Reclaim, Restore, Re-Home

Remembering Jim:

This project, Reclaiming Our Leather History, is dedicated in love to my twin brother, Jim Leonard.

August 5, 1994 was the worst day of my life. I sat and watched my twin brother die from complications due to AIDS. I couldn't do anything but sit and hold his hand for hours as he passed. He couldn't talk any more. He lost his voice the day prior. I'm not sure that he even knew me at that point. My 6ft 2in, 240 pound, loving, sweet, handsome twin brother was nothing more than a shell at 90 pounds. Although I had been with him almost every single day since diagnosis in 1985, I could barely recognize him with the sarcoma sores and spots covering most of his body. All I could do was to make sure that he was not in pain and sit with him and talk to him and hold his hand.

I remember taking the call from his hospice nurse that morning. It was 7am in Riverside, California. I was just getting out of the shower, getting ready for work. The phone rang and my ex-husband answered it and called me immediately to talk to the nurse. She said “Hurry, he doesn’t have much time”. My heart sank.

I threw my clothes on, jumped in the car and ran every red light and blew every stop sign on that 10 mile drive to the Hospice. My body was still wet from the shower, my hair was wet and I had no makeup on. I don’t even remember what I was wearing. It just didn’t matter. All I could think about was getting to my twin. I would NOT let him die in a hospice alone.

He went in to that hospice just after Easter a few months earlier. I remember packing up his things and closing up his apartment with him.  He said to me “I’m going to die in there you know.” I wouldn’t have it! I wouldn’t let either of us think that way. I had been in denial all 10 years since he was first diagnosed and I was going to continue on with that mindset. I was not going to let my twin leave me here alone!

I said “No you are not! You are going to get better and you are going to come live with me again! Just get better, I need you”. I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word “die”. Not to my brother, not to our family, not to myself, not at all. I just wouldn’t acknowledge the reality of it all. My twin and I had been together for 7 months in the womb and 31 years together on earth. I was not going to let him go. He survived a 2 month premature birth in the 60’s, he can survive this!

He had been hallucinating for the last few days. He saw our Mother who had passed 10 years prior and also his lover of 15 years who had died from Aids in 1987. He kept telling me stories of their lunch one day and how they took a walk another day that week. He saw our Mother sitting in the corner of his room. He didn’t talk of anyone else, only the two of them. They must have been there to help him to pass over to the next life. Well I wasn’t going to let him go without a fight! How selfish of me.

I was strong (so I thought) and didn’t cry while I was sitting with him. Turns out I was just continuing with the façade of denial even at this point, just hours, minutes before he would pass. I just kept talking to him telling him about my Son and my Daughter who were just like his kids to him. He’d never have children of his own so they were his and they loved him like a 3rd parent. I was telling him what they had been doing, making small talk trying to keep our minds off of the inevitable.

The nurses would come in and out giving him more morphine under his tongue. I never got up. I just sat there with him. I know that others came and went but I don’t remember who. I only cared about my twin and didn’t see or notice anyone else. I wouldn't let anyone but his best friend, Cathy who was the Hospice manager, do anything for my brother. I loved him more than life itself. But now I was alone.

At about 10:45am she came and tapped me on the shoulder and took me over to the window in his room. She said “You know that he is not going to pass until you give him permission”. I knew she was right and all I could do was to nod, I couldn’t speak. Then the tears started streaming. I don’t know how but I regained composure and returned to his bedside.

I sat and took his hand again. After a few minutes of trying to gain my strength with Cathy there nodding to me, I leaned in to him and whispered. “Jim, you need to go now, it’s ok I’ll be fine. Mom is here for you, please go with her now.” And right then, immediately he took his last breath. I heard that and I screamed “NNOOOOOO”!! Then he woke up with wide eyes and looked right at me. I knew that I was being selfish. I stroked his head and said “Jim, it’s ok, I’m fine now. Go with Mom, please go with her.

Then he left me at 11am that morning and I was alone. I had a husband, 2 kids, 2 other brothers, lots of friends and a big family, but I was alone. All of the things that you hear about twins are true. We had our own language when we were babies, we got into trouble together, we laughed we cried, we were inseparable. I even beat up a neighbor boy when we were 12 and put him in the hospital for picking on my twin. I would do anything for my brother! I loved him more than life itself. But now I was alone.

I don’t remember those next few days other than pulling strings to buy the grave next to his. He is next to my mother and one day I’ll be next to him. The day of the funeral I remember having thoughts of jumping in with him, of killing myself. But then I looked at my kids and I couldn’t do it. I had to stay for them. I’d see Jim again one day. It couldn’t be otherwise.  Two months later I dedicated an Aids quilt panel to him. It is with the Names Project Foundation, Block # 3621. Look it up sometime. He was my twin.