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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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)
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…
Today is the anniversaries of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac, two storms that wreaked complete havoc in my state. Isaac less than Katrina, but still enough that lives and properties were lost and many things have still not been regained or re-established. Lots of people are posting remembrances today, but it’s a little more difficult for me to broach the subject. I was there, for work. With my husband, as he also worked for the same agency I did, and with my thin blue line family. Here is the short version I posted to my Facebook friends:
“8 years ago today I was on the front lines of one of the nation’s biggest disasters. Everything went to shit then got better. Trust that it’s something I won’t forget. The end.”
There is no way to describe the situation other than to say everything was terrible. If you’ve never experienced a natural disaster of that magnitude (which many folks around our planet have), then it’s hard to explain the feeling of loss that accompanies witnessing your entire life taken in as many minutes as years you’ve lived. Your town is gone. Your home is gone. Maybe your job is gone. And for the least fortunate people, your family members and friends are gone.
I feel fortunate. Not because today I will be experiencing the most severe PTSD ever, but because of what has been gained post-K. I’ve got a new home, new stuff, some of the old stuff that was salvageable( albeit a small amount), but most importantly I’ve gained a sense of what is most meaningful-the people I still have in my life. I was fortunate that I didn’t lose any family, even my cat and dog survived. The snake was lost, but I’m sure she slithered away in the water and is enjoying life in the woods somewhere living the life a corn snake deserves. I had a roof over my head, even though for some time that roof was that of the Cajun Queen, a paddle boat meant for short tours up and down the Mississippi River (Nothing like taking a shower with a hose on the deck of a boat in mid-October to wake you up!), and later a decommissioned ferry-boat where my husband and I shared bunk beds in an 8X8 cabin.
My thoughts and prayers and moments of silence go most to the less fortunate who did lose family members-some lost many in a moment, the people who couldn’t bear the burden that comes following such a travesty and took their own lives, those who weren’t able to recover and pined away for what was, and those who lived horrors worse than I and that I cannot even fathom. This empathy is not reserved for victims of Katrina or Isaac or any one particular thing. So many terrible events occur around the planet, and I agree with John Donne who wrote the words “No man is an island.”
I’ve long tried to accept the proverbial phrase “less is more”, and nothing has taught me to do that like Hurricane Katrina. What is stuff but meaningless collections of mass that can be lost in a matter of seconds? Katrina taught me what is most important to survival-physically, psychologically, and spiritually. My old home is gone, but I have a new home now. Man, am I thankful for that! I have food on my plate everyday. I have lots of great friends and family who are always there to help me, especially during the difficult times we more recently experienced after RB was diagnosed at 2 years old with brain cancer. Here is another short summary I shared on Facebook of what I was doing last year during Hurricane Isaac:
“A year ago today I was in Children’s Hospital, where we’d been for 8 months by then, during Isaac, in the dark going between trying to get weather updates on my phone and comforting RB who was still going through chemotherapy treatments at the time. Now we’re home, again things got better eventually. The end.”
Things have gotten better. RB is making progress everyday, and his scans have been stable for nearly a year. His next MRI is in September. There are no signs yet of the expected regression caused by the radiation and chemotherapy. He will soon get a homebound teacher and therapists who will come to our home and take over what I’ve been working on since February. He’s getting a stander and braces to help straighten his legs. We’re traveling down a very long path here, but there is an exit, and at this time, it is bathed in light.
So while today will be a day of reflection and bad memories, I would rather look forward than back. I would like to focus not on what was lost, but what has been gained, on what we’ve overcome and on our strength.
As those of you who’ve been with me longest know, my interests lean toward the macabre. I’ve been interested in horror films, books, and culture for as long as I can remember. My mother even tells stories of my napping in my toy box as a kid and pretending it was my coffin (because I was a vampire, of course). It probably goes without saying that many of my friends share my interests. Like most nerds belonging to any genre, we would have lengthy discussions about certain things in movies and what not, and one of those things we’d discuss in-depth was the matter of zombie-ism. These were days long before the zombie culture was accepted in the mainstream-or maybe it’s just that more of us have crawled from our crypts to claim our rightful place among everyone else. During these discussions, I’d always declare that in the case of a zombie invasion (this was before the term “zombie apocalypse” was even widely used or even coined, possibly), I would want to be a zombie. I’d rather be one than be eaten by one, you see. Because zombies scare THE EVER LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME! I won’t lie. If I watch a zombie movie, I WILL without doubt have nightmares. I’ve had many detailed nightmares about zombies, and I will probably have nightmares tonight just writing about zombies right now. I love to watch zombie/horror movies and read scary stories (and write them!), but in real life, I am a big old ‘fraidy cat once the sun goes down. I was, until very recently, terrified of the dark. When I used to work dayshift, and I had to leave early in the morning while everything was quiet and everyone was still asleep, I would get into my car with a quickness as I would terrify myself with the thought of a Dawn of the Dead scenario. The problem with zombies is that they’re like cockroaches. If you see one, you know there are more.
For some reason which I can’t pinpoint, over the last several years zombie culture has become quite popular. Not only with horror fans, but with people who wouldn’t normally be into “that kind of thing.” I don’t know why this happened, but as you can all imagine after having read my first paragraph that my brain constantly being bombarded with zombie related information caused me some unease. It did in the beginning, then like most things, I became immune to the constant bombardment, and the nightmares stopped-mostly. I would like to note that in my nightmares, I have always been the victor. There hasn’t been one yet in which I was the victim of a zombie bite, although in one my husband was bitten, and it ended with us shutting out the zombie hoards and my looking at him with the knowledge that I would have to kill him. I mean. It’s the only way. Also, I was once a zombie crime scene investigator who had to eat the remains of the victims of crimes in order to discover their means of death and catch their killers. Or maybe I was just hungry. I dunno. Analyze that, okay.
When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in late 2012, and after battling pediatric brain cancer alongside my son for nearly ten months, I was almost totally unable to do more than move around a little and then lie back down again. I was fatigued beyond explanation, and I was in pain. Lots of it. I decided it was time to get serious about my health. I knew I wouldn’t be able to care for my son otherwise. My body was in a very bad state then, physically, mentally, emotionally. My rheumatologist prescribed me medicine to help control the fibro. I started doing yoga again. I started eating well again. Eventually, and slowly with time, I was able to do more than yoga (and am doing much better with my yoga poses now). I’ve lost a significant amount of weight.
Somewhere in last few months information came across my Facebook feed about a 5K zombie run. I’d never done a 5k, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to really run a 5K (not yet, anyway). Even though I am getting into much better shape, I have to be realistic about my limitations. I decided, though, there was no better opportunity for me to be a zombie and set a goal for myself. After all, folks with fibromyalgia feel like their stricken with rigor mortis most of the time, anyway. I know I do. I am fortunate in that although I do suffer from fibromyalgia, I don’t suffer from some other-and far more detrimental-ailments that people with fibromyalgia can have. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are just two of those. I do have osteoarthritis, early onset of osteoporosis, and mild scoliosis. But, they’re not going to be crippling in the way rheumatoid arthritis or other forms of rheumatic diseases are. Fibromyalgia, for what it’s worth, doesn’t get worse over time. This keeps me positive that I can give myself a better quality of life by taking care of myself-eating right, exercising, sleeping. I stopped drinking (sad face), but it really is for the best, and as the bottle of Amaretto in my pantry whispers my name, I remind it that not only have I stopped drinking but I’ve also given up eating or drinking anything with a lot of carbs after a certain time in the day. (Bad Amaretto! Bad! Bad!) I digress.
I wanted to register for the zombie run because it seemed like fun and I got to set a goal for myself and I got to be a zombie. Win. Win. Win. During the months leading up to the Zombie Run, I trained hard. I knew if I didn’t work hard that I wouldn’t even be able to endure the heat and running after the, well, runners. (Honestly, I let a lot of them go because really, they were in great shape. I told one guy, “I’m not out-running you. Go ahead.” He had like 2% body fat and looked like he ran everywhere just for fun. Free pass from this zombie.) And although I sprained my ankle during that time, I noticed that it became easier for me to lift my son and that I was in less pain after moving him and his equipment around. My fatigue has all but diminished, and I really only sleep in the day when I don’t get enough sleep the night before. (The CPAP machine helps a lot, although it’s left a bald spot on my baldness. In other words, the strap that goes across the top of my head has rubbed some of the hair completely away. I sleep with a handkerchief between it and my scalp now, but it might be too late for that one spot.)
Zombie Run day came, and I was up with the vampires at 3am since we had to arrive at City Park at 5am. I live a good ninety minutes away. I drank a protein shake with some yogurt and did some yoga and went on my way. My friend, with whom I’d have the zombie discussions years ago, and her stepson joined me for the race. We didn’t really know what all to expect, but we knew some stuff. Like we got professional zombie make-overs from some of the best make-up artists in the area.
The artist who did my make-up works at the 13th Gate, a haunted house attraction located in Baton Rouge.
There were also members from the House of Shock involved in our zombie training and blood spattering. When I was up to be spattered, they said no one wanted to roll around in the blood on the big blue tarp that was catching the burgundy puddles. So, of course, I said I would. Then my friend’s stepson did it, too. Because we’re cool like that. It was fun, but I had fake blood squishing in places that were bordering on unsanitary. Still totally worth it.
While we knew we wouldn’t be running the entire 5K behind the runners, we didn’t know where we’d be or that we’d be set in a cordoned off area and not allowed to leave our assigned zombie stations. We got onto a bus and were sent to a part of the park that is just an open field, and it made for some really good chases. I did a lot more running and with not as much effort as I thought I would. I survived the heat and the physical activity, although after a few hours we’d transformed from Dawn of the Dead super-bath salts-zombies to straggling, moaning, slow-moving zombies. All in all, I was very proud of myself for being able to actually chase and keep up with some people. I felt bad going for the kids, so I just hung back and some people were visibly exhausted so I told them to hide behind a tree because I might be an undead brain eating abomination, but I’m still sympathetic.
It’s suffice to say we had a great time. We were too tired and hungry to stay around for the after race activities, so we went out to eat where we freaked out no more than everyone. (One lady thought we’d been in a bad accident. I guess she feels the Golden Corral’s breakfast buffet is just that good, and it’s on the way to the hospital anyways?) It was my first time doing anything that physical, at least since I was a kid when I ran around for the hell of it all the time just because, and I was famished beyond words. I was glad the breakfast buffet had two types of bacon (yes TWO types). I was a good girl, though, and my second plate consisted mainly of fruit, even though I was eyeing that chocolate fountain pretty hard.
I definitely plan to attend next year if there is another Zombie Run. As a zombie, of course. I’m also pretty interested in another 5K that is taking place just two days before my birthday, and it looks pretty intense. The Nola Zombi run is set-up with a military style obstacle course. I haven’t registered, yet. Yet. According to their website, I still have 84 days 1 hour 58 minutes and 51 seconds.