One hundred and thirty two jumps. Thousands of feet in the air, William Todd Leslie was scared every time, he told his mother, but he did it anyway. It was his passion and love in life: flying. This is really not my story to tell at all, but he never will. Not because he won’t, but because he can’t. Not anymore, it’s too painful.
My uncle was nineteen when he last jumped. There was a tragic accident on that last go-around, his friend’s parachute didn’t release. William was the first person to get to him, just a bag of bones laying on the ground. This is what triggered it. An awful, insane tale of sadness, brought on a mind full of terror. He was nineteen. A kid. After this he left town for a while, bewildered and stirred up by these demons in his head. He decided to return home, back to Kansas. He'd left home the year before on a full-ride engineering scholarship in Colarado. How could he understand what was happening to him?
He ran away. He was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of a highway. His life was saved by a compassionate truck driver. My grandparents had no idea where their son was up until now, when they got a hospital bill. Finally, he was brought home. My grandfather used to squeeze him tight and hold him down, promising no one was going to hurt him. It took a long time to diagnose him with schizophrenia. My grandma says that she would hear him talking or yelling in his room, so she contacted the telephone company to see what calls he had been making from their home…none. That is when she knew something was really, really wrong.
He’s turning sixty one this August. We finally moved him here with us in Illinois last year. Now he's got a little apartment all to himself and has been managing to take care of himself. No more visits to Iowa, where he ended up all those years ago in a group home. I appreciate his life so much. I listen to the hell he’s been through (and will continue to). He breaks my heart and gives me so much hope at the same time. I am inspired and humbled by this man. A real life hero, my uncle is.
He helps me understand that there is no reason not to try. Though we might not die and leave this earth, it can be ripped away from us in a split second. This might just be worse, unless you can inspire others. He has been dealt a pretty shitty hand, but is overcoming it everyday. Some days are worse then others, but that’s just the nature of life.
We sat on his living room floor last week and he asked me to make him some artwork for his new apartment, describing in detail the style and colors that he wanted. Usually he doesn't want anything on the walls at all, so it's a big deal. The next day I brought him the original paintings and he decided where to hang them. We spent the rest of the evening downtown, sitting on the patio sipping on a couple beers. I'm so, so proud of him.