Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Side of the Story

"Come on Deb, you’ll be late for school, let’s go!”“Coming! Hold up!” I said, fumbling for the rest of my stuff trying to make it out the door. The bus never came to pick me up because I lived on a mountain that was one mile high up a dirt road. My mother had to drive me down to the bus stop every morning, or I could have walked. I never walked. There were no kids my age on that hill and it was too desolate. Never mind the bear problem- the neighbor’s dogs were to be feared. My parents never let me walk that hill alone anyway.

I was sixteen years old at the time and always managed a way to miss the bus. I did this purposely, because I didn’t like the kids I rode with. They all irritated me and I would isolate myself almost next to the front seat, so I wouldn’t get agitated. I always got carsick sitting on a bus for some reason, and my poor mother always ended up driving me to school. If I could catch my sister Cathy with her awesome little white pimped up Dodge Daytona to drive me in, I would beg if necessary. Her car was done up as if she was from the Bronx: spoilers from rear to front, moon roof, a sparkly metallic red decal of her name on each side of the door, and red velvet-like interior. All she needed were a couple of dice hanging from the rear view mirror. She was ‘cool’ though. She let me smoke with her. We listened to the same music, even though we were seven years apart.

My father and his construction crew were in the front room having coffee before work. They were all so eccentric looking. I never knew why these men would wear that kind of jewelry if they were going to run a machine or get their hands dirty. They would all come inside, filling up the entire house with strong cologne. Their hair always slicked back and done up, as if they were going out to paint the town red.

“Deb, let’s move it!” My mother shouted once again. I came running out into the living room, and we both headed out the door together. We stepped into her little Ford Bronco II. Mom started to back up the truck to turn it around in the driveway. We didn’t make it quite far, because a ton of white little cars came flying down the road with yellow flashing lights. They looked like the utility company cars. I was confused. Did we use way too much electric? Did I take too long doing my hair and suck up whatever energy they had left at the plant?

My mother looked at me. She had a look on her face as though she expected this. I looked outside my window to see all the cars surrounding my house. There were men in black FBI uniforms sprawled out everywhere with big machine guns.
“Ma? Who are they? Do they have the wrong house? What’s going on?”
“Deb, just do what they say.”
Mom said, as she clutched my arm tightly.
My mother’s car door was swung open by a masculine woman. She grabbed my mom right out of the car, turned her around and then handcuffed her right before my eyes. My mother just stared at me as she was being literally attacked by this Amazon-looking broad. She read my mother her rights.
“Do you have your license young lady?” the FBI lady asked me.
“Umm, yeah.”
“Drive yourself to school. Your mother is going to be away for a little while. I’m sure she won’t mind at this point that you’re taking her car.”
She said in an authoritative tone.
I felt numb. I didn’t feel anything at all. I looked around and saw the FBI men rush into our house. All of them piling in one by one like little carpenter ants. It was ‘organized.’ Ironic word to use in this story. I felt like I was in a dream state, just watching it like a movie unfolding. This couldn’t be happening. I finally see them taking out my father in handcuffs. My heart sank. I heard the female FBI officer being incredibly mean to my mother. My mom was being castigated by this witch. I wanted to grab her gun and shoot her in the heart, but I was too angry with my parents at that point. Shouldn’t I be upset for them? What were they hiding from me? Why didn’t they warn me about this happening? They knew and didn’t tell me. As the youngest child of four, I always felt left in the dark. Everyone would whisper around me. Were they protecting me, or were they trying to give me a heart attack at the age of sixteen?

I began to climb into the driver’s seat. My body was moving involuntarily. I was in a state of shock. I started backing out of the driveway. I couldn’t do anything more to help my mother and father. As I was backing out, I stopped and looked at the house, as my father’s friends were all being arrested too, except for two of them. I didn’t quite understand it all at the time.

Driving down the road, I saw tractor-trailers hauling in backhoes and other heavy equipment over to my house. “Wow, my father must have had a big job to do today.” I thought, as I saw them all pass by. Then I saw my father’s best friend’s truck driving towards me. I blinked my lights at him to stop.
“Hey.” Tom says.
“Tom, don’t go up there. My parents got arrested for some reason, and there are tons of FBI agents on the property."
“Oh shit!”
He says, as if he knew exactly what was going on.
Why am I the last to know about all of these things? I kept driving down the road in silence. No radio, no crying, just a blank stare at the road and racing thoughts. I pulled up to my school and parked in the teacher’s parking lot. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about parking tickets at this point. Reprimand me - I don’t give a shit. I wanted to see my teacher Barbara, who was also my personal friend. I trusted her with everything. We went out to lunch all the time. She was a true friend, even though we were years apart. I loved her like a sister.

