Eulogy for Lesa Turillo (read last night at her funeral)
NATURE VS. NURTURE
When someone dies from our childhood whom we haven’t seen for many years, but who was a significant part of our young life, there is great pause. And like the movie The Big Chill, all of our past and present connections gather today in a room filled with old friends, family and love for Lesa Turillo, a magnanimous young woman who touched all of our lives both happily and sorrowfully.
We all know the elephant in the room that has become the norm of our country these days, the elephant of addiction. As Scott wrote so eloquently, addiction knows no races, no classes, no boundaries and it has taken hold of our communities in a way we all never saw coming. Many of us from the early days of Jamestown life knew each other from the partying we did because in Jamestown back in the seventies and eighties if you didn’t have parents watching your every move, and we who hung together fell into that world, we had lots of freedoms on an island where there was nothing to do except party. The one area we nutty kids never crossed though, was the heroine area. Heroine was the taboo drug none of us went near. The hold it had on Lesa is what took her young life and we all hope her death has set her free from the inner demons she dealt with for the addicted part of her days.
Lesa and I crossed paths in a unique way. She was three I was newly sixteen. We both had moms we walked on eggshells around and I had just started dating her dad. This was thirty-eight years ago. And standing here today with the privilege of retrospect, it feels like it was just yesterday.
Lesa was to become a major part of my life for the next eight years, the supposed formative years, though in all reality the formative part likely happened from birth to three making me really think about nature vs nurture. Clearly we nurtured, but perhaps the genetics of her illness started from the womb. We will never know this and contemplating it and hitting the rewind button does none of us any good.
My own mother and I had become estranged for a brief period and as I dated Scott and ultimately lived with him, Lesa was a major part of my life in our very young lives. I’d like to say I had a good maternal influence on her, but let’s be real, I was in my later teens suffering from my own family traumas. The only way I knew to act as a mother was what my mother did, which was to bake cheesecake, make sure she was bathed and clean, shop for nice clothes for her, teach her table manners, host sleepovers with her friends like Jessica and Eden and make sure she went to school and did her homework.
As I write this, I can hear her and see her running towards me after not seeing her for some time as I made my way to the funeral of Stephanie Cook who Lesa was very close to. Lesa was about middle school or high school age, arms spread eagle wide, yelling my name with the brightness and happiness of a child as she ran towards me to fondly greet me with her big smiley and joyful personality. The first thing she said to me as we quickly reconnected was, “Alayne, do you know that I still put my napkin on my lap every where I go out to eat? You taught me that and when I do I always think of you.” Then she asked me if I still made cheesecake and I realized that these simple gestures in a childhood have impact. I am sure her comments that day helped me along as I found my way to have my own son many years later. I often pictured her in the times she found herself in prison putting her napkin on her lap alongside of her other inmates and it always gave me an odd smile. For those of who knew Lesa’s sense of humor, I am sure you get that.
The picture, my personal favorite of Lesa standing with Robert Plant is a story that must be told in case you all haven’t heard it five hundred times already. Back then Led Zepelin was Scott’s favorite band of all time and Robert Plant was his rock and roll idol. Scott and Lesa were in Bowens Wharf for some reason and somehow Scott managed to find himself looking directly at Rober Plant. Imagine the odds of this. Then imagine the odds of this. Scott actually had to run home with Lesa in tow after the slim chance that he just met his idol to get a camera. Because for those of us over thirty there was a time when we all lived without a phone attached to our bodies let alone a camera. The odds of driving home running into the apartment to get a camera that would even have film in it and then driving back down Van Zandt, down Farewell, down America’s Cup Ave to find parking for the second time and then actually finding Robert Plant again and getting him to pose a picture and sign an autograph must prove to even the most of disbelievers that there is in fact a higher power. The best photo ever of Lesa and Robert Plant and Scott Lesa and Robert Plant is one of those tender and rarest of moments that are ingrained in my memory all of these years later. Way beyond luck. Happiness beyond measure for sure.
