a sunny place for shady people: one
we were living in the penthouse when the f.b.i. or the d.e.a. or the i.r.s. came to the door with a search warrant. it wasn’t really a penthouse, or at least not what an 11 year old thinks of when she thinks of a penthouse. the floor was not marbled, nor was the ceiling high, and there was no fireplace, not even a decorative one; instead, the carpet was scratchy and beige, and the ceilings had those little pocky plaster bits that someone once told me caused cancer. there was a balcony, but i couldn’t see over the edge; the fact that the main entrance was on the second floor seemed a bit tacky to me.
i climbed up the stairs and peered around the corner to see who was at the door: two white men in suits holding badges, or a similar image. our muchacha, the live-in housekeeper/nanny, had opened the door. i think i ran downstairs to tell my parents the police were at the door. the next thing i remember, my parents ordered my sister, my grandmother, aka abuela, and me down to the lobby of our apartment building while they dealt with things.
our apartment building was called the tidemark. before that, we had lived in a smaller apartment building, the botanica. both of these buildings were part of a 40-acre, gated, beachfront apartment complex called key colony. we lived there for about four years, and i would regularly explore and discover new paths, hidden gardens, small waterfalls, tennis courts, apartment units, and swimming pools. there was an arcade and plenty of lizards to trap. during my tenure there, my hobby of capturing and accidentally killing lizards reached genocidal proportions. it was an odd yet perfect tropical oasis for a young girl with a bicycle. we’d been living in key biscayne, florida -at the time an unincorporated island village in the city of miami- for about two years. over the course of about ten years of growing up in key biscayne, we lived in seven different houses on the island. residential properties cover about a four mile area; one time we literally moved around the corner.
back in the lobby… there was talk of sending the three of us to the apartment of my mom’s cousin josefina, aka pillo. i didn’t really want to be escorted out of the drama, but i understood this wasn’t meant for my little eyes and ears. though i couldn’t picture my stressed out abuela praying the rosary at pillo’s house, i loved the idea of going there. she was super cool. pillo was young, thin, attractive, and sporty; all the things my nuclear family was not. she windsurfed! windsurfed! and she owned a white volkswagen cabriolet convertible that i’m pretty sure my father bought her. she worked for my father’s company as a secretary of some kind. a couple of years later my mother would exclaim, “just because a man and a woman work together everyone ‘over there’ assumes they are having an affair.” over there, or alla, was colombia, and i learned that sometimes there’s truth behind people’s assumptions.
i can’t recall how i felt about the government agents visiting. i try to remember if there was confusion, worry, fear, or amusement, but i have no idea. i can attribute my foggy emotional memory to trauma, but likely i approached the situation with the same detached empathy i usually do: observing events as a curious outsider with a healthy degree of understanding for the involved actors. i’m pretty sure i had the thought it was all doubtless a mistake and everything would work out in the end, because it always does, because it has to, because mami and papi are up there and they can do anything.
an hour or so later, we were back upstairs. our muchacha was in the kitchen with her head in her hands, crying. she was being taken away because she did not have papers. se la llevaron. she made the best scrambled egg, ham, and cheese bagel sandwiches ever, and she would make me as many as i wanted everyday after school.
i don’t think i heard much else about the search, except they didn’t find anything, or maybe they didn’t have the right warrant. my father took a great deal of pride in fucking over systems with their own red tape. one time he came home and told a story about how he got out of a ticket by arguing that the light of the moon and the position of the police car would have made it impossible for the officer to have seen him making the illegal u-turn. he argued the officer only assumed he made an illegal u-turn. many years later, his younger sister, fiorella, aka fio, told me that illegal u-turn pullover had led to a subsequent search of his car and the discovery of a suitcase with 12 kilos of cocaine in the trunk. she exuded pride as she told me how my father got the charges dropped by the light of the moon.
they didn’t take my father away in handcuffs that day, just la muchacha; and she wasn’t in handcuffs, she was in tears. i assume they just wanted to look around the apartment and see how we lived. like in “say anything” when the i.r.s. agents ask ione skye if her house had a lot of nice things bought with cash. in the movie of my life, i play ione skye.