A Cherub, Queen, Regrets, and My Obsession with Good Omens

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Where do I start?

I suppose with the cherub(s). The plural will explain itself later.

Unfortunately, because of Hurricane Katrina, I only have a few pictures left of Jennifer Elaine. No photos left  from our childhood, when she truly resembled a creation of Raphael himself. The artist that is, not the archangel.

Cherub
Cherub (detail from Sistine Madonna), Raffaello Sanzio Raphael 1512

Three of us made up “the girls” of our block. We were the only kids who lived on the block the longest. There were others who came briefly and went. Some of whom I am still friends with in adulthood. But the three of us were “the girls.” Sort of like a more homogenous and smaller version of “the them.”

Donnell (myself), Jenny and Amanda. They are twins, fraternal but still very much identical to the human eye. We were the scourge of the 500 block of Community St. in Old Arabi – just blocks away from New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward neighborhood and minutes away from the French Quarter (where much of our teen years were spent). For all intents and purposes, that was our neighborhood. We decided who joined our band of merry miscreants and who didn’t. There were kids from other blocks who later became part of our friend group as teens, but as kids it was just us.  We frequently had trouble with a group of boys from the next street over, and I will confidently say we always defended our territory with little effort.

The area from Community Park to the Lebeau Mansion (no longer standing) was ours. We owned it proudly. We rode our bikes to the Mississippi River levee and gazed upon our land. Even if there were other groups of kids who did the same, to us the dominion was ours.

In the early 1990s, we watched filming of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire* from that same levee. Our levee.

(*Sidenote: Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles are my longest running literary obsession. Those novels and The Phantom of the Opera.)

lebeau mansion
The Lebeau Mansion as it was when we were kids. It had a long history, but was sadly burned down in 2014 by amateur ghost hunters. (Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LeBeau_Plantation)

All things pass with time, which I imagine is the natural order of things – if there were a natural order. As we became teenagers, our paths became a great deal disjointed. But we lived across the street from each other. Right across the street. We were still the girls, even if we weren’t always together causing mischief and causing Mr. Otis, the old man who walked his cat on a leash, bouts of agita. 

Jenny & Donnell at Burmasters
Many eons ago, Jenny and I in our regular local watering-hole, where things just seemed right. Long before smart phones and instant pictures, hence the quality of this photo. I’m the one in glasses.

By now you’re wondering where this rambling stream of consciousness goes next. Now I will address the next topic and major intermixture that will help make sense of the finale -my current Good Omens obsession. A novel that somehow I hadn’t discovered until 2019 when it was released as a Prime original series. And which since discovering have fangirled the hardest over in several years.

Queen

The three of us, the girls – myself, Jenny and Amanda – discovered Queen at quite a young age. Part of that was probably because of my parents’ vinyl collection from which I acquired several albums. One of them being the original Jazz album with the iconic Bicycle Race photo on the inner part of the sleeve, sadly yet another victim of Hurricane Katrina.

Did every cassette we had turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits? Well, there wasn’t a car to be had as we were children, but my bedroom oddly seemed to work the same magic. There were albums to be listened to and cassettes to be played and CDs didn’t exist yet. This was the Before Times, people. The 1980s.

We even had a mascot, Freddie Flamingo, which was a plush flamingo I’d caught at a Mardi Gras parade and was rather good at singing Don’t Stop Me Now.

jennyandamanda
“The Girls” as they were known around the neighborhood. Or sometimes “The Twins” aka Jenny and Amanda. Also known as my non-biological sisters.

Queen was a big part of our lives then, and still. Mine and Amanda’s anyway. . .

On November 18, 2003 my cherub, Jennifer Elaine, went to sleep for the last time. She and her twin both suffered epilepsy. She had a seizure in her sleep and it was her final seizure. Death does come like a thief in the night.

Jenny Obit
Screenshot from http://files.usgwarchives.net/la/orleans/obits/1/l-05.txt

Our Song

As kids we were all three inseparable, but I would be lying to say I hadn’t shared something with Jenny that was different than what I shared with Amanda. Neither of those being the lesser or greater. Just different. Love for them both, and I wish I could say unconditional because this is where the regret part begins.

But first, I will get to our song. It will clear up a lot to anyone familiar with the Good Omens Prime series, which is very close to the book but has new elements that I connected with on levels much differently.

One of my fondest memories from our childhood was of myself and Jenny, playing without Amanda this day for some reason. She would get mad at us because we tended to gang up on her unnecessarily sometimes. (Sorry, Amanda!) Probably she had had enough of our shit and went home to play Nintendo.

Jenny and I were running around like the little 10 year old maniacs we were in my backyard, around a table my grandparents had under a patio, listening to what I imagine would be considered an “antique” cassette player. I lived in a double. New Orleans people are familiar with the term if others might not be. My parents and I lived in one side, and my grandparents lived in the other side. Basically a duplex, but in New Orleans everything is different than the rest of America. And our housing conforms to our way of life.  

