Lawrence was kind of disappointing all around.
He was the uncle that showed up late to family events. He’d bring expensive presents occasionally but he also gathered up all the leftovers and took them home with him after dinner—whether they were offered to him or not.
Carol Jean had a daughter, Caroline, that was my same age. She was from Carol Jean’s first marriage. That husband died and my mother said he was the one that Carol Jean really loved. Caroline was my cousin because her mother married my uncle but I didn’t like her. Her mother called her “Caro” and would say, “because she’s sweet like Caro Syrup” and I would feel a little sick because even though I was only nine, I could tell how cheesy that was. (Also, I thought Caroline sounded way too much like Carol and they should have branched out a little.)
Carol Jean and Lawrence liked to have “getaways,” they said it was important since they were newlyweds. We’d get stuck with Caroline. Ironically, I think all the getaways were what broke Lawrence’s bank and meant the end of their marriage, but no one knew that at the time.
Caroline would arrive with her rolling suitcase that was pink. She’d have her hair in tight braids on either side of her head, tied with pink ribbons. She wore tiny pink heart shaped earrings and always had her chubby fingernails painted pink. “She just loves pink,” Carol Jean would say, “Isn’t that right little Caro?”
Caroline would nod sweetly but as soon as her mother was gone, she’d turn into a demon. She scattered her pink belongings all over my room. She would kick my cat, Dusty, whenever she had the chance, and she would sneak into my parents’ bathroom and use my mother’s make up. She stole money out of my brother’s room. Once she spilled a bottle of nail polish all over the carpet and instead of telling anyone, she covered it up with an embroidered throw pillow.
The surprising thing was, it wasn’t pink nail polish. It was bright red.
I hadn’t seen Caroline since her parents divorced all those years ago. I hadn’t missed her. And now, here I was, at this funeral. And there Caroline was. At least I think that was her. She was rail thin with highly processed bleached hair. I did recognize the pink nail polish though.