I walk into the classroom. I look at her and didn’t say one word. Her eyes were fixed on me. I couldn’t break the stare---I started crying. She quickly grabbed me and pulled me out of the room. She hugged me outside the hallway.
“Deb, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
I couldn’t answer her. It was the first outbreak of my crying. Through the sniffles and huffing of my hysteria, I tried to tell her what had happened. The only words that came out of my mouth were, “Ma’ma’ma’my parents……..uh…uh…..arrested…..uh…..uh……FBI took em’…”
“I know, I know…”
She said.
How did she know this??? How come I didn’t have a clue? I didn’t even ask how she knew, I just felt better by her comforting me at that time. It didn’t matter how she knew- I just needed her. She hugged me while I was uncontrollably crying my eyes out, dowsing her nice blouse with my tears.
“Go take Katie and take the day off. Go to her house so you two can get out of here.” Barbara suggested. She was letting me take my best friend to go play hooky. Katie’s parents were never home, and we always ditched school to go to her house anyway and Barbara always knew about it. Katie was more than happy to get out of there, so she came with me. Katie had no clue what was going on until the teacher and I informed her of why we were being allowed to leave.
That day, I sat in Katie’s house. I remember how beautiful it was outside. It was a gorgeous March day, and we were sitting outside on her deck. I wasn’t saying much because I was still in shock. Katie always knew how to make me laugh, even at the oddest moments. I kept calling my house, but no one answered.
“Just stay here until someone answers. You can even spend the night here Deb.” Katie says, trying to make me feel better. It did.
I finally got my sister Cathy on the phone at 6pm. She told me that they were only holding mom there for a few more hours, but dad was a different story.
“What happened?”
“I don’t know Deb, just come home if you can. Be careful, there are workers and FBI agents scattered all over the property. They dug a hole thirty feet deep in the driveway, so an agent will be guiding you where to park.”
“What?”
“Just come home now Debbie.”
She said, not wanting to elaborate any further.

I drove up the mountain we lived on. There’s a little drop, going downward to get to my driveway. As I was driving down, an officer stopped me and told me to keep to my right. There were bright orange cones surrounding this massive hold they had dug in the driveway. I parked my car and got out. I saw so many agents roaming around. It was almost dark out. They had bright construction night-lights all set up and a few backhoes. I still didn’t get it.
I ran inside the house to talk to my sister.
“What is going on?”
“They think dad and his friends buried cars for insurance reasons, that’s all Deb. Mom is coming home soon, they took her to jail shortly, and dad will be home tomorrow. He’s being questioned.”
“Did they find any cars?”
“No.”

Something wasn’t being told. My sadness was now turning into anger. All these years for getting punished for minuscule things - they have the nerve to get arrested? What hurt the most was the fact that no one would tell me anything. They still wanted to keep me in the dark. “Oh she’s the baby, you can’t tell her.” All my life, I heard, “She’s the baby. She’s the baby.” Yeah, the youngest out of four, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew they were trying to protect me. I knew the reasons why they did what they had to do, but back then I didn’t understand it.
I went to school the following week. I broke out in severe acne. I was quiet and introverted. This was out of my character. On the bus going to school, the radio station the bus driver had on displayed my life, as I never knew it before.
“Two residents in our town were arrested the other day for money laundering through a local sanitation company. FBI officials excavated the property to see if they can discover bodies that were missing. This was told by an informant who claimed of the incidents. Mr. Pasquella is looking at ten years in a Federal prison and $100,000.00 bail. Now back to your favorite music!”

Everyone looked at me. I was a disease. I was to be feared, almost as if I were a vampire. I walked off that bus, and into the cafeteria to get a coffee.
Hey Deb, bet your father’s wearing stripes right about now!” Some kid said to me, as he sat on the radiator next to the window. All his friends laughed with him. I guess I didn’t care though. Say what you will about them. I was still numb. It didn’t affect me. I grabbed my coffee and headed for the lecture hall. The local papers spread around like wildfire. They had a new story in there each day of the week following up on the case. My friend Angela and I were staying close together. Her uncle was arrested too for the same case. We sat in class together and talked amongst ourselves. We never spoke about what happened though. We just gave one another the support we needed as friends. We never left each other’s side. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one going through this traumatic experience. Even though it was her uncle, she still knew what I was going through. After all, it was her family.

“You guys! Wait up!” One of our friends was running towards us, clenching her books to her side.
“What’s up?” I asked, as Angela stood there with a puzzled look on her face.
“Mrs. Brigs said the most awful thing. She told the whole class as she was reading the current events that the people involved should get the death penalty.”
Mrs. Brigs knew us. She knew our situation. Yes, she has her opinion, but her students were apart of this family. Even though it was our family, we didn’t deserve this kind of treatment. Every morning before I went to school, I would smoke pot to relieve the emotional distress. It relieved me of the stress of walking into that building to be judged. I had my first anxiety attack. I started having convulsions in class, and the teacher had to call my mother to bring me to the hospital. The anxiety attacks stayed with me as I grew older. I quit the pot ever since that anxiety attack, but the memories of that day still live within me.

Being judged and ridiculed for the next few months of school at the age of sixteen, I quit. Enough of this. I want out. I’m sick and tired of not only students criticizing me for my parents’ actions, but the teachers were even worse. I couldn’t handle it much longer. My acne problem grew worse, my anxiety attacks were fierce, and my attention span was next to none. I had no interest in school, learning or trying to make a better life for myself. I’m not blaming my parents, I’m blaming myself of the way I handled the whole situation.

Conversations I had with my friends over the phone had to be at a minimal amount of ‘dirt’. All our phones were tapped. We were constantly being watched by the FBI. We even had two or three FBI agents sitting in trees outside in the woods, keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity. I always saw a gray van with tinted out windows up on the top of my hill. I felt like giving them the finger each time I passed by. I could understand if it were someone else they were spying on, but this was my father…and my family. It made me feel strange. Nevertheless, I guess it