We were listening to my Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette, if you can even imagine it, and the song You’re My Best Friend was playing. (This was the Greatest Hits with the purple [or red?] cover that came before the Greatest Hits II with the dark navy cover that included more songs from Queen’s later albums.)

RedGreatestHitsQuennalbumcover

Jenny stopped running, looked straight at me with all the sincerity a person could have, and said to me “Donnell, you’re my best friend.” I don’t recall my response verbatim, but I imagine I said to her that she was my best friend, too. 

I only started being able to listen to that song again in the last five or so years. Since Jenny’s passing in 2003, I had skipped over it whenever it came up on my playlist because I couldn’t bear to hear it. That was our song.

Regrets

As I stated earlier in this piece, once we reached our teens, we grew apart a bit. Boys that weren’t worth it got in the way and stuff got really complicated. My two best friends had always gone to a different school than me, so we obviously had friends from school that were not part of our Community St. gang.

Jennifer was always such a fan of mine. Jenny and Amanda both always had the utmost confidence in me, and Amanda still does. I don’t know why. But before I started writing this, I prayed to Jennifer and asked her for some of that confidence now. This is the hard part. A lot of things happened, memories that I will keep in the sacred tabernacle of my mind. My cherub was tempted down a terrible path. And not by me.

Everyone pretty much accepted I was the evil one. It was known. Jenny was influenced easily, and I was normally the one who did the influencing. But at a point, I distanced myself and someone else came and took my place. Someone truly wicked, not just slightly evil in a cheeky, devilish way. Not someone who’d just sauntered vaguely downward. In our youth, I might have taken advantage of the fact that I could get Jenny to do certain naughty things. If I dared her to do a thing, she did it. She trusted me.

I failed her.

Bad.

Soon things were cascading out of control, and I didn’t know what to do. None of us really did. But by God, I should have done more. I do hold myself accountable in so many ways. We weren’t angels in our late teens/early-20s. I was a fool. I should have been more assertive with her. Aggressive even. But I felt betrayed for reasons, and we parted ways for a while.

Just days before she passed, I saw her and talked to her for the first time in a long time. I asked her to come over – from my front porch. Her grandmother was ill, and she said she couldn’t at the time but maybe soon. I said OK and went on with life. All I had to do was walk across the street. I could have easily gone over to her house, if she’d have let me. I was foolish and stupid.
That same week she died.

jennyandholly
Jennifer with her niece Holly, who is now an adult woman living her own life.

“Love of my life, don’t leave me…”

My Obsession with Good Omens

Let me first start with explaining that I am very prone to fangirling. Already mentioned: The Vampire Chronicles (When we first saw Interview With a Vampire as young teens, we decided I was Lestat and Jenny was Louis, because as I’ve stated, everyone knew I was the more tarnished one.) and The Phantom of the Opera.

Not yet mentioned, Supernatural.

Most recently, obviously, Good Omens.  It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that when I saw this trailer I was instantly interested (also a friend of mine who knows I love Queen brought it to my attention):

Did I read the novel twice in the last month? Yeah. I did.

Have I watched the series thrice in the last two months? Yep.

You know what an almost forty year old woman who still fangirls over things like a teenager discovered? Good Omens animatics on YouTube. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It is. I’ve watched many of them.

I know if she was still here, we’d be all over this. Even as adults. And every time I watch a scene with Crowley and Aziraphale, I think of her.

I think of how we’d both read the novel together, and maybe watch the series together. Although at this point in life, we would both be grown with our own families. I can romanticize my imaginary scenarios. They are only imaginary after all.

Because in the series, Crowley tells disincorporated Aziraphale that he lost his best friend, but **SPOILER ALERT** his best friend returns.

Image result for good omens i lost my best friend
Mine won’t.

There is no magical happy ending in real life. Real life is raw and uncut. There are no edits. Things we lose are gone. Only to live on in our hearts and memories.

So make it count.

(This blog entry is dedicated to Jennifer Elaine Lapara April 2,1979  –  November 18, 2003)

 

Limited Freedom

Robot Boy & The Intrusive Interloper

fountain

RB had a fever yesterday and we had to return to the ER at CHNOLA. Everything seems fine, but he’s being treated with antibiotics for safety reasons since some bacteria came back in his tracheostomy. It’s a bacteria he’s been colonized with and will always be there. His oncology team advised us that next time he has a fever, we won’t have to come to the ER. He can be treated for an illness by his regular pediatrician as he is no longer a cancer patient. After his next scan (which is this month) they are going to schedule a surgery to remove his port. All of his counts are normal and he is completely recovered from the chemo and radiation.

Although he has a lot of physical disabilities still (many of which he is overcoming slowly, and with therapy;some from which he will never recover). Things are by no…

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Shaving & Sharing

I wanted to make my first ever vlog, however, I couldn’t get my video to upload to YouTube or Dropbox-or anyplace! Soooo…. I went with Plan B, take still shots of the video and create a photo blog!

