AIDS was… an illness in stages, a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death, but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die, time to discover time, and in the end to discover life.~ Hervé Guibert
Isaac tells his story (1)
Continued from… Who wants to live forever
It took a while before Isaac started talking. His voice was devoid of all emotion. Annie quietly sat in the chair, listening to Isaac and just letting him talk. Some of what he told her, she knew from the letters she had frequently received from him ever since he almost died two years before.
My mother and father were married for 14 years when I was born. They had already resigned to the fact they might never have children when I arrived. I had a very happy youth. My father was the magistrate of the town and my best friend’s father was the assistant magistrate. They lived in the house next to ours. Our two families also went on holidays together.
I can’t remember how old I was when I realized I was different from my peers. It took some time for me to get to terms with it, but I instinctively knew I couldn’t tell my parents. I wrote them a letter before my father died, to explain it. A couple of months ago, my mother again asked me how it happened that I was gay.
She just can’t understand it.
I tried to explain it again, but I don’t know if she really understands. She’s too old. She’s of a different generation. My mother had once said it’s a shame a woman and child would never know my love, because she thinks I would make a good husband and father.
I had really tried, Annie. I had really tried to have a normal relationship with a woman. There was this girl when I was still in school and I was very fond of her. Not in that way, though, the way a woman and man should be together. No, she was my best friend. We did so much together. Then I decided to try to have a love relationship with her, because I knew it would make my parents very happy.
When I asked the girl if she would marry me, she told me to take some time to think it over. She wanted me to be convinced I wanted to take that big step. I went away on a holiday with my parents and when I returned, I told her I was sure. I gave her the ring, but then she asked me if I could love her just as much or more than I would ever be able to love a man. She saw the doubt in my eyes and gave my ring back. Shortly after that, I moved to Cape Town for my military service. After my compulsory military service, I joined the permanent forces, and I stayed in Cape Town, far away from my parents.
Roundabout November 1983, I worked in the personnel office, doing the administration for those who came in for their compulsory military service. That was when I met the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Every lunchtime and teatime, I made sure I was close to him. He worked at the outpatients’ clinic, and he had about two months to go before his military service would end.
Up to now, I can’t tell whether a man is gay, unless it’s very obvious. A friend of mine informed me Freddy was gay. Then I really wanted to meet him, but I didn’t know how to go about it.
One evening in the barracks, I sat in the lounge watching television when I noticed none other than Freddy in the chair in front of me. I was eating an apple, and when I was done, I threw the core at him. He walked over to me and we started talking. Freddy said he had never seen the rooms of the permanent force barracks, so I invited him to my room. He followed me. I didn’t know what to do. He did, but didn’t do anything. So, I asked him if I could make pictures of him. He agreed and little by little through the evening, he shed his clothes and I just kept on making photos of him.
I can’t remember when we had sex for the first time, but I do remember 21 November was our date. At the end of December, Freddy’s military service would end. There I was – in love as I never had been before and, as it turned out, never again would be.
Freddy could just touch me, and I was ready, if you know what I mean. For the last couple of weeks, the army decided to send Freddy to another unit. I was so in love with him, I just couldn’t be without him. I could hardly wait for him to return so I could see him again. Now and then, he made a trip back to the hospital to get medication for the clinic where he worked, and then he came to see me too. I also drove out to his new unit to get his laundry. I bought him cards, sent him letters and went totally overboard the way only I can.
I started a diary to keep track of everything we did. Just two days before he was to clear out of the army, he returned to the hospital. He was going back home. His place on the Flossie, the military airplane, was already booked. I was going to drive him to the airport. I bought him a watch and as a parting gift, I bought him a silver pen, which I had engraved.
The evening before he was supposed to leave, he came over and told me I didn’t have to bring him to the airport anymore, as someone else would do it. I was on duty at that moment and there in the office, we had a huge fight. He got so angry he ripped the watch off and threw it against the wall. It shattered into a million pieces. He eventually left, but he promised he would stay in touch.
After Freddy had left, I drove one of the senior nurses crazy with my questions whether she had heard from him. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t function.
A month later, he was back with me again. He moved into my room and I was in the seventh heaven. I would have done anything for him, and I did. He went his own way every day, and I supported him. I went to work, and he hung around wherever he did during the day. He used Mandrax and weed, and I was stupid enough to give him the money for it.
Every Friday evening I watched while he dressed himself up in my clothes and then I drove him to whichever club he wanted to go. Then I stayed awake in bed all night, waiting for him to return home, but many times, he didn’t. Many times he only returned on the Saturday and sometimes even on the Sunday. Many, and I really mean MANY dramas down the line, he left my life. Or rather, he was not with me anymore.
In 1986, by chance I learned Freddy had AIDS. He should have told me, but he didn’t. I went to a civilian doctor to have myself tested and found out I was HIV positive. Freddy passed away in 1989, a mere three years later. He died in a hospice with his new lover next to him. A couple of weeks before his death, when he was already gravely ill, he wanted to come back to me. I then would have had to take care of him daily. I couldn’t because I had to work. I also didn’t want to, since it would have emotionally wrecked me.
On my birthday that year, I visited him in the hospice. He gave me a birthday card and two small porcelain kittens. Pietro, his lover, must’ve bought it with his own money, but it’s still something Freddy gave me.
On Friday 27 October 1989, I visited him again, with our mutual friend, Dottie. He was very ill. Dottie visited him again on both days during the weekend, but I didn’t go again. On Monday, 30 October, between half past five and six in the morning, he died. Pietro called me.
Freddy was buried on the first day of November. It was a small service, with few people present. Bishop Tutu was one of the preachers. Freddy had given his life to the Lord just before he passed.
It was bad, Annie, really bad. I was one bearer, and I sat on the front row in the church. Both my handkerchiefs were drenched. Then Pietro stood up and he said he knew it was unusual, but Freddy wanted the song “You Needed Me” of Anne Murray to be played in the church.
That’s the story in a nutshell. There is a lot more, but really too much to tell. I remember everything – it could fill a book. He was my first and last lover. He was a year younger than me and only 27 when he died. I am 37 now.
To be continued… Isaac tells his story (2)
Note: This series is a rework of a self-published book (2009), rewritten for this blog, and in loving memory of a dear friend who suffered from and passed because of AIDS. Keep in mind this story happens in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Names of characters have been changed to protect their privacy.
© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay