From Cheap Perfume to the Fragrance of Heaven:
The Lynn Leshner Story
By Joe DiBella
Sometimes the mark people leave on your life is not left because of poignant lessons they taught you or exhilarating moments you shared with them. Sometimes the greatest lessons you can learn are just from partaking in and observing someone’s existence. Even if it is an existence marred by suffering, loss, and addiction.
While she was living, Lynn Leshner never taught me one tangible thing I could stow away and conjure up in a recollective flash of wisdom. She never gave me any anecdotal or profound advice that I had dug deep for in a time of strife. I can’t even think of a single momentous event I enjoyed with her. But Lynn was a real person whom I got to know over the course of 7 years, spanning two different jobs. She was an alcoholic and a mother to a son she never saw. Other then that she was little else in the world’s eyes. When she died in April of 2004 I went searching to God for answers about her life and death. The supernatural answer God gave me also became Lynn’s first poignant lesson to me. One that I can't keep quiet about any longer.
In The summer of 1996, I was 16 years old and started working as a dishwasher at a village restaurant in Webster named ‘Family Ties’. The now defunct restaurant was owned by John and Carol Apostolou. Carol was exceedingly eccentric, yet more exceedingly loving. She was always worrying about something and always looking out for people. On some slow nights at the restaurant, I used to give her rides home early before it closed. She would always make me stop in her church parking lot to join her in a prayer that her restaurant wouldn’t go under. But as much as she fretted about her own life, she was always worried about everyone else’s well being more. When Lynn Leshner awkwardly stumbled into her restaurant looking for work in the summer of 1997, reeking of cheap perfume, John told her they weren’t hiring…….. Five minutes later Lynn had the job.
After John had turned her down, Carol ran out after Lynn down the sidewalk. She told Lynn she was giving her a job as a dishwasher and to come back the next night to begin work. I was there when Carol told John she hired Lynn. He used words that I cannot repeat here. He tried to talk her out of it,but Carol stood her ground. I thank God that she did.
Lynn Leshner was about 4 foot 11 inches, and 85 pounds soaking wet. She was in her early 40’s at the time and was missing all but two of her teeth. When she ate she would "gum" at her food. At first glance you just knew she had been down the beaten path of life. Her clothes were raggedy and the soles of her shoes were chiseled down to ground level.
What we at the restaurant learned about Lynn in the next 2 years was this. She was an alcoholic. An alcoholic to the max in fact. Lynn drank everyday. She always had some amount of alcohol in her system. She would range from therapeutic levels to sloppy drunk. Her mind wasn’t all there. Not by a long shot. It appears she had been an alcoholic since being a teenager. She was very absent minded, often forgetting what time she had to be at work. I remember reminding her over and over what day of the week it was. The alcohol had infiltrated her brain and left only a shell behind.
Lynn always had a very distinct smell to her. She would try to cover up the stench of alcohol by dousing herself with a very specific and rancid perfume. For the 7 years I knew her she sprayed herself head to toe with the same perfume. I never smelled that brand on anyone else before. It was so potent that you always knew when she was near. Her 85 pound body made hardly a whimper upon approach, but her two cent perfume always proclaimed her arrival.
Lynn lived in a slummy one bedroom apartment across the street from the restaurant with her alcoholic boyfriend. Often times when she was too drunk to work Carol would send her home. Carol would often prepare a warm plate of food for her and have me bring it over to her house. She was so thankful that she would cry almost every time I brought her the food. Sometimes I would go into the apartment upon her invite, to be polite. I never sat down because of the cat and dog urine and feces on the couches. I remember one time she was so thankful for the hearty meal, that she gummed it down while simultaneously weeping in appreciation of Carol’s kind gesture of nourishment.
Those meals were unspokenly, yet so obviously a brief oasis for Lynn. Saddled between unsanitary living conditions, poverty and addiction were a few minutes where she could escape. Maybe it reminded her of better times. Maybe it gave her hope for her future. Maybe it just was simply what it was; a warm meal. But I’ve never seen anyone eat with such relief and happiness. Carol and I presumed that the only solid meals she ate were what Carol prepared for her, as what little money she had went straight to alcohol.
Lynn also is responsible for mistakenly taking away a portion of my childhood innocence. One day I went to her apartment to remind her she was supposed to be at work. She answered the door with a heartfelt “Hello”, but had forgotten one thing: Her shirt. Lynn had come to the door not realizing all she had on was pants. When I reminded her of such, she exclaimed sorrows as she scurried towards her room to grab a top. That day my hopes of my wife being the first woman I saw in such a condition were shattered.
I remember working with her in the back room one night and she began crying. I asked her what was going on and she told me had a son. She told me he was 17 years old and a senior in high school. She said she never sees him anymore and only talked to him rarely on the phone. That night she told me she missed him. When I asked her how long it had been since she talked to him she couldn’t even give me an estimate. “I don’t know”, she said. I told her she should give him a call, so she did.
I listened to her talk to him. She asked him a few very basic questions. That was probably all her brain allowed her to compose. As tears streamed down her face, I remember her telling him she loved him. I always wondered if he had said it back. She hung up the phone and came back still teary eyed. In that moment, the picture on her face was worth a thousand words. Alcohol had taken her relationship with her son almost completely away, but it couldn’t even so much as scar her love for him…….. Alcohol couldn’t touch Lynn Leshner’s heart.