Last week, I was contacted by an acquaintance who was interested in shaving his head for September to raise awareness for Pediatric Cancer, and he wanted RB and me to be involved. We decided I’d do his shave (I’m not shaving my own head again until the next St. Baldrick’s Event, so I’m letting my hair grow back right now), and he chose Sunday September 1st, since it was the first day of Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

photo 1
The back window of Travis’s pickup.

Our friend, Travis, was the shavee. Travis is a firefighter who decided to help raise awareness for childhood cancer. He’s also a graduate student at Nicholl’s State University studying marine and environmental biology. All of his research is in microbiology, and he hopes to get onto a pediatric oncology research team after graduation.

Pre-shave photo with me, RB, and Travis. RB isn't very pleased with his new glasses. But I think they're cute as can be!
Pre-shave photo with me, RB, and Travis.

On Sunday, Travis came to our home so that I could video the shave so that we could share it. Unfortunately, like I’ve already written, the tech gods were not smiling down on me. Instead of being able to share the video, I can still share still shots of the video, though!

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I’m an expert shaver, by the way. I’ve been shaving Robot Dad’s head for about 13 years now. And I shaved my own a few times after I initially shaved it last March, too.

Travis decided to go all the way, with a razor.
Travis decided to go all the way, with a razor.
Post shave photo with RB
Post shave photo with RB

Not only did Travis decide to shave his head for Childhood Cancer Awareness, he also spent Sunday chalking the back windshields of cars with messages to help spread the word about pediatric cancer.

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He even did Robot Boy’s van before he left so that we can spread the message whenever we’re on the road, too.

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In my video, I thanked Travis and everyone who goes out of their way to spread awareness for pediatric cancer. Those of us in the pediatric cancer community try to make childhood cancer known to more people throughout the year, but especially during September because it is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We are thankful to everyone who shares the message, as well.

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September is Gold

SeptGoldPic

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the color is gold. Pediatric cancer is not a popular subject. It isn’t something we like to discuss or think about. What parents want to imagine their child with cancer? We didn’t want to. Unfortunately, avoiding the thought of it didn’t prevent Robot Boy from developing brain cancer. A PNET-primitive neuroectodermal tumor-to be exact. It’s a long word, but it’s one this mother won’t forget. A PNET is a rare type of brain tumor that carries with it a survival rate of approximately fifty-three percent. My son, RB, was given a forty percent chance of survival.

Brain cancers aren’t the only types of cancer that afflict our youth. According to the National Cancer Institute: “Among the 12 major types of childhood cancers, leukemias (blood cell cancers) and cancers of the brain and central nervous system account for more than half of the new cases.” (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/childhood) Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for those under the age of nineteen. Even though, pediatric cancer is the least funded and least acknowledged of all cancers. Maybe this is because we don’t want to talk about it. But we aren’t doing the children any favors by avoiding the issue.

Brain tumors are the most common form of solid tumors in children.
Brain tumors are the most common form of solid tumors in children.

Childhood Cancer Awareness is important because pediatric cancer isn’t as widely publicized as other cancers. For this reason, it isn’t funded as much as other cancers, too. It is rare, compared to other types of cancer, but it is just as important. On Sunday September 1, I’m shaving again for Childhood Cancer Awareness. Not my own head this time, but someone else’s. Someone else who is interested in helping to bring recognition to this deadly disease. He asked specifically that RB and I be involved with his selfless act to help bring attention to pediatric cancer. We are more than happy to oblige.

I went bald by choice. Unfortunately, due to harsh, poisonous medications, children with cancer don't have the choice.
I went bald by choice. Unfortunately, due to harsh, poisonous medications, children with cancer don’t have the choice.

The last time I shaved my head was for a St. Baldrick’s Foundation Event, and though this shave isn’t for any event, you can still visit RB’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation home page (http://stbaldricks.org/teams/robotboy) and make a donation. If you’re wondering why you should donate to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, I’ll let you know that they are the second largest entity that dedicates funds to pediatric cancer research (the U.S. Government is the first). I’ll also explain that they dedicate more funds to research than any other cancer foundation-over eighty percent of each dollar donated. They’re funding research in many areas, including those for cancer treatments that are less harmful than current treatments-those that can leave patients with a variety of disabilities.

Robot Boy before we learned he had cancer, before the surgery and treatments that later disabled him, most likely for life.
Robot Boy before we learned he had cancer, before the surgery and treatments that later disabled him-most likely for life.

According to St. Baldrick’s website, 175,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer each year. A child is diagnosed every three minutes. There isn’t much hope for a cure for some children, but because of improved research and treatments, kids’ overall survival rate has dramatically increased over the last sixty years. (http://www.stbaldricks.org/about-childhood-cancer)

Please share. Please donate if you’re able. Any amount is helpful (and much appreciated!). Childhood Cancer is a vicious, insidious killer. Sadly, it’s one that little is known about.

The Ronan Thompson Foundation

The Ronan Thompson Foundation.

Please visit the link and learn more about the foundation and how to help. My readers should know by now our number one priority is Robot Boy and helping to find a way to end childhood cancer. It is the least funded of all cancers, and it is the #1 death from disease for kids. Please help by donating or simply by sharing and helping to inform others. I thank you.