Mick and Jane
Morse family photo
In 1989, Mick Morse had been sick for months.
By ROY PETER CLARK
Their story begins in Bilbao, Spain, an ugly industrial city along the northern coast. It is a cool and sunny day in late November 1989, just after American Thanksgiving. Jane Morse drives to a city hospital to visit her husband Mick. It is called Las Cruces - The Crosses. Mick has been kept in isolation for two weeks, undergoing tests for a mysterious ailment.
Mick and Jane were born in tiny towns in Michigan, have been married 21 years, and have three teenaged children. Mick is headmaster of the American School in Bilbao, and came here a few months ago after more than a decade at a similar school in Rio de Janeiro.
But Mick had started getting sick in Brazil. He looked exhausted and out of breath. He would cough and wake up in the middle of the night with his bedclothes soaked in sweat. He had lost weight from a once athletic frame. His friends and family attributed his constant ill health to stress and overwork. But Jane worried it was something more. As she drove to the hospital, she hoped the doctors would have some answers.
Most any man who saw Jane walk into the hospital would have noticed her. She had dark eyes and a broad bright smile. Her brown hair showed highlights in the sun and was cut fashionably short. She was thin and tan, looking more Brazilian than American, and much younger than her 40 years. If you passed her in the elevator, and she flashed you that smile and peeked over the the top of those sunglasses, it might be the best thing to happen to you that day.
Jane's husband was as quiet as she was outgoing, as reserved as she was flirty. People described Mick as soft-spoken, not only because his voice was soft but because he didn't say much. Jane got frustrated sometimes trying to pull things out of him. Even a small piece of news. He held his emotions in a deep black box.
"Have they found out what's wrong?" she said. They made her put on a hospital mask and gown.
"Yes, they know." He looked straight at her.
"Well what is it?"
"I have AIDS."
He looked away.
She didn't hear him right, or thought he was joking.
"That's impossible. You can't have AIDS. How could you get AIDS?"
Mick just lay there without emotion.
"Mick, this is not funny. This is sick. This isn't happening."
"Yes, it is happening. It is true."
"How did you get AIDS?"
"I got it through sex."
Jane began to panic. "With a man? With a woman?"
"It doesn't matter. I got it through sex. Someone I picked up at a bar."
That was all he would say.
Jane doesn't remember much about what happened next, except a feeling of deep nausea and revulsion. The world was spinning in reverse. She felt a different force of gravity and it was pulling her down. She left the hospital gasping for breath, sat in her car and grasped the wheel, fighting off a smell of death and despair, and the sickening feeling deep within her. She cried and cried.
Three little words. Not "I love you." But "I have AIDS."
And with them two crippling revelations:
Her husband, father to her three children, would die.
Her relationship with Mick had been a lie.
She chided herself. How could she be so blind? She searched her memory. Had there been signs?
That day was a blur. What would she do? Here she was in a new country, struggling with a new language. She had read about AIDS as far back as 1981 when the disease was identified. But this was not a story. This was real and it would change her life forever. My God, what would she tell the children?
Finally, sleep came and with it the relief of forgetting. It did not last long. In the darkness of her bedroom, Jane found herself bolt upright in bed, her body shaking and her nightgown soaked in sweat.
Number one: her husband would die. Number two: their relationship was a lie.
But now the third revelation hit her so hard that she heard herself speaking the three little words aloud:
"What about me?"