in the several years after she and her husband split up. (Without testing, it may take years for the HIV virus to make its presence known. Ronda says health officials haven't informed her of positive HIV diagnoses concerning any of the men she slept with.)

She staggered out of her doctor's office and into a world that would be forever different for her. To Ronda's surprise, her brother Robbie was waiting for her. He had seen her car and stopped on impulse to ask her to lunch. Ronda fell into his arms, weeping. She had little idea what HIV meant, other than she would be dying sooner rather than later.

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