The Obituary of Kevin and Lauren Mansolillo
The grief never goes away, I suppose, but comes and goes with varying intensity.
Yes, it’s horrible when you first hear the news; all the little fibers of hope you had ground up and consumed by that chair the doctor asks you to take a seat in. All of a sudden you’ve gone deaf and blind and feel nothing but the raging of your heart and the eruptions of your brain trying to reassemble the universe. But despite our imaginations humans are not volcanoes, we can change nothing, and so our bodies sit dead in that chair while in dreams we hurl boulders and earth until we clear a mountain pass for the dead to return through. All that returns, though, are memories, bright but fading and you scramble to close that portal of your mind, preferring to lock them in death rather than reinvent them in life. Then the tears, hot and dry.
I had never hugged my uncle until that night. I wouldn’t even sit with him in the waiting room, I just didn’t think he had a right to be there. After my father died he married my mother to help her with the three kids. By coincidence, I was reading Hamlet at the time, and could not help but notice the parallels between my life and the Danish prince. For six years I received weekly foreboding visits from my father in my dreams and lived in terror of my uncle’s intentions. Six years he lived with us and provided for us while I fantasized about dismembering him before he could give my brother an advance on his allowance in exchange for murdering me with a fork dipped in Poison Dart frog over who should get the potatoes first at the dinner table. I had many delusions, expressed in vitriolic fanaticism. And he just took it. All of my hatred, my judgements, my doubts, my blame, my insanity, he just took it, understanding that he would never be my father, his brother. He didn’t try to be either, which made me hate him even more. I despised that my King Claudius was nothing like Shakespeare’s. He wasn’t a father, but he wasn’t an enemy either. I can’t say what exactly makes a father except for a Y chromosome, but whatever it is, Bruno still has never tried to do it. At least he better not have put that Y chromosome in me, or we’ll be taking a few steps back in our relationship. Not that I’ll ever find out, really.
I’m not much for science, which I think includes heredity or genealogy or DNA testing or whatever it is you do to figure out who your biological parents are. It’s not that I’m stupid, it’s just that I’m lazy. Or at least choosy with where I focus my energies. I haven’t much of an interest in the sciences so I refuse to understand them. I could, I just choose not to. The first biology test I was ever given in high school concerned mitosis which I found to be not only invisible but far too complex of a process for 12 year olds, most of whom were still having trouble with their cursive Z’s. I decided I didn’t care for sciences of all types, accepted the D+, and never studied for a test again. There are many things that I don’t understand because I don’t care for them.
For instance, my mother tried to force a love of music on me by driving me to piano classes twice a week as a kid but the elderly lady teaching me had a face like a crusty sock and smelled like what I now know to be turpentine. The smell was so foul that I covered my nose with my shirt while I played which made seeing the keys exceedingly difficult. She thought I was cute. I thought she was heinous and did not care for her. She still haunts my ears and nose when I see live music or attempt to play an instrument myself so I avoid music pathologically.
I had a dog once, too, but he bit the hand that fed him. Mine. Beyond the insubordination I was baffled and offended by an idiom being so literally enacted. It really wasn’t more than a nip, it didn’t even draw blood, but I hated that animal for putting his teeth on me so I went to the kitchen and sliced my index finger with a butcher’s knife to make the bite look more vicious. The scar is still there, actually, I nearly cut myself to the bone in my childish incompetence. I rinsed the knife and left it in the sink. “Vernon!” “Vernon!” I beckoned just loud enough for only him to hear, and into the kitchen he trotted, tongue lolling and tail wagging, expecting another treat out of my hand, or maybe the hand itself. I squeezed the dripping blood on to his salivating lip and let him lick the rest of it. I felt no pain, just the prescient joy of knowing I would never have to endure a pet bite again.
I began to feel woozy from the blood and saliva mixing inside my finger, a perfect state to be found in. Screaming with a great burst of imagined fear and fury, I lured my mother to the kitchen where she found me rolling on the floor in elevating agony and the terrified dog cowering in the corner, unsure why I was shrieking. As my vision faded I saw my mother’s eyes put the pieces together precisely the way I wanted them to.
When I woke up, I was lying on the leather couch in the living room with a Zip-Loc bag of ice on my head and Bruno taping a pad of gauze to my finger. My father wasn’t dead then, but Bruno had always been a small part of my life. The way my mother told me was that father was stuck at work and couldn’t come help me. Bruno was in the area, she said, and came over to bandage me because she hated blood and had to get the dog out of the house. She wasn’t lying about the second part, but I don’t believe that Bruno was in the area. My father did. But I didn’t understand how he could arrive so quickly that the blood was still pulsing fresh into the bandage when I awoke. I think he was fucking my mother even then. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what fucking was, I was only seven or eight years old. Yes, seven, mother wasn’t even pregnant with Abby yet. I was old enough to wonder why it was Bruno and not my father who looked me in the eye with great suspicion and asked how I came by that cut. I told him Vernon bit my finger when I tried to scratch his chin. He really zeroed in on that spot, said Bruno, or something like that. I could tell he thought I was lying, and that worried me, so I went back to crying and screaming about how much it hurt and how much I hated that dog. Crying always got rid of Bruno, who went to the kitchen and picked the butcher’s knife up out of the sink. He rubbed it somberly with a dish rag and looked at me as he muttered, poor dog, poor dog just loud enough for only me to hear.
It was that memory that came to me in the waiting room as I gazed through burning tears at Bruno and Abby locked in a gushing embrace across the magazines and valley of floor tiles. I remembered how he had let me get rid of the dog. How he had accepted that I’d rather mutilate myself than to face victimhood again. Vernon was just one of the many instances in my life where I chose to evade rather than face a problem. Science classes, music, women, animals; I forced a mundane comfort into my life by avoiding challenge and pain. Bruno knew this about me and permitted it because he knew it was a father’s role to change these things, but that’s not what he was to me.
When Kevin and mother died, I discovered how I truly was, and recognized the pathetic way I had led my life, devoid of trial, of passion, of love. I had been a poor son to mother, a poor brother to Kevin and Abby, and unable to accept my uncle into my family. Choking on my hemorrhaging pride and the bile of emotion streaming from my eyes back into my throat, I crossed the valley of floor tiles into the open arms of my only remaining family. And then I did what I felt was the only way I could pay back the deceased.
Of the few things I consider myself good at, I believe writing to be the only one that approaches excellence. Speaking to people is not easy for me; I lack trust and patience, I have difficulty expressing just one thought at once and, as I’ve previously explained, I put no effort into things I do not care about. Ninety percent of conversation is banal, contrived, and carried out for no greater purpose than mutual self-indulgence. People just like hearing their own voices and their own opinions so they spit them out at the rubber walls we call listeners, or conversation partners. Writing, in my mind, subverts those disinterested, unreceptive walls because a reader must actually choose to look at the information before them. Rather than just smile, nod, and think “what a fool this person is, I wish he would close his fat mouth,” a reader may ingest words, roll them around the pallet a bit, decide whether these words are agreeable or not and then decide to spit or swallow. The conversation may end at any point at one party’s choosing without being rude or inviting a look of shock or hurt. Through my observations of my mother’s relationship with Bruno that it is very important to not invite looks of shock or hurt for they lead to loud snoring on the couch in the living room which keeps me awake for hours. If my mother and Bruno conversed in writing I likely would have never experienced the guttural suffering of a congested moose that is Bruno’s snoring. Writing, in other words, resolves conflicts by avoiding conflicts. At least in my life. And so my way of honoring my deceased brother and mother, after years of neglecting them and mere weeks bonding with them, was to avoid the funeral entirely, but write the obituary.
However, an obituary, it turns out, is really just another beginning. In publicly announcing the end, you stretch the open wound and the grief pours in. I wrote a very engaging obituary. Well, graphic, honestly because I wanted to dispense glory to my family’s deaths. In retrospect, the descriptions of indented skulls and showers of premature blood did more to stoke mockery and psychiatric evaluations than they did to heroize the crash. Again, hindsight being twenty-twenty, I should have waited until Bruno’s conversation with the killer, but I had no way of knowing that that would ever happen. The man simply vanished for a time after the crash. My account was overly-fictionalized, and probably should not have been published, but I was still tender from the loss and committed to a selfish glorification and somebody at the newspaper seemed to like that. I think a part of me actually thought someone would read it and be impressed. Which I suppose isn’t entirely farfetched because you came to us didn’t you?
But you were not the only one who reached out. There was kindness. Cards, flowers, small sums of money arrived from all over the country with fond memories of my mother. She was a very popular woman, apparently, who traveled a fair bit in her youth. I never knew that she had lived in seven different states growing up. I never met my grandparents and so I never asked about them, but through the outpourings of paper love I discovered that my grandfather was in the Air Force and dropped bombs in Germany and Korea. He moved his family, which was just my grandmother and my mother, to different bases and my mother had made quite a lot of good friends. Not good enough to ever come over for dinner, but good enough to send flowers. Of course, flowers die, especially in the heart of January when nobody is home all day so for a time we were coming home to find dead flowers on the doorstep which was in considerable, unintentional poor taste. But death is an afterthought to death, it’s taken for static, past. When you send flowers to honor somebody’s death, you don’t see them die, so you believe your gesture lives in perpetuity in the gratitude of the deceased’s family. It doesn’t. It twists the knife. Just like the kind words do.
It was sad learning so much about my mother from the condolences that came after the obituary. I realized that I had spent more time aestheticizing her life than actually honoring it; I gave her new life when I should have treasured what had already been there. I didn’t because I couldn’t. I didn’t know her the way that a child should know his mother. I couldn’t tell you her favorite color, her favorite flowers, what she liked to read and where she did it, I still don’t know how she met my father, or why she married his brother after he died for that matter. For the first time in my life, I felt guilt. I had treated my family like chemistry, something that I didn’t care enough about to make any true investment.
Over the weeks following the obituary, as tangible and intangible thoughts and prayers and offers of favors dumped on to the front steps I did my best to open up. I made breakfast the morning after for Bruno and Abby but didn’t know how to work the stove so it really just consisted of milk and cereal at impeccably laid place settings. I think they appreciated the effort, though the meal was silent. Bruno literally jumped in surprise when he found me in the kitchen in the morning setting the table. I haven’t been accustomed to eating meals with the family since I dropped out of college. Which, if you must know, was after my fifth semester, and only about a month before Kevin and mother were killed. My stunted attempts to connect to my remaining family have prevented me from returning to my education or to work. Things like eating breakfast, reading letters, speaking to Bruno and Abby, and now contributing to your project here have kept me from placing my life back in order. Of course, I plan to be a writer anyway so this correspondence with you is important to honing my craft, I suppose. Like I said, the obituary was only a beginning, for grief, for family, for my own vision. My life is on a new path thanks to this project you’re doing, and I can already feel myself entering a cooperative reality more than I ever have before. I’d like to help because I must atone for the damages I’ve caused and for my absentia from the stories surrounding me.
You’re studying the deaths of Kevin and Lauren Mansolillo, right? Murders, really. Or seeking the circumstances surrounding them? Your email sounded very Truman Capote-esque, I’m looking forward to seeing how my family’s insight affects your project. We have stumbled blindly through a fairly astounding story, I must admit. I’m pleased you’re eager to learn it. The start, I think, is at the Krispy Kreme on Meldoorn St. in Waldorf, MA.