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JaneStates of Grace

By ROY PETER CLARK
Special To The Times

For once, Mick Morse revealed his emotions to his children. Two years after the diagnosis, he finally told them he had AIDS. He said he was sorry and he cried. "I hope you don't think badly of me," he said.

David crossed the family room and embraced his father. "I'll never let that happen," he said.

But David still had some questions. He associated AIDS with gay sex and drug users. He figured his dad wouldn't use drugs and couldn't work it through in his mind that his father was gay.

It took lots of courage, but he finally asked his father. It was on a long car trip from Michigan to Delaware. He had time to think about things. About how his mom and sisters would deal with this. About the responsibilities that would fall on his shoulders. About how "life sometimes sucks."

Surprisingly, it was Mick who broached the subject. "Dave, how are you dealing with this."

"I've got some questions," said David. "Like how did you get it?"

Mick smiled. "Dave, it doesn't matter how I got it. It's not about that. It's just about how we're going to handle it from here."

In a way, David felt relieved. He didn't even know if he wanted to know.

At least the AIDS part was revealed. They could relax a bit, and settle back for the long drive, seeing the miles of flat midwestern highway stretch before them. David enjoyed the long, comfortable silence. "He is my father," David said to himself. "I am his son."

Jane also felt relief, as if her lungs had opened up letting in some healing oxygen. Finally, the kids knew. Jackie knew. Jane's mom and dad knew. Jackie's kids joined Jane's kids for some family room sessions with an AIDS counselor from a church called GRACE. They were good talks, softened by tears and comforting hugs.

Mandy, Jackie's daughter, was a college student. Her professor had told her, "You know, everybody in this classroom, in one way or another is going to know or be touched by someone who has AIDS." Mandy looked around the family room. "And here we are," she said.

There was something good in that room, thought Jane, a feeling of community, something that might be called grace.

The AIDS counselor brought in a doctor for Jane to consult. It was so important for her to speak about the medical realities in English. She had learned what she could about AIDS from the English language literature she was able to find in Spain. But, finally, she could talk openly, not only about her fears, but about Mick's symptoms and medication.

The doctor said that he could not be as helpful as he would have liked. He didn't have access to Mick's medical records, which were in Spain, and couldn't see the results of blood tests. He would need to know to what extent the so-called "suppressor cells" in Mick's blood had outnumbered the "helper cells," thus leaving the immune system weak to fight disease.

But given Jane's predicament, he would venture an educated guess. From Jane's description of Mick's symptoms - his fatigue, fevers, weight loss, skin lesions and chronic coughing - it appeared as if the illness was advanced, that Mick would have only months, perhaps a year to live.

Jane was grateful for the prediction. It filled her with resolve to return to Spain and begin preparing herself and her family for the inevitable: life after Mick.

Emboldened, and acting against Mick's wishes, she and Jackie drove to Fennville to break the news to Mick's brother and sisters. "Jane felt that they needed to know," remembers Jackie, "that they might never see their brother again."

Mick's older brother Larry was there with his wife, the daughter of Mick's high school football coach. His kid sisters were there, Janis and Debbie. As Jane broke the news, Jackie hugged Janis.

Yes, it was true, their brother had AIDS. How could he have AIDS? It was so hard to believe.

There was crying and embracing, a level of emotion that broke through the famous Morse stoic resolve. They were so much like Mick. Larry, in particular. Jane could read the resemblance in his body language. He was working so hard to be strong. He offered his help, especially with certain financial issues, something about bank accounts that had to be put in order.

For the next four years, no one in Fennville, except the Morses and their spouses, would know that Mick had AIDS, not even their own children. The cover story was that Mick had cancer. They believed that Mick, and even Jane, wanted it that way. It was just a family secret too terrible to reveal in a small town. Mick's sister Janis would explain that "Fennville isn't Chicago."

Jane was eager to return to Spain. She developed a plan. First, she would go to work to save as much money as she could. In June 1992, Meghan would graduate from the 10th grade, the highest level at her school in Bilbao. It would be the perfect opportunity for a move, probably back to the United States. Then, she would need to think about a career, becoming the family breadwinner. Maybe she would divorce Mick. She wasn't sure about that.

But whether she did or not, she dedicated herself to one ultimate goal: No matter what, she would help her children preserve their love and respect for their father.

Sometimes, worrying about the future, she would wake up at night in a cold sweat. She would go to the bathroom and stare at her face in the mirror, looking for the faintest signs of illness. "It's time," she would say. "Time for another AIDS test."

THE SERIES: This is the 16th installment of a 29-part story.
Next: Chapter 17, The White Horse


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