Ace of Spades
Morse family photo
Jackie Timmer was one of Jane's dearest friends. Jane told her about Mick.
By ROY PETER CLARK
Jane couldn't keep the secret any longer. She was sick of the lies, cover stories and Mick's cold denial. She needed a friend, and in this moment of desperation, she reached out, across the distance of years and miles, and dialed Grand Rapids, Mich.
Jackie Timmer was one of Jane's oldest and dearest friends, a bridesmaid in her wedding. Jane picked up the phone in Spain and called Jackie. It was so good to hear her soothing Middle American voice. It was a connection to home that Jane needed.
"Mick is very sick," said Jane. "He has a terminal illness." She could not yet bring herself to say that he had AIDS.
That summer - it was July of 1990 - Jane and the kids would travel to Delaware to visit their favorite aunt and uncle, Joan and Ralph. Jackie promised to fly out to see her friend. They went out to the beach together, two old Michigan girlfriends, and sat on lounge chairs in the bright sunlight, and walked along the shore, the foam of seawater splashing their bare feet.
"He has AIDS," said Jane.
Jackie held her. They both cried.
"What about you?"
Jane told her that she had been tested three times. Each test came out negative.
"Jane was like a sister to me," remembers Jackie. "And Mick felt like a brother. At that moment, I felt loyalty to Jane. I needed to stand by her. I needed to be with her. That something like this could happen to two people you care so much for. My insides ached for her."
She also felt great sorrow for Mick, but thought she had better not express it. Jane was too angry to hear anyone hurt for Mick.
Jackie had guessed that Mick had AIDS. Why else would Mick's illness have to be shrouded in secrecy? Jackie had been around gay people all her life. She could see, in retrospect, a quality in Mick that, while intangible, suggested the possibilities of a double life.
Jackie had been working in an AIDS rehab program in her church, a non-denominational Christian center called GRACE. Along with her love and personal support, Jackie offered practical help for Jane. If Jane wanted to come to Grand Rapids, Jackie could connect her with doctors and counselors who worked with AIDS patients and their families.
Another year would pass before Jane took her up on it. The Morses gathered in Grand Rapids for their summer holiday in 1991. David flew up from college in Florida. Jane, Meghan, and Erin stayed at Jackie's house. Mick arrived later and stayed at the house of another old friend.
Jane had kept Mick's secret from their children for almost two years.
"It's time to tell them," Jane insisted.
"No it's not," Mick resisted, his voice rising in untypical anger.
One morning, Jane found herself alone with David, who at the age of 20 had grown into a strong and handsome young man. Jane was proud of him. They sat on the floor in Jackie's basement, close together, folding laundry. Jane had a gut feeling. It was time.
"You know, David, how sick your father has been." She reached out and held his hand. "This is going to come as a shock to you, but he has AIDS. I don't know how much longer he's going to live."
A look of disbelief crossed David's face. Then came the tears. Jane was glad that they could hold each other and cry together, and talk about things. It was the kind of emotional release she craved from Mick.
"What are you going to do, Mom?"
"We're going to get through this. Come hell or high water, we're going to get through this. We'll do the best we can."
"How did Dad get AIDS?"
Jane told David that he should ask his father. If his father would not tell him, then Jane would. We have to be responsible for the decisions we make in life, she told her son, and this is what happened to your Dad. "Whatever your dad did, the bottom line is he loves you."
They hugged and cried some more.
"Do the girls know?"
"Not yet. I want them to hear it from your father. We all need to be together when he tells them."
That moment would come two weeks later. Mick had taken the girls on their annual summer shopping spree. They would gather the next morning for a family talk. Meghan, now 15, thought that was strange. Something was up. "They must be getting a divorce," she thought. That would be the worst thing.
They sat around the family room. Jane and Meghan were on the couch. David sat on a chair with his guitar. Little Erin, now 12, sat on the floor, playing solitaire. Mick sat on a footstool apart from the others.
"There's something I need to tell you," said Mick.
"You guys are getting a divorce, right?" said Meghan.
Mick's voice started to break with emotion. "I've got AIDS." And then, "I am sorry." Tears came to his eyes. It was the first time Jane had ever seen him cry.
David knew the secret, but hearing it from his Dad was different. His first instinct was to take his guitar, that instrument of the musical gift he had inherited from his father, and bash it against the wall.
In his mind everything moved in slow motion, the words of his father stretched out so slowly: that - he - would - die - from - AIDS because he had never heard of anyone who didn't die from it, that he would continue to work for as long as he could, that he would do whatever he could for them.
Then David saw something that snapped him out of his trance. Erin, his little sister, sitting on the floor, looking down, stone cold, silent as a Morse. Then a single teardrop fell from her eye and splattered down upon the Ace of Spades.