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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

This Is Not My Beautiful Life

A Memoir

Victoria Fedden

Picador

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1



When the Feds raid your house (or my parents’ house, in this case), they like to take you by surprise. They’ll come before sunrise and catch you in bed. Of course I didn’t know that, so when the doorbell rang politely, I thought that my husband, Ben, who had just left for work, had probably forgotten something. I tossed on a T-shirt and shuffled, yawning, down the grand marble staircase to unlock the glass front doors.

I didn’t know they were the Feds. I guess when I imagined DEA agents, I pictured a SWAT team with guns, but the group of men and women assembled under my parents’ porte cochere looked like bouncers just off work from a nightclub. Guys with shaved heads and goatees, and a couple of butchy-looking women who wore T-shirts and cargo pants and carried no visible weapons. Visible being the key word.

Robbers, I thought. Thieves cased out fancy waterfront neighborhoods, and a Mediterranean-style McMansion like my parents’, with a Bentley and a tricked-out Escalade in the driveway, plus a forty-two-foot cabin cruiser docked in the back, was a sure target. They were going to force their way in, tie us up, and demand the combination to the safe where my mom hid her diamonds. Or maybe they were going to kidnap me for ransom. For years my sister Ashley and I had feared that one of the shady characters my parents always seemed to have hanging around would try something like that, so I didn’t open the door, and I contemplated running upstairs to my parents’ room to wake them and their 130-pound Doberman. But I wasn’t really thinking clearly—I’d just woken up. Also, I wasn’t wearing any pants.

One of the men shook some papers, and then, all at once, they flashed their badges. I wondered how many times they’d practiced this routine, because Olympic synchronized swimmers couldn’t have done it with better timing.

“POLICE!” one of them said through the glass.

“SEARCH WARRANT!”

I twisted the dead bolt open and let them in. I obviously didn’t have a choice.

“I’m pregnant!” I blurted.

A couple of the guys snickered.

“Obviously,” I heard one of them say.

The guy with the papers demanded to know if I was Cecily Gold.

I looked at him, confused.

“Are you her?” he asked again.

I shook my head, trying to think of what the right thing to say was, but the only thing that came to me was anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

“No,” I said, “I’m her daughter.”

“Is she here?” he wanted to know.

“Honey, who is it?” my stepdad, Joel, called down from the east wing of the house. I took a deep breath.

“The police!” I called back.

“Is Cecily here?” the cop repeated.

“We’ll be right down!” Joel yelled.

“I’m not wearing any pants,” I mumbled.

I tugged my T-shirt down over my pregnant belly, trying to cover my thighs and my enormous maternity panties.

“Let me take you to get dressed,” one of the women said. She had a mullet.

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said. “I can go by myself.”

“No, I’ll have to accompany you,” she said. She sounded pretty firm about it.

She followed me up the curving staircase, down the catwalk, and into the guest bedroom where my husband and I had been staying for the past two months while we waited for the renovations to be completed on the house we’d bought. We’d hoped they’d be done by the time the baby came, but at the rate things were going, the house might be ready by her eighth-grade graduation.

“I don’t live here,” I said. “I mean, my husband and I, we don’t live here. We’re just staying here temporarily while we’re waiting for our house to be done, and all our stuff is crammed into one room.”

I gestured toward a folding table we’d set up against one wall and the stacks of building permits, plans, and blueprints shuffled on top of it.

The woman nodded. “Just get dressed, honey.”

I closed the door of the walk-in closet behind me. Right away she opened it, mumbling something that sounded like policy or procedure while I threw my husband’s gray Miami sweatshirt over my tee and pulled on a pair of leggings.

“How far along are you?” she asked.

“Thirty-seven weeks,” I said.

She made a face that I interpreted as alarmed. I figured she was worried I might go into labor at any second and totally jack up the whole raid.

“I’ll need that cell phone,” she said.

“Oh, um, I was just trying to text my husband to let him know what was happening.”

“Sorry,” she said, grabbing the iPhone from my hand and shutting it off before I could hit send.

“Look, whatever this is, I have nothing to do with it,” I tried to tell her.

She kind of half-assedly apologized. No one wants to be nasty to a pregnant woman, not even the Feds.

By the time we got back downstairs, my parents had gotten out of bed and were speaking with the officers, my mom still braless in her leopard-print silk pajamas, her waist-length (thanks to extensions) ponytail wound up in a hot-pink scrunchie. The dogs were going ballistic, and Joel was yelling at them to shut up while trying to explain to the officers that the Doberman was a teddy bear and the yappy mini pin was really the one to worry about, even though he weighed less than ten pounds. At least he had actually bothered to get dressed. Joel was in his red-and-black Nike gym gear, as if he expected the raid to be over in time for his eight A.M. with his trainer at LA Fitness.

The Feds were asking about guns and drugs. Seriously? Guns and drugs? My parents didn’t have any guns or drugs, but to my surprise my stepdad produced a handgun from the sideboard beside the living room fireplace and then dug out a rolled-up Ziploc of weed from a box on top of the ornate mahogany bar. I always thought that box contained mixed nuts.

“Medical marijuana. I have a prescription in California. I can show it to you. I have anxiety,” he explained.

I wanted to roll my eyes. Everyone who knows Joel knows that the man has never been nervous a day in his life. Once, on the way home from one of his numerous trips to California, the plane he was on experienced serious mechanical malfunctions and had to make an emergency landing. Later, when it was over, I asked him if he had been scared at all, and what it was like to almost die? But he just shrugged it off.

“If it’s my time, it’s my time,” he’d said.

Maybe this was because he’d already been dead. When he was nineteen, he’d been shot twice through the chest during a robbery at a nightclub in New Jersey, and had been revived at the scene.

For the next two hours, I had to sit my enormously pregnant ass on my parents’ living room sofa, without my cell phone, while these strangers stomped through the house in their boots and tight tees. Whatever it was they were searching for, it wasn’t the gun or the pot. The agents had waved those aside.

“You can keep your toy gun and your dime bag. We’re looking for something bigger than that.”

The agents continued to ransack the house. Two of them led my mother outside onto the marble patio overlooking the swimming pool, which she’d mosaicked in pearly pink tiles. I watched through the glass doors lining the length of the house as they sat down at the patio table, and the sun rose, reflecting shades of coral on the still waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, where a fishing boat glided slowly past. Another agent followed my stepdad into the kitchen. Joel had asked them all if they’d wanted coffee—which was typical for him—and proceeded to fire up the three-thousand-dollar built-in Italian coffee system that was his pride and joy. The machine ground beans and sputtered steam, filling the house with the aroma of dark roast Kona.

I rubbed my belly as I stayed parked on the grand sofa. No one ever sat on this thing, and it was ridiculously uncomfortable, made only for show. Stiffly upholstered with scratchy gold fabric, the couch was piled with at least twenty throw pillows, all of which were adorned with abrasive sequins, rhinestones, and beads. There was no room for my wide ass and childbearing hips, so I had to throw several of them onto the floor. My mom adored this flamboyant piece of furniture—I remembered when she bought it. She had bragged that it was a Marge Carson, which meant absolutely nothing to me and sounded like someone my grandmother played Bingo with.

“Do you know how much a Marge Carson costs?” Mom had asked.

I hadn’t a clue.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars,” she’d said.

I’d take IKEA over that gaudy, useless thing any day.

The woman with the mullet milled around by the front door, lording over the row of confiscated cell phones lined up on the key table, lest I try to grab one and check my Facebook or something nefarious like that. I almost laughed, imagining what my status update might read.

Victoria Fedden is: being detained by the DEA.

I occupied myself with worrying about the baby. That had pretty much been my main pastime since March, when I’d found out I was pregnant. It was now almost mid-October, and she was due on the twenty-sixth. I’d hoped she’d be born on Halloween, my favorite holiday, but I was glad she was guaranteed to be a Scorpio like me—that was, unless the shock of the morning’s events sent me into early labor, which I was convinced was going to happen. She hadn’t moved in a while, so I worried she might be dead, and that if she wasn’t dead, she was probably breech. I’d recently read an article that associated breech babies with high rates of autism, so I fretted about that, too.

“Whose bag is this?” called a little nebbish guy from the staircase. He’d come in behind the bigger, brawnier agents, looking a lot like Woody Allen, his pants scooted up to his ribs. He was with the IRS.

“Mine,” I replied.

He dragged my schoolbag, a black leather satchel with wheels, down the steps.

“What are these papers in here?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing you’re interested in. It’s just copies of some of my students’ work.”

He pulled the papers out, stacked them on the glass coffee table in front of me, and proceeded to eye each one.

“You’re a teacher?” he asked.

I nodded. He looked incredulous and asked me what I taught and where.

“I mean, I’m not teaching now. I taught business writing over the s-summer at FAU,” I stammered.

“College?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“You don’t look old enough to teach college.”

“I’m thirty-six.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed that,” the IRS agent said, pulling out my laptop.

“Please don’t take that!” I begged. “There’s nothing on there but my writing and my pictures. I don’t have anything to do with this.”

He said he had to check with the guys from the DEA and walked off with my computer in his hands, leaving my schoolbag tipped over on the floor, the essays littering the table, the comments I’d made on them glaring at me in red ink.

I sat there for three hours before they carried out cardboard box after cardboard box of “evidence.” They took my parents’ computers, some cell phones, and God knows what documents in green file folders. And then they took my mother.

“Don’t worry about me! I’ll be fine. I’m not scared!” she called over her shoulder as the agents escorted her outside and into one of their unmarked black SUVs.

Joel followed about ten minutes behind them in the Bentley.

“Don’t worry, baby. I’ll have her back by dinner. I’ve got Brad Cohen on the phone,” he reassured me.

Brad Cohen was a local criminal defense lawyer, famous for having been on the second season of The Apprentice. But he was kicked off the show after only two weeks. I saw him around town a lot and on TV getting yelled at by Nancy Grace for disagreeing with her on cases that neither one of them had anything to do with.

The front doors slammed shut, and the glass panes rattled in their frames. Once the echo faded, the house was eerily silent. I was alone now.

I pressed the home button on my phone to check the time, and looked at the weather out of habit. A little after ten. Cloudy. Windy. Chance of storms. I took a deep breath, knowing that he was going to freak out, and texted my husband that the house had been raided, and my mom had been arrested and taken away. I told him not to leave work, even though he wanted to, then took my keys, got into the car, and drove across A1A, the long narrow ribbon of a road that trims the coastline of South Florida.

When I got to the beach, I parked and sat, staring out at the sea, slate-colored and churning beneath rain-heavy clouds. It occurred to me that I hadn’t told my sister, who was also pregnant, and due six weeks after me in December.

Mom got arrested this morning, I typed.

Her reply appeared on the screen a few seconds later.

Again?



Copyright © 2016 by Victoria Fedden