LESLIE

This photo series is from my time with Leslie and Jerry. Their home, their friends, family and the small towns around them all made up who they were in 1990-92. The last time I saw Leslie she was in deep despair. These photos are not that. These photos are of a life full of life.

 

I met Leslie in the spring of 1990 just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia. She was the best friend of a woman I was seeing and because of that for two years whenever I was in Wheeling I had complete access to her life.

When I met Leslie she was out of work but her husband Jerry worked odd jobs around Wheeling, St. Clairsville, Bridgeport OH, Steubenville OH or anywhere he could find work. He was hired to help build houses, hang sheet rock, paint, landscape haul trash, and roofing. You name it and he would do it. The struggle for money, any money was enormous.

Jerry could have very easily sold drugs. In fact, I am amazed that he never did. I would have. They were on food stamps, had no health insurance, never went to the dentist and if anything did go wrong they would go to the emergency room. Leslie drove an old Cadillac that worked infrequently often requiring a jump to start. The jumper cables had a permanent place on the floor behind the passenger seat. Jerry mostly relied on rides from the friends he worked with.

Leslie had a stray cat that had survived being hit by a car. It's right front leg had been broken and was never set so it walked with the limb curled under its body. Everyone kept telling Leslie to put the animal down but they could not afford to take it to the vet and were not about to kill it.

When I first started visiting them they kept rabbits in the side yard, next to the trash pile but in the fall the rabbits were gone. Leslie told me she made a stew with them and had frozen it all for the winter. If I wanted any to let her know and she would send me home with some.

Their daughter, whose name I have long forgotten, was born on my birthday. She was beautiful and brought an enormous amount of happiness and love to their home. In the summer we all would sit on the back porch and drink whiskey, laughing until the mosquitoes got too bad and then we would go into the kitchen to laugh and carry on around the kitchen table.

Roofing was a job that paid Jerry good money. Of all the odd jobs that Jerry did, roofing was the one that Leslie worried the most about.

At the age of 27, with a one-year-old baby girl and a wife who loved the hell out of him, roofing was the job that killed him.

Jerry was three stories up on a metal ladder working near the gutters when he lost his balance and instinctively grabbed for anything to steady himself. What he ending up grabbing were the electrical wires that fed into the building. The uninsulated wires sent an undetermined amount of electricity throughout his body, propelling him from the ladder and tumbling to the ground.

According to Mark, who had been inside the house on the third floor looking out the window, Jerry landed on his neck which immediately snapped. There was speculation as to whether it was the electricity or the fall killed him.

The funeral was an open casket. Leslie sat in a chair beside Jerry, sobbing and hyperventilating until her mother eventually moved her to the front row of the packed funeral home. It was the most agonizing personal sorrow I have ever witnessed. That was the last time I saw Leslie.