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Jim Russell Brimmer's Story > Storyteller Feature

Featuring: Jim Russell Brimmer
Written by: Kristen S Kuhns [ksk]

"Swan On the Lake" 

Comments: 2 Published on: Jul 22, 2009 Views: 31,417

Category: Loss

“I need to start my story by telling you I’m a gay man. There are people who won’t want to read the story of a gay man, so let them stop reading this right now.” Jim Brimmer crosses his long legs and stares out the window. “I don’t hate those folks. They have a right to believe in anything they want, but just once I’d like to sit down with them at a table and show them I’m as normal as the Betty crossing the street,” he nods to a short brunette dodging cars in the busy intersection.


Jim’s story of being gay begins not unlike many Midwestern young people who grew during the 60’s and 70’s. The beatings at school, wondering WHY he was different and whether he could turn those feelings off, running away from the small town where he was born to the Castro district in San Francisco.


“I arrived in 1979, fresh off the farm. Well not the farm, literally, but a small town. And I looked the part. Wrangler jeans, faded checked shirt, cowboy boots. Only I wasn’t wearing them ironically, like the Village People.”


But Jim insists that this story is not about Jim. It’s about Jim’s partner, Jerry.


Jim took a job working in a deli, serving sandwiches and immersing himself into this new and strange culture. Painfully shy, he couldn’t get over the fact that this one long street was a haven where men walked hand in hand with other men. “Don’t get me wrong. There was violence. Lots of it. Boys from the city or the suburbs would come in and hunt us down and beat us up. The cops raided the area regularly. The rest of San Francisco was not as tolerant.”


Jim mostly kept to himself, observing life from under his thick shag of hair. He’d get invited to go out to clubs, but that wasn’t really his scene. He’d never touched a drop of alcohol and didn’t intend to start any time soon. His father was a mean drunk and Jim had vowed that the elixir that brought out the monster in his father might do the same to him and was to be avoided.


He like to wrap up the stale sandwich bread and go to Golden Gate park and feed the geese. It was there that he met Jerry, who was sitting on the park bench reading a novel. They struck up a conversation over nothing and Jim was fascinated by this free spirit. Jerry taught pottery classes and read poetry in readings. He was a tea fanatic and sewed his own clothing. He was unlike anyone or anything that Jim had ever seen.


They moved in together a few months later and built a home together. For the first time in his life he experienced a supportive home environment and he found himself finally not having to apologize for existing. He discovered his own hobbies and tastes and was encouraged by Jerry, another alien feeling that took some getting used to.

“I arrived in 1979, fresh off the farm. Well not the farm, literally, but a small town. And I looked the part. Wrangler jeans, faded checked shirt, cowboy boots. Only I wasn’t wearing them ironically, like the Village People.”



Jerry’s philosophical humor often went unappreciated by other people, and at first glance Jim and Jerry seemed an odd pairing, but they complemented each other perfectly especially since Jim was the only one who laughed at all Jerry's jokes. “I thought Jerry was brilliant. Unlike anyone I’d ever known, ever met.”


Then one day Jim came home to find Jerry sitting at the kitchen table looking as though he’d seen a ghost. He made his best friend, his lover, his soul mate, sit down across from him and tell him the hardest words he’d ever speak - he was HIV positive, had been infected for a while, and may have infected Jim.


Jim was stunned. Angry, fuming, confused, and hurt he pushed the table away and stormed off, staying away from their apartment for three days while he walked the streets in a rage. AIDS. In the early 1980’s, AIDS was almost certainly a death sentence. Ravaging the immune system, if one thing didn’t kill you, another most probably would. The deaths were stacking up in the Castro. People falling ill; some could handle it, others could not. Much of the rest of the world was blaming the gays for bringing their own pestilence on their heads through their “wicked lifestyles”.


After three days, Jim returned home, exhausted. He fell into the bed and slept for 24 hours straight. When he woke, Jerry was gone and Jim marched himself straight to the hospital to get tested.


“Waiting for those results was the most agonizing time of my life. I went through a virtual rainbow of moods. Panic, rage, sadness, hopelessness, fighting, you name it.” Jerry was wise enough to keep out of the apartment as much as possible while Jim waited to learn whether he too was infected. When the letter came and the results were negative, then and only then could Jim agree to hold a conversation with Jerry again. Jim took Jerry out to dinner to discuss their future and talk about the position that Jerry had put him in and what they would do.


Jerry, though, had changed. Since he had been given the news, he seemed to have just given up all hope. He assumed he would die, and didn’t believe that he would be one of the few who survived.


“I remember sitting across the table from him. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes. He felt so guilty for exposing me he looked as though he’d aged ten years in the past few weeks. When he interrupted me to tell me that he wanted to be cremated, I just lost it.”


In the middle of the restaurant Jerry and Jim had a huge argument that was so loud the manager asked them to leave without even paying for their meal. But it was really Jim who was doing the arguing. Jerry just sat there with his head hung in defeat, and - shame?


Within two months, Jerry was diagnosed with full blown AIDS. He moved into the AIDS ward at St. Mary’s Hospital, and Jim was by his side as often as he could be, reading to him, trying to coax him to eat while his weight dropped frighteningly low, and holding his hand as the pains wracked his body and his nightmares.


Finally the nurses told him that the end was near. Jerry had one request - he didn’t want to die in the hospital. Could Jerry get him out - to the park where they’d met, so he could sit outside and watch the geese? Jim asked the staff and they admonished him that Jerry needed to be in the hospital where they could keep an eye on him. But he begged and pleaded and the nursing staff finally relented. They put him in a wheelchair and the medical van drove them to the park. Slowly Jerry pushed his best friend, his lover, his soul mate to the park bench where they’d met years before. They took out pieces of bread, and although Jerry was too weak to even toss one, he smiled when Jim got the geese to come closer. Suddenly they gasped together, for a huge swan flew with awkward white wings and landed gracefully on the water. Silently they watched the beautiful creature swim in the pond effortlessly.


“I wonder if that’s what it’ll be like,” Jerry’s voice was barely a raspy whisper, so low Jim had to lean in to hear him.




“Dying. Like gliding on the lake so easily like that.”


Three days later Jerry slipped into a coma and he died a week after that. For a long, long time afterwards, Jim was angry. Angry at Jerry for giving up hope so easily. For not fighting. For not hanging in there. Eventually Jim moved on and learned to accept that he’ll never know exactly why Jerry gave up so easily. But he’ll think of him every time he sees the swans.



Thank you Jerry, for sharing your Story with us.


Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2009 by
Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®

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Member Since
Aug 2007
Tomas Frye said:
posted on Jul 30, 2009

It was a really hard time during that. People do stupid things when they're scared (ie people being scared of the gays). i'm sorry for your loss.

nice apron...

Member Since
Aug 2007
Antje Wilsch said:
posted on Sep 04, 2009
this story

made me CRy...... how excellent was your love. I'm so glad at least you found it once & hope you find it again.