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The Rumor Mill

By ROY PETER CLARK
Special To The Times

The Morses could be great friends, and a woman from Rio, call her Elizabeth, needed one.

It was the fall of 1987 and Elizabeth's son had just killed himself. After hosting a dinner party in Washington, D.C., the son cut his wrists with a knife and bled to death.

The son was a student at the American School in Rio who came under the beneficial influence of Mick Morse. Mick nurtured and directed the young man through his academic studies, and he blossomed as a student and a leader. At the time of his death, he was one of the brightest young environmental scientists working on the Brazil Program at the World Wildlife Fund. He was 27.

Mick and Jane reached out to Elizabeth. First Jane went to work in the way she knew best. She cooked huge casseroles and chocolate cakes for Elizabeth and her surviving children, enough to sustain them through their most difficult periods of mourning. Some of Elizabeth's friends avoided her, not knowing what to say or how to offer consolation. Some expected her to just snap out of her grief.

About two months after the suicide, Mick offered Elizabeth an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner.

"I don't think I'm ready for that," she said.

"Of course, you are," said Mick.

At the dinner, Mick read from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, the passage on friendship: "And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed." His voice was soft and soothing.

Buoyed by Mick and Jane's support, Elizabeth set out on a journey to deal with her grief. It began as a journey of the mind, as Elizabeth began gathering books on dying. Her bookshelf in a cozy apartment in Rio speaks to her search. There you can find books on theosophy, reincarnation, meditation, eastern religion and death, especially the works of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Dr. Kübler-Ross, considered the foremost expert on death and dying, had described in 1969 the so-called stages of dying: "denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance."

Jane would learn, in the cruelest way, that these were not mere concepts.

The year of the suicide, 1987, Dr. Kübler-Ross published one of her most passionate books: AIDS: The Ultimate Challenge. She wrote: "Since we can no longer deny that AIDS is a life-threating illness that will eventually involve millions of people and decimate large portions of our human population, it is our choice to grow and learn from it, to either help the people with this dread disease or abandon them. It is our choice to live up to this ultimate challenge or to perish."

Jane did not know it yet, perhaps Mick didn't know it either, but by 1987 he most certainly was suffering from AIDS. He already was exhibiting symptoms: exhaustion, chronic coughing, bouts with diarrhea. He would run fevers and get up in the middle of the night to change his clothes, which were drenched with sweat.

His co-workers noticed that Mick was losing weight and could not climb the steps of the school without gasping for breath.

"He's working too hard," they'd say to each other. "He's under a lot of stress."

Among a tight circle of friends, there was another rumor. It concerned Ary Galvao, one of the most creative teachers at the American School, a dynamic classroom performer and an excellent scholar of English language and literature.

Ary was discreet about his personal life, but it was well known that Ary was gay. He had once been married. That was long ago. At parties and other events throughout Rio, he was seen in the company of young men.

"He was a Brazilian homosexual intellectual," says Christiaan Oyens, a former student. "He was bright, well-read, more open. Mick was reserved in comparison."

Yearbook photos show Ary with long hair, a mustache, and sometimes a beard. Streaks of gray decorate his hair, and dark brows set off intelligent and expressive eyes.

After Mick died of AIDS in 1993, Jane heard rumors from friends in Brazil that Ary Galvao knew something about how he might have contracted the disease.

The story came to her in different versions. To this day it can only be reported as second-hand hearsay. Elizabeth told it to Jane this way: Ary Galvao recounted to another teacher that he had run into Mick "in a place where I was surprised to see him."

Elizabeth had gotten the story from one of Mick and Jane's dearest friends, who had gotten it from a language teacher, who had gotten it from Ary himself. In one version, Ary had run into Mick in a sauna, one of the bathhouses where gay men congregate.

Jane had hoped to learn more through a direct communication with Ary, but she got word that he was in the hospital with a lung infection. Then more news arrived: Ary Galvao died in December 1994. The cause of death was AIDS.

THE SERIES: This is the 12th installment of a 29-part story.
Next: Chapter 13, Over Troubled Waters


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