The Remarkable World of Kelsey Niccolò Sandino Buzzanco, 26 December 1988-11 March 2010
I went outside to ask him if he was hungry and he told me “no, I have the sun in my mouth.” That was Kelsey when he was 3—he was thermonuclear but it came naturally. The sun was his fission and he led a life full of meteors, sun flares, eclipses, shooting stars, and dark midnights.
Nothing was easy for him, nothing was mundane. It was all a series of galaxies and lightning and thunder and volcanoes—he was fulminous. When he was little he never stopped moving, like a shark. His mind was always running, far ahead of the rest of him, and often thinking about things that little kids don’t think about, can’t think about. Don’t get me wrong—he enjoyed little kids books and videos and games and the monkey bars and swings and playing with other kids, but there was something else going on inside of him too. He was so smart and yet so lost. Like he didn’t have a home in this world anymore for his mind and soul—it just all went by so fast.
(Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light)
He always liked the kids who were on the outside of the circle. He walked toward kids who were bullied, kids who didn’t have a lot of friends, kids who weren’t from River Oaks or didn’t have parents who drove luxury cars. He felt at ease, like he was one of them. He liked being in a room with rounders, and also really smart people–the kind of people I had around a lot. He fit in.
Some of Kelsey’s preference was due his own sense of self-limits. There were times when he didn’t really like himself or what he did. But a lot of people who are self-loathing do it for a reason or purpose, because they do awful things and when they get called on it they want to be the victim. They’re incapable of remorse and regret, but he wasn’t. He owned what he did, and very few people do that; it’s a sign of wisdom and self-awareness, which is really ironic for someone whose mind worked in the Rube Goldberg kind of way that his did.
But he also had a good heart. He loved dogs. What’s a better test of character than that? Lots of times I told him he was a Somali Pirate, but he was sometimes Mr. Rogers too. He was full of joy playing with little kids. We watched countless episodes of “The Simpsons” together and laughed and messed with each other—and that’s a beautiful memory. But an odd kid…..Nothing was consistent. He had moments of joy and laughter, and if you look at pictures of him with his friends, all the way through his final days, he was often laughing and smiling, and they remember him that way.
(I don’t feel good don’t bother me/I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind/America when will you be angelic?)
But I saw different versions of Kelsey, different seasons. Occasionally it was Spring, with cool breezes and a mild sun. But it was often a season of ice with him, a season of darkness, a season of anger and fear, winter….that’s how his mind was built. I think everything about Kelsey was in the genomes…….
I once thought that Kelsey looked at life like there was a broken mirror in front of him all the time. On one side it was him—whole, real, one person, unified. But he didn’t know that person, so he always looked at the other side, the broken mirror, with 100 different versions of himself, all cracked, different angles, different images, different ideas. And he never figured out which one was real, so they waged battle in his head and created dust and smoke and a brilliant sense of humor and no fear of crossing dangerous lines or fear of even death. It was just all part of the same thing—all was seamless. Being led into nothingness, existence took you to non-existence, living bled into the Big Sleep. Nothing had to be decided. Things just took care of themselves…..something always came up.
Now, Kelsey’s darkness was also his brilliance. He was the smartest guy in the room more than a couple times but where I reveled in that, he hated it. Being considered smart created expectations, which he hated more than anything. But he understood things when he was 10 that I didn’t get until I was twice that age. He just “got it” and kept it in his mind. He picked up a violin and was really fine at it. He had great musical tastes, not the computerized gravel-grinding people listen to today. I explained currencies to him and he understood the Bretton Woods System. I took him to the park and threw him a few pitches and he hit line drives (though baseball was far, far too boring for him—he had to always be moving). He signed up for his SATs—I made him take them on campus while I was teaching so I’d make sure he got to them—and did zero preparation, and pulled in a 2100+. He had the second highest PSAT in his high school, yet his grades sucked. They weren’t the lowest in Faber history but they were the worst in Buzzanco family history—and yet he was the smartest Buzzanco I’d ever met.
We were frustrated with each other a lot. I tried to get him to just stay out of trouble. He said “all you do it bitch at me all the time.” And I’d respond “Just stay out of trouble!” After you Alphonse—no you first Gaston. We had a lot of joy together, I don’t want to forget that. We rode bikes—he was a maniac on his R6 and I was the dignified guy on the Moto Guzzi. He was pure energy (thermonuclear, remember?) and I was like and old man in a Cadillac. But we had fun. We went kayaking a lot and he’d always just leave me in his wake. We rode bicycles all over Houston and often relaxed and made a lot of jokes. We shot jumpers at the hoop I put up in the alley. We went out to eat all the time. He was a connoisseur. Most little kids wanted hot dogs and chicken tenders. He’d eat steaks, sushi, Thai food, and once made me take him out for duck quesadillas. He told all his friends about how great my Italian food was, which always made me happy. He also ate steaks raw. That’s not a typo. Not rare……
But it was never a complete package. Months of “normalcy” might lead to crisis, without knowing why. The season of ease became a season of tumult, and no one knew why and it became a season of death. Genomes…..? He’d go from just chilling out, going to work, watching “Office Space” ten times a week, to a world full of pitchforks, heavy winds, rising tides, crows flying, sabers rattling, and dogs baying. Like a New Orleans funeral and I suspect his head was full of kettle drums and tambourines. I’ll never know why but I’ve quit trying to figure it out. Seasons changed with no warning. The answers are literally gone on the wind and his energy is just floating around the cosmos. Meantime, I, and his mom, have grief and loneliness—indescribably, immeasurably, infinitely.
(Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness
Could never be friendly ourselves/And in the future when no longer
Do human beings still treat themselves as animals/Look back on us with forebearance).
Death is brutal teacher but you learn lessons that you can’t get anywhere else. Suicide especially makes you lonely and scared. You see people at their worst when someone dies—that’s my takeaway. People run away, as if your tragedy is contagious. Those who knew you well now look at you like you’re a killer—you couldn’t keep your kid alive (and I’ve felt that way every day for a dozen years now). People give you assurances and then disappear. You’re weakened, and what doesn’t kill you still kicks the shit out of you, and you feel it in every failure, every disappointment. You’ve already had the worst day of your life, but that doesn’t mean the rest isn’t painful too. People see your weakness after tragedy, your vulnerability, and they pounce, and then walk away casually. But I’ve never been mad at Kelsey or blamed him. He was troubled, he struggled, from the first. Whatever was inside his head was both beautiful and toxic, serene and explosive, and they weren’t separated.
(The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity).
The angels and demons were were integrated, unified, homogenized, and excessive too. That mix was who he was and it was beautiful. And I’ve learned from it. People will tell you they care about you, that they’re loyal, that they’ll be there for you, and then they’ll just go away. Kelsey disappeared, without warning, without a discussion, without any instructions……but that was, I think, always going to be the way he left the building. He didn’t think anything could get better, and the pain was too great. I couldn’t save him, but I don’t know if that was even possible…..
The was a lot of despair and disgust in his life. Like Dylan said, I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast. But who can figure it out? Genomes. He was honest. He never faked being happy or content. He’d unleash on me and rely on me. I signed him up for classes at UH, took care of his parking tickets, got him lawyers when he needed them, and I always had 50s and C-notes around the house to give to him when he visited. Like my father was to me, I was Kelsey’s consigliere and bodyguard. Genco and Luca all in one. Until I wasn’t…..
I don’t believe in any kind of conscious afterlife—and I’m not sure what he thought about that mystic shit either; I don’t think he gave much thought to spending time with either Jesus or Old Scratch. We live in this world and we’re part of the dirt after. He’s not going to some magical place where he’s playing with Ginsberg and talking to my dad. He lives every day in my mind, always. Every moment. And I hope there are always people who remember him.
I think that’s why we live—so we can be remembered when we’re gone, not just flushed away like our life was no big deal. We don’t want to be easily disposable, unloved, and yet we are. Kelsey reinforced the lessons my Sicilian father taught me—trust only the closest family and assume everyone else has malign intent. The world is full of horrible and shitty people, and you have to ride it out. We offer up our innocence and get repaid with scorn. It’s a dark and depressing view of the world, especially in these times, but I haven’t been disabused of it……
Kelsey finally met up with the Grim Reaper, as we all will. He had more than a few brushes with him before March 11th, 2010, but this was the big one. The Grim Reaper is undefeated—he knocked out Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Ali—who else has done that? Kelsey was another best mind of his generation destroyed by madness. Kelsey’s with The Elders now, his atoms floating around in the cosmic dust. I told him an old Italian adage my dad used on me, “O mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa finestra,” and maybe he took it to heart all the way.
It’s been a dozen years since he left the world, without even saying goodbye. The ultimate ghosting, huh? Every day I wake up and there’s a nano-second before I’m conscious where I think of him, as if he’s still around. It’s literally less than an eye-blink. Then my heart sinks and I know he’s gone. I look at his pictures and usually I just say “I love you Kid” and sometimes “you crazy little bastard.” But it’s always with a smile amid the tears.
(I’ll look for you in old Honolulu
San Francisco or Ashtabula
You’re gonna have to leave me, now I know
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go)
No matter the season, I’m thinking about him—seasons of hope, seasons of despair, seasons of ice and darkness. Winter. He’s always there. As death gets nearer, day to day, I think about him more.
The world he’s missed out on for 12 years has been a rotten one. Maybe he had some kind of ESP to look into the future and wanted out. But I wish he was going through it with me now. I have conversations in the dark with him, but he doesn’t answer. I guess butterflies took away his tongue.
Or he had too much sun in his mouth.
Your writing is brilliant, honest, powerful and moving. Thank you for sharing all of it with us.
I really enjoyed reading this, thank you.
I wish for you and your family nothing but love and light.