The restaurant shut down in July of 1999 and I figured that was the last I would see of Lynn in my life. Two months later I got a job at a local Grocery Store. On my first day of work I headed behind the delicatessen counter and what did I see? Lynn Leshner..,slicing Swiss cheese.
This one of a kind woman was now in my life for a second time. I worked with her for about 3 years in that deli. The grocery store knew Lynn had a drinking problem so they had warned her not to come to work drunk. Working with Lynn could be frustrating at times because she tried her best but we often had to help her with the simplest of tasks. One day Lynn reached into the deli case for a turkey that was at the bottom. I looked over and all I saw were her legs kicking in the air. Lynn was stuck in the case and couldn’t get out. We pulled her out and she proceeded to slice the customer’s turkey. She sliced the wrong amount, the wrong thickness, and labeled the package ‘Smokehouse Ham’. When the customer pointed out her errors, Lynn laughed and told him she must have forgotten his order when she fell in the case. The customer,everyone watching,and most of all,Lynn,laughed it off. We all knew why she had really forgotten his order……., But alcohol couldn’t touch Lynn Leshner’s smile.
Lynn always asked me for a few dollars for ‘milk’. I knew the money would go straight to booze so the times I did help her out I made her buy the milk with me present. She didn’t have her license so I would give her rides home quite a bit. One time I remember driving her home and she had her milk on her lap in a bag. I laughed as I said to her “I bet you are so mad that that’s milk and not a ‘natty ice’ in your lap right now?” She told me she was glad it was milk and not alcohol. Lynn never admitted she was an alcoholic once in the 7 years I knew her.
A few times on these rides home I mentioned God to her. She told me she definitely believed in him. I asked her a few times if she wanted to come to church with me and she said sure. Unfortunately I never followed up. I never even asked her if she had ever asked Christ into her life.
Sometime in 2002 Lynn was fired for drinking Vanilla Extract out of the bottle in the back room of the deli. She had done it for years to get her alcohol fix during long shifts and had finally been caught. She cried, hugged everyone in the deli, and made her way out.
The next time I saw Lynn was about a year later. I was driving down Empire Boulevard late at night, and saw her walking with another lady on the side of the street. The lady she was with was known around town as a crack user. I stopped and asked them where they were going and they said downtown to meet with some friends. I invited them to get in and dropped them off at Midtown Plaza. I knew she probably was going there to drink, and most likely indulge in other debaucheries. I remember asking Lynn before she got out of the car if she was sure this was where she wanted to be dropped off. I told her I would bring her home if she wanted. She promised me she wasn’t going to get into any trouble and that she would be fine. She thanked me and calmly shut the door. That was the last time I ever saw Lynn Leshner alive.
In April of 2004, I got a call from a former co-worker who told me that Lynn had been murdered. She had been living with a new boyfriend in the city. Apparently one night an argument got out of hand. He took a lamp and hit her with it several times. She died of severe brain injuries.
There was simply a small blurb in the paper with her name and age, stating that she had been murdered. Lynn didn't have any involved family or friends. There was no funeral.....Alcohol doesn't plan proper burials.
The same evening I found out she had died, I got in my car to drive to work. I was feeling so much sadness, but my primary emotion was guilt. What if I had done more? What if I followed up on my request and actually brought her to church? Why hadn’t I asked if she was saved? I couldn’t help but worry that Lynn had died without achieving salvation in Christ and thus had been separated From God in her death. In my guilt I remember getting wispy eyed, and praying. As I drove, prayed, and cried, I turned on my car radio. Then came one of the most divine moments of my life.
As I turned on the radio amidst my utter guilt, the song that just happened to be on was Boyz 2 Men’s “One Sweet Day.” For those of you who don’t know the song, the chorus is as follows: “I know you’re shining down on me from heaven, like so many friends we lost along the way. And I know eventually we’ll be together, one sweet day.” Simultaneously as that song played, an odor overtook my car from front to back. For about ten to fifteen seconds, as that song proclaiming a deceased friend was smiling down from heaven played, all I could smell was the fragrance of Lynn Leshner’s cheap perfume. The smell quickly faded, and it took my guilt along with it. After that incident, I never smelled that distinct odor again.
In that moment, I knew that that was God telling me she was ok. He spoke thru a specific song and an uncanny odor, saying, “Don’t feel guilty. Rejoice. She is with me now. Her suffering has ended.” God knew I was dealing with a guilty conscience. He knew I was worried about Lynn’s eternal destiny and was great enough to extinguish my sorrows. The beauty of this was that somewhere along the line, Lynn must have accepted Jesus Christ as her savior. Whether she had memory of it or not, and however many bottles of beer she consumed after her acceptance of him was irrelevant in the eyes of a loving and forgiving God.
Lynn Leshner’s conscientious decision to drink led to her life of alcoholism. In turn, alcoholism led her down a difficult road, filled with loss and hardship. It changed her life in so many ways. It took so much from her. But it couldn’t touch her ability to love and to laugh. I always had thought that those were the only two things that alcohol didn’t take from her. But upon her death, God showed me in a supernatural way that there was indeed a third thing that her addiction hadn’t gained access to. Most importantly of all, alcohol couldn’t touch Lynn Leshner’s soul.