SHADY HILLS — Theresa Johal's reward for keeping quiet and being a good girl after she was beaten and molested was to watch wrestling on a tiny, black-and-white television set.
This was in the 1980s, when Johal was a child in New York. Her favorite wrestler was the villainous Luna Vachon, who looked like some female warrior spit back from the underworld. She beat men and women, her body ripped with muscles. This, dreamed Johal, night after night, was the woman who would rescue her.
The little girl who said nothing became a young woman addicted to crack and living in Port Richey. Then one day some friends said, "Do you want to meet Luna Vachon?"
"I couldn't believe it," said Johal at a memorial service for Vachon on Saturday afternoon at Faith Community Church in Shady Hills.
Vachon, 48, was found dead Aug. 27 in her home in Port Richey. Authorities don't suspect foul play. A cause of death is pending toxicology results, said Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.
Vachon, whose official name was Gertrude Hurd-Nash, lived in Pasco County for much of her adult life, and after she retired from wrestling in 2007 because of chronic neck and back pain, she worked as a tow truck driver.
"She went from everything to nothing," said Denise Macchio, 48, who knew Vachon for 20 years. Macchio and her husband, Joe Macchio, employed Vachon at their tow truck company and owned the home she rented.
Joe Macchio said Vachon was a multimillionaire at one point, but she was too nice and let people take advantage of her.
"She was a warm-hearted person who would give her last dollar or half a sandwich to a stranger," Joe Macchio, 62, said during the service he organized. This was Vachon's church and it fit her, a place with no fancy pretenses and a weekly Bible study for bikers.
Saturday, Pastor Earl Foster, 67, parked his motorcycle by the side door and wore a black leather vest at the pulpit, which agreed with most of the outfits of those in attendance. A 48-year-old wrestler named Cookie Crumble came to the service from Rhode Island.
"She was a beautiful person," said Cookie, whose real name is Karen Canada, who said she also wrestled as Franny Freight Train and Vula. Like Vachon's character of lunatic Luna, all of Canada's characters are villains.
Also in attendance Saturday was "Bad Boy" Barry Hardy, also known as "Executioner Agony." Hardy, 48, drove from his home in Daytona. Saturday night, he had a match in Starke. He also lives with pain from old injuries. The traveling is tiresome.
"It takes a toll on you," said Hardy, who is tanned, with ice blond hair, and wore a black tie with a pink, neon lightning bolt.
"But it's hard to walk away."
Vachon's two grown sons, who live out of state, were not there. Friends said Vachon's mother, who lives in Weeki Wachee, had Vachon cremated and refused to have a service.
Her mother declined to comment Saturday. Her adopted father — a famous retired professional wrestler named Paul "the Butcher" Vachon — lives in Vermont and could not attend the service, though he had a friend of his daughter read a passage he wrote, in which he remembered watching her wrestle at Madison Square Garden. He said he is proud of his daughter. He said he is devastated.
Johal spoke of watching Vachon on her tiny TV and the fate that pushed them together.
"We were like sisters," Johal said.
Friends for more than a decade, Vachon taught Johal how to speak up for herself. Johal, 35, said Vachon was one of the few people there for her as she struggled with her addiction and became sober six years ago.
Dealing with the loss of Vachon has sent Johal tumbling, desperately trying to not relapse. At night, she said, she sits in front of her car, her dream car, a 1986 Monte Carlo Super Sport, the one she always wanted and the one Vachon urged her to get. Johal now has Vachon's favorite quote on the windshield, "Only God knows why."
"Luna, help me make it through one more day," she says, tilting her head up.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.