The Devil's Redhead was purchased by Ballantine at the same time my wife, Terri, learned her chemotherapy for ovarian cancer had failed. She lived little more than a month after that, nearly all of which was spent at the Petersen Cancer Center at Stanford Hospital. Considerable thanks are due to the doctors and nurses and staff who kept vigil with me and Terri's loved ones during those final weeks. I learned a great deal about decency and kindness and strength in that place, among those people. Learned something about hope, too. It's a lesson I vow never to forget.
Also, the book would not exist if not for Terri's continuous devotion, encouragement, editorial advice and technical assistance. The sight of her bundled up in our lamplit bed, surrounded by the dogs as she pored through the manuscript, making her notationsI'll treasure that memory long after any praise the book garners fades away. Her ear for pacing, her contempt for pretense, her big strong heart, her constant reminders to "tell the love story"... they resonate on every page. It feels like a curse, the fact that the book now has a place in this world, but she does not.
Cesidia Therese "Terri" Tessicini
(July 23, 1954 - January 8, 2001)
erri was born a grief baby: her two-year-old stepsister Angela drowned in a swimming pool, and the pediatrician instructed Terri's parents to get pregnant again, immediately, to ease their sorrow. They were rewarded with a child photographs reveal as stunning: dark eyes; dimpled cheeks; thick black hair.
At age fifteen she left home. Already a high school grad (she'd also trained for the Tchaikovsky Competition on piano), she moved to Quincy in the Sierra foothills, learned to fix cars, hustle pool. Needing to support herselfas well as, at times, her younger brother and sistershe returned to the bay area, forsook college and instead accepted work at North Face as a piece-rate seamstress (her Italian grandmother's trade). By the age of twenty-one, she was managing the sewing floor.
Also, when she was twenty-one, she had to accompany her younger brother, John, to Herrick Hospital in Berkeley for treatment of his schizophrenia. He'd had a psychotic break at sixteen, and now the doctors, wanting to treat him with electroshock, asked for Terri's consent. Unaware of the inappropriateness of the treatment, Terri consented, only to discover the "treatment" resulted in brain damage to John, whom she adored.
Terri went physically and psychologically numb for ten years, only emerging after prolonged and intensive therapy and regaining her emotional hold on life by watchingcartoons.
She told me she looked at cartoons to rediscover how to be happy, to be surprised, to be afraid. This gave her a magnificently goofy quality. Her favorite movie was Roger Rabbit (for obvious reasons), her favorite philosopher Nietzsche (for his commitment to passion), her favorite composer Beethoven (for his "big fat feelings").
At age twenty-eight, Terri finally got to college, and followed it up with law school. In January, 1990, we met. She was walking down Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. She turned my head, but I could have just walked on. Something, though, said stop.
My brother had died six months earlier of AIDS, and before his death he begged me to get married, so he could assure himself I wouldn't be lonely. In some way, this plea echoed in my mind when Terri walked past me that morning. I have had several curious experiences in the aftermath of both my brother's death and Terri's, things I sometimes think of as communications. This was one of them.
Regardless, I turned around, followed her into the Clarinet Cafe. It took me several minutes to get up the nerve to say somethingand then I couldn't stop, jabbering for the next two hours. We went out shortly thereafter, argued through the entire first date, but kept seeing each other. Moved in together. Married.
When we met, I was working as a senior staff investigator for Palladino & Sutherland in San Francisco. By 1994, I'd wearied of the travel. Terri's confidence as a lawyer had grown to the point we decided to launch off on our own, working out of our home and a small, one-room office in Orinda.
Named Attorney of the Year in 1995 by the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Terri was described as "a one-woman outreach for persons afflicted with AIDS and HIV in Solano and Contra Costa counties." She was renowned for taking virtually every matter referred to her, despite the fact most were non-paying, and all concerned clients who were either very ill or dying.
Terri didn't see herself so much as a lawyer as a professional big sister. She took particular care of clients who were single mothers. Several of those clients gave testimonials at her memorial service, noting how their lives had changed because Terri had shown them they could stand up, be strong, excel.
All that came to a sudden halt in September, 2000.
In describing how we met, I referred to a "communication," a voice that wasn't quite a voice, a presence I can't be sure was there. I felt it again September 12th, 2000, the night Terri told me a sonogram revealed a complex mass in her left ovary. This time, the voice-that-isn't-a-voice said: This is why you were chosen. You will take care of her.
She subsequently proved resistant to chemotherapy, and a little less than four months after learning she might have cancer, she was dead from the disease.
That leaves one last thing to discuss: her courage. And by courage I don't mean toughness, though Terri was plenty tough. I mean the ability, despite feeling intensely both unremitting pain and the terror of death, to muster nonetheless a kindness, dignity and humor that was truly breathtaking. I saw it time and again, the nurses in the cancer ward still remember her for it. When I come and visit, they call me Mr. Tessicini, and my heart swells with pride.