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Care and Sympathy

Jane and Carol Ann Bryant


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JOANNA B. PINNEO

Jane found a new friend in co-worker Carol Ann Bryant. Jane poured out her feelings about Mick.


By ROY PETER CLARK
Special To The Times

Jane felt the conflict deep in her soul. She wanted to make love to John, to be able to feel like a woman again, but it could not be based on deceit or denial. She had to tell him the truth.

"Look, you have to know this," Jane said. "I could walk out of here and it will be the end of it, but I feel you need to know. My husband is dying of AIDS."

John seemed both masculine and sensitive to Jane. But was he strong enough to handle this?

Jane reassured him. She told him of the many times she had been tested. How all the tests had come out negative. She told him that there had been no sex between her and Mick for years.

"You can believe me or not believe me," Jane said, "but this is what I want with you."

John listened with care and sympathy. He had no doubts about this woman. She had a terrible problem. But she had taken care of herself and her children. He sensed that she was a good and honest person.

Jane and John made love that night. John used a condom. It was the first time Jane had ever been with a man other than her husband. It was the first time she had made love in more than six years.

During those years, Jane had felt so lonely. What she did not realize is that she was probably "one of well over two-million women and men in America who are or have been married to a homosexual or bisexual partner." That statistic comes from a study by Amity Pierce Buxton, who counsels people caught in such crises. "Only a few are aware of their partner's sexual orientation when they marry. In some cases the partner is not even sure. In time the truth comes out with painful consequences for all involved."

She adds, "Interviews with hundreds of women and men from coast to coast attest to the devastation that the three words 'I am gay,' uttered by a marriage partner, can have on his straight spouse. The partner's coming out thrusts the straight spouse into the closet as well."

I am gay. Mick never uttered those words.

Only "I have AIDS."

"The need to conceal sexual identity can be so overpowering," writes Dr. Buxton, "that some keep silent even after being diagnosed with AIDS."

"How did you get AIDS?" Jane had asked her husband.

"I got it through sex."

"With a man? With a woman?"

"It doesn't matter," Mick had insisted.

Now he was in Spain, and she was putting down roots in St. Petersburg. The kids were thriving. She had the support of her aunt and uncle. She loved her job as a caregiver. She enjoyed John's attention and affection. From the little garden she was cultivating behind her apartment, she could look east in the morning and see a beautiful sunrise, and look west that evening and see a glorious sunset. She was used to Christmas without snow, and she looked forward to celebrating her first sunny Yuletide in Florida.

Then Mick wrote to her. He was coming to Florida for Christmas.

Jane was so upset, she fell crying into the arms of her office mate Carol Ann Bryant. They were standing in the X-ray display area, an odd stage for Jane to reveal her innermost feelings to her new friend.

"It's the worst thing imaginable," Jane cried. "He has AIDS."

Carol Ann was divorced and had three children of her own. She could sympathize with Jane's dilemma.

Of course, Jane wanted the children to be able to see their father. But she didn't want to have to explain Mick to her new friends and co-workers. What would she tell them? That she and her husband were separated? That they were getting a divorce? That he was sick? That he had cancer? What would they think about her?

John had been sympathetic, and she was grateful. But could she spread the news of Mick's condition widely to people who did not know him? Would people reject her, and shun her, because her husband had AIDS? She couldn't chance it. Not yet. For a while longer, she would borrow Mick's black box and hide their secrets there.

But she knew one thing for sure. If he came to visit, he would not stay with her. She told him flat out.

Mick then wrote to their son David, who still attended Eckerd College. Would David please try to find Mick an inexpensive little apartment he could rent for the holidays? This angered Jane. It was the first time, the only time, that Mick seemed to be using the children against her.

"I didn't want him to be staying with me, where I lived," says Jane. "But there was never any doubt that he could stay with my aunt and uncle."

And so it was arranged. Mick would come for Christmas. It was what he wanted. It was what the children wanted. But it left Jane without joy and consolation. She had had such high hopes for the holidays. The spirit of the season was meant to inspire promises of new life, of peace and good will.

Instead, she found herself dreading Mick's arrival, of having to confront his inevitable physical deterioration, of having to keep alive the rhythms of her new beginning, even as she struggled to find some permanent relief from what she now felt to be an ancient grief.

THE SERIES: This is the 22nd installment of a 29-part story.
Next: Chapter 23, The Christmas Video


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