- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - There’s more to Tricia Lemoine than meets the eye.

She’s a 13-year veteran masseuse who has run a massage therapy business from three different locations in Alexandria since 2008, and she has done so despite being blind.

She is also known for her “bubbly” personality, always ready to laugh or poke fun at anyone including herself, and her outward glow emanates from a soul peppered by tragedy and depression.

Her Cajun accent comes from her roots in Cottonport, and her laughing and joking personality, according to her sister, Beth Mire, comes from her father, Phillip Armand. Tricia, a 1987 graduate of Cottonport High School, is the youngest of Barbara and Phillip Armand’s five children.

She had a life-changing episode on Jan. 19, 1991, when, as a young, single cosmetologist, she was blinded by an ex-boyfriend’s gunshot to her head.

“We had been broken up for six months,” she recalled, “and during those six months he had been stalking me. The day he shot me, he followed me to my cousin’s house, and I went outside and spoke with him and he told me, ‘I’ll never forget you and I’m gonna get you.’

“He was angry because we couldn’t get back together,” she continued, noting he left but showed up later that night. While she and her cousin and her cousin’s husband were in a bar on the outskirts of Cottonport, someone told her that her ex-boyfriend was outside, holding a gun to the head of one of her friends.

Tricia went outside, trailed by her cousin’s husband and many others, and saw him near a truck holding a gun to her friend’s head. He then approached her and said he had given “some important information” to her parents.

“I said, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ and he punched me in the face,” said Tricia. “I grabbed my face and walked around as it was swelling. My cousin’s husband went over to him and said, ‘You can talk to her but you are not going to hit her.’”

Soon, her ex-boyfriend grabbed a .22-caliber pistol from the cuff of his long-sleeved shirt and reached up his arm with gun in hand and shot her.

“I jerked my head to the side just as the gun went off,” she said. “It hit me in the left eyebrow. I fell to the ground like I was praying and he put the gun on top of my head, but my cousin’s husband knocked the gun off my head just as it was going off. He jumped over me and shot my cousin’s husband, grazing his temple, and he had to go to the hospital.”

The shooter also shot at the guy who earlier had the gun to his head, now inside his truck, but narrowly missed him. He dropped the keys to his truck, and before he could retrieve the keys and open his truck to get a .44-magnum pistol, he was arrested by police, Tricia said, noting he spent 20 years in prison for the crime.

“I didn’t go blind right then, but it was blurry and blood was gushing out,” she said, adding she pleaded with a friend, “Please, don’t let me die!”

Her oldest sister, Beth, a registered nurse at Avoyelles Hospital, rode in the front of the ambulance that took Tricia to Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital. Tricia was born on Beth’s 10th birthday, and Beth said she always considered Tricia to be like her child.

Beth said the neurosurgeon who treated Tricia, after looking at a CT scan of her head, told Beth her sister would be blind for life because one eye was gone and the other had an optic nerve severed.

“It was pretty horrifying,” she said, “but there was a very good support group and a priest came to speak with me and stayed with me while she went to surgery (to reduce pressure on her brain).”

Tricia, Beth said, initially had “phantom” sightings that were not real, and eventually underwent another operation to get a prosthesis to replace her left eye, which was flattened by the bullet that is still in her head.

“It stopped a hairline from my brain on the right side,” said Tricia of the bullet. She remembers being surrounded by her parents, three sisters and a brother and some friends when she said that first night, “If I die tonight, remember I love you all.”

Jody Filasek, who has a cosmetics business in Alexandria, has been a regular client of Lemoine’s for several years, dating back to before she opened the spa in a small shopping center on Coliseum Boulevard. She now works out of her home on Heyman Lane.

“I met her in Cottonport and have seen her grow and grow and grow,” said Filasek. “She is an amazing woman and determined. It just amazes me how she can, if you’ve got neck pain or back pain, see it so well with her fingers to know where to put the pressure. She truly has ‘healing hands.’”

“The bullet went through her sinus so she lost the sense of smell, which means she also lost her sense of taste,” said Beth. “You wouldn’t know that looking at her, but she likes texture and she can kind of taste salty and sweet.”

After being dispatched from the hospital two weeks after her emergency arrival, Tricia lived with her parents for a while and suffered from depression, knowing she would never see again.

The cloud of depression began to dissipate after about six months when she decided to enroll at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, where she lived for 10 1/2 months.

“People ask her, ‘How do you continue to go on?’” said Beth. “She says, ‘You either live or you die.’ She chose to live.”

Beth said when the family had to leave Tricia on her own at the school in Ruston, “It was terrible. We cried all the way home, and that’s a three-hour drive. But that school is wonderful, and she made many friends there.”

There, Tricia learned how to walk with a cane, how to cook, read braille, type on a computer and find her way around town and beyond. “I remember falling in gutters, hitting signs when walking,” she said. “I once fell down seven cement steps, but I bounced back up.”

She went to UL Lafayette (then USL) for four semesters and got married in 1994 to David Lemoine, with whom she had her only child, Alexis, in 1995. Three and a half years later, she divorced David, she said, “because we couldn’t get along.”

She went to a massage therapy school (now defunct) in Pineville for 7 1/2 months in 2002, graduating at the top of her class. After working for others as a massage therapist for several years, she opened the Healing Hands Spa in Alexandria.

The healer, to be sure, has wounds, both physical and emotional. Last September, she absorbed another traumatic incident when her boyfriend, 49-year-old Randy Basco of Simpson, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in her presence. He was in the front yard of her former home and work place in the Good Earth subdivision, and she was on the porch.

It was around 10:45 on a Saturday night. Tricia said she heard the sound of a pistol going off and called to him, asking, “Did you kill a snake?” When there was no answer, she walked into the yard and reached for him here and there, trying to feel him. She said a neighbor with a flashlight told her he was dead.

More than being bothered by her handicap now, she said, she has been distressed by Basco’s death. She said the main reason she recently moved to her new location was to get away from that memory.

Tricia has another sister, Suzette Gaspard, a home health nurse from Cottonport, who has “been there” for her, much like welcome wind for sagging sails.

“That’s all you can do,” Gaspard said of her help for her sister. Turning the focus back to her sister, she said, “She’s very, very inspiring because she lets nothing get her down. She impresses me every day because I don’t think I could ever do what she does.

“There’s nothing she will not try,” Gaspard went on, “and she usually accomplishes anything she puts her mind to. Don’t tell her she can’t do something because that’s when she will.”

“I have my ups and downs, but more ups,” Tricia said. “I was never angry at God. If not for God, I don’t think I would’ve made it at all. I was never angry at the guy that shot me. I just figured he had a problem. I’m very positive, my life is good.

“I’m a coonass,” she added with a giggle. “I tell people, I’m not handicapped, I’m ‘handicapable.’ At least God gave me the opportunity to do something with my hands.”

Gaspard marvels at her sister’s resilience and her good nature despite her many travails.

“She loves to help people, doesn’t turn her back on anybody,” Gaspard said, “She’s had a tough life, but every time she gets knocked down, she gets up stronger.”

___

Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com

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