The freedom of truth
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 by Ron Cruger
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        We were in the same business – newspapers. We had been friends for a couple of years when Calvin phoned me one day, “Can we get together for lunch today, I need to talk to you?” I told him, “Cal, I’m up to here. Is it important?”
        “It’s very important, please.” His voice sounded stressed so we arranged to meet at a favorite restaurant at noon.
        Before we ordered, before the water glasses came, Cal began. “My friend Marvin and I had a fight. He doesn’t want to be friends anymore. I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep. My first reaction was to tell Cal, “Just tell him to go to hell,” but I didn’t say it.
        Cal continued relating his dilemma and how crushed he was that his former friend Marvin had broken off their friendship.
        At that luncheon I didn’t comprehend the depth of Cal’s angst. I wrote it off as just a beef between two guys, with Cal being over-sensitive. After all, Cal was married to a beautiful woman, had two children by her, a son and a daughter.
        Lunch ended. We shook hands, Cal thanked me for listening. He looked troubled as he walked away.
        A few years passed. Cal and I remained friends even though we were now living in different states.
        One day the phone rang and it was Cal. “I’m going on vacation – alone. I’ll be near you, can we get together?”
        “Sure, sure, when, where?”
        “How about two nights from now?”
        “Great, I’ll pick you up.”
        After a few second’s silence Cal said, “No, no, that’s okay. I’ll meet you at the restaurant.” He sounded bothered.
        Two nights hence I drove to the restaurant and waited outside for Cal. A small, red convertible sports car pulled up. The driver was a handsome short haired blond man in a bright yellow tank top. Cal was in the passenger seat. He didn’t see me.
        Before he slid out of the car he leaned towards the driver and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. He still hadn’t seen me.
        Both of us walked to the front door of the restaurant and greeted each other with a handshake that turned into a warm hug. Our friendship was quickly renewed.
        At dinner, after catching up on things, I said, “Cal, you know, we’ve been friends for a long time. If there’s anything you want to tell me it’s okay. I love you for what you are.”
         Cal, close to tears, said, “I’m getting a divorce. He explained that his wife and he were growing apart. That’s all that Cal told me that  evening and that would be the only time we spent together on his vacation.
         A week later Cal phoned me. “Good seeing you, old friend. Let’s stay in touch, okay.”
         Cal left and a few months later moved again. We talked on the phone a few times a month. He told me that he was happy. He was active in the community and had a lot of friends.
         I told him I was happy for him. He sounded elated.
        We stayed in phone contact, but not quite as much as before.
        Then, one day the phone rang. It was Cal.
         “Ron, I know you know about me. I just couldn’t come out and tell you, but something has come up and I want to tell you myself.”
        I felt glad that my old friend now trusted me enough to tell me about his “other” life.
        “I have the virus!”
        My reply was, “Oh, get a lot of rest and drink lots of fluids.”
        “Not that kind of virus. I have HIV.”
        The surprise of what he told me hit me like a ton of bricks.
        He told me about his good friends, his great job and the prognosis for his disease.
        Then he said, “You know, Ron, until this, I’ve never been happier in my life.”
        He put his partner on the phone and introduced us.
        As AIDS took its ceaseless toll, Cal and I would talk on the phone, now, more than ever before. He told me of how happy he had become. All the years of high school, of dating, of marriage – they were all frustrating and empty. He was unhappy and he had never found true happiness until he dared to establish his true feelings and live the way his heart told him to live.
        He was a gay man and he exulted in the freedom of his truth.
        A year after my friend had revealed his disease he told me, “I had a hunch you knew about me and I appreciate you staying my friend and not asking me all sorts of questions. Thanks for not asking me how I got this. I love you for that.”
        The following week I phoned Cal. He told me, “I’m not feeling well today.” He couldn’t talk too long. He was weak and tired. That night I cried.
        I waited two days and called Cal again. Cal didn’t answer. His partner did. “Cal isn’t feeling well today. I’m afraid it’s gone to his brain and he’s in a coma.”
        Two days later his partner called to tell me that Cal was gone.
        Later that day I spoke with Cal’s former wife, whom he had remarried days before his death so she could get the benefits a wife gets when a husband dies. His partner wasn’t eligible.
        She told me that all the years she had known Cal there was always a sadness about him – an uncertainty. Now she knew the cause of his sadness, his frustration. She told me that until the last few years of his life Cal was living a lie and at least for a few free and rewarding years he had found true happiness. She still loved him.
         A month after Cal died I went to my mailbox and found a heavy carton about a foot square. Taped to the top was an envelope containing the following letter, “I hope this isn’t asking too much of you. One of Cal’s last requests was that his ashes be spread at the mouth of the Wailua River on Kauai, where he enjoyed water skiing with his friend Marvin.” It was from his partner.
         The next day I flew to Kauai, rented a car, drove to the mouth of the Wailua River. I stood in the warm waters of the river and spread my friend’s ashes along with three red carnation leis.
        In a few tender and emotional moments the currents had taken the remains of my friend and the leis to another place – hopefully a place where a certain sadness will become an eternity of happiness and truth.