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 Goes Home
Continued from… New Year’s Eve
Two days later and two days before he was scheduled to leave for South Africa, Isaac gave Annie a handwritten letter, addressed to the Dutch AIDS Foundation and the return address he had put on the letter was his home address in South Africa.
“Could you please read this, Annie?” Isaac asked.
Without a word, Annie sat down to read Isaac’s letter. He started by telling who he was and where he was from. Then, in a couple of paragraphs, he explained how the Dream a Wish Show had contacted him and when he had arrived in the Netherlands. He gave them a chronological rundown of his time in the Netherlands, mentioning he hadn’t planned to be in the Netherlands for the Christmas holidays. Then he came to his request:
Since thousands of guilders had been spent on fireworks, I want to know what the possibility is for you to pay my hospital bill and the bill for the ambulance transport. I know this is an immense and arrogant request, but I have a reason for asking. I think my employer would want me to pay them back; that they would recover the expense by means of a monthly deduction from my salary. Since the South African currency is weak against the guilder, it would take me forever to clear off this debt. I just don’t need the extra stress of such a heavy debt, since stress deteriorates my condition. I would appreciate if you decide in favor of this request.
Annie was quiet when she put the letter down. Isaac mistook her silence for repudiation of his letter.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” he asked.
“No, my friend, it’s not,” Annie answered. “I now understand why you were so adamant about writing this letter. I did not before, but I do now.”
“Can we go to the post office to mail it?” Isaac asked.
“Yes, let’s go.”
The fifth day of the New Year dawned.
It was the day Isaac was leaving to go home, back to South Africa – dawned.
All of them, including Joe, Myra and Sylvana, had gone out for dinner the night before, to celebrate the time Isaac was with them, and to give him a proper farewell party. It was a wonderful evening with a sad undertone, since none of them wanted Isaac to leave.
Isaac was sad too.
For two months, he had been between people who had accepted him for who he was. He knew Annie had never rejected him, but he was grateful for how wonderful her mother, her husband, and their friends were towards him. When he thought back to how the television crew treated him, he remembered they too seemed not to have a problem with him being a gay man, or being HIV positive. He loved this country and its people, but deep inside, he had a longing to go back to his own home.
He wanted to be back where he felt he belonged. Deep down, he knew he had to go home. Isaac wanted to go back to his doctor in South Africa as soon as possible, because then they could start him on new medicine. The sooner he could get his medicine, the quicker he would feel better again. He was still in pain, and what Annie didn’t know was it got even worse in the last couple of days. He didn’t want to tell her. Had he been home, he would have long gone to the doctor.
They drove to the airport with three cars – Annie, Jacques and Isaac in the first, Grace and Annie’s children in the second and Joe, Myra and Sylvana in the last. Isaac felt honored to have all of them escorting him to the airport.
Jacques took Isaac’s bags out of the car once they had parked in the parking garage. They started to walk in the direction of the lifts. Everyone was joking around, but none of them really felt happy. All of them were trying to mask their sadness of the upcoming parting.
They were way too early. Once Isaac’s bags were booked in and he had his boarding pass, they had two more hours before he had to walk through to the gate from where his plane would depart. Annie suggested they have coffee in one of the restaurants, and everyone agreed.
Annie linked her arm through Isaac’s. She didn’t want to leave his side, as deep down, she realized this might be the last time she would ever see her dear friend. She wanted to make this moment last forever. In the restaurant, she sat next to him. The closer they got to the time Isaac had to walk through the gates, the quieter everyone became.
Half an hour before the final boarding time, Annie’s mom prompted them to walk Isaac to the customs checkpoint. Reluctantly, everyone followed. At the gate, Myra wanted to make some photos of Isaac with all the others. Isaac first stood with Annie, Jacques and Annie’s children, then with Annie’s mom and later Jacques made a photo of Isaac with Joe, Myra and Sylvana. Then it was time to say their goodbyes. Isaac started with Joe, Myra and Sylvana. Then he kissed Annie’s children goodbye. When he hugged Annie’s mother, he held her long.
“Thank you for everything,” he whispered in her ear. “It was wonderful to be here.”
“Thank you for being here. Be strong. Always be strong,” Annie’s mom said as she hugged Isaac close.
Then Isaac turned to Jacques. He held his hand out to him to shake it, but Jacques pulled him closer.
“Be good bro’,” Jacques said with a sob in his voice. “Keep in touch.”
Then the moment came for Annie and Isaac to say their farewells. Up to now, Annie was okay, but the moment she put her arms around Isaac and felt his tight grip around her, she lost it. Silently she sobbed, holding him as close as possible.
She didn’t want to let go.
“Thank you, Annie,” Isaac whispered, “thank you. It has been a wonderful experience to meet all these kind people, to experience a real movie-like Christmas and just to spend time with my dear buddy. Thank you.”
“Oh Isaac, I wish you could stay with us forever. Please promise me you will never stop fighting. Never stop,” she said softly.
“I won’t. I will not go down without a proper fight. I promise you.”
They just held each other. Neither of them wanted to let go. It was only when Annie’s mother touched her shoulder she realized she had to let Isaac go.
“You are the most wonderful friend I ever had, Annie. I will never forget what you’ve done for me,” Isaac said as he looked at Annie’s tear-stained face.
“I’ll never forget you, my friend. Never.”
She kissed Isaac and gave him one last hug.
Isaac turned around and walked towards the customs officer to have his passport checked.
Annie watched him leave. Her heart ached. She wanted to give him one more hug, but he was already in the line. Then, without thinking twice, she ran after him. She hugged him once more and gave him another kiss. Just before she let go of him for the last time, her last words brought a conspiring smile to both their faces.
“Give Mr. Virus hell!”
To be continued… The Letters Start Again
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