When Lesa turned ten, Scott and I decided to have a surprise party for her. Somehow I managed to get about seven or eight Jametown mothers to allow me to pick all of their girls up in some big Lincoln or Buick Scott had at the time and drive them from Jamestown to our Newport apartment for a sleepover. Imagine, I am about twenty one with the responsibility of seven ten year olds sleeping over the apartment. Likely this would never happen today in the helipcopter world of parenting we now live in, probably a good thing as this story will tell. I got the insane idea to have them watch a scary movie because Lesa’s birthday was shortly after Halloween. I think Courtney and maybe even Lesa’s cousin Alethea was part of this absurd escapade. The scary movie was a preview to the evening we had planned for the girls which was an enactment of a live horror movie that would be taking place behind the door of the kitchen involving ketchup and a knife. Needless to say this whole idea was a very bad one and I am sure the traumatized girls have had a lasting memory of this for the rest of their years. Funny though, as I write this I have a distinct memory of years later a few of these girls saying what a blast the night was and asking Lesa when we would be having another one? Hard to believe, though as my friends and I found ourselves bribing their shivering bodies and tears giving them their morning parting gifts at night instead to help them sleep and prevent us from having to drive them all home and explain to their mothers what foolishness we had come up with.
Lesa landed in my life at a time where I had no business trying to help raise a little girl who was living with a mother battling her own traumas and sadness. But Scott was an integral part of my teens to my early twenties, a great man, a great dad who did the best he could at the tender age of twenty one finding himself in the unique position of being divorced, and sharing custody of a three year old.
Life always presents forks in the road. Do we go right or left? Do we go north or south? Up or down? The lure of the quick fix to drown painful moments begs us to take the easier flat road that lies left because the uphill climb looming large and tiring is the one on the right. It just seems so much easier to go left. Lesa had lots of forks in the road. She had enormous amounts of friends and family cheering her to take the hill and telling her we would help her climb. Teachers, friends, family, Domenic, Scottie, Peter, her many siblings, Christine and the many many others who tried to influence her to take the fork that would enable her to be the intense beam of light all of us recognized in her except for her.
Lesa was a gentle spirit, a kind spirit and a creative one with a big wide open heart that no matter how much love we all tried to pour into it, there was always a hole for her that leaked and she needed more than we could give her. There is great sadness, feelings of guilt and deep personal responsibility that occurs when we can feel someone special in our lives fall away from our grasp, our help, someone who turns away from the love we offer because the hole for some reason just can’t be filled. I am totally confident that everyone who knew Lesa offered her the care and support she needed, but ultimately Lesa was the one who needed to make the decision to accept or deny. Everyone here can put their head on their pillow knowing they did the best they could. Hopefully Lesa knew this on the deepest of cellular levels before she died- that she was loved despite the distance that becomes necessary when addiction to heroine is part of the unwelcomed guest in the familial tribe.
As Scott said when we spoke, the Lesa we all knew died many years ago and it is the memories of her as a little girl we hold in our hearts as we leave here today. Her smile, her infectious little laughter after she drank a Dels lemonade in the back of Scott’s green halfback VW as the sugar took hold, the memories of her holding all of the little animals, both live and the stuffed ones she couldn’t part with, like her mom loved and taught Lesa to love. Her love of dressing up in a funky style that was a mix of her hippie like mom, Robin and eighties Madonna. We all had our small and big glass shards of influence in her little spirit as we too were all young kids surrounding her with our wackiness, our youth. I hope that when she parted as her spirit released itself she took a little of us with her. I know we all have her with us.
The ancients say that when a person dies a piece of their soul becomes a part of the people they loved. I think we can safely say that we can all feel her in our own souls and I know she felt ours.
Good Bye for now, Lesa with an E instead of an I. until we meet again, dear one. May your soul be free at last and may you finally feel the love that was always available to you and always will be.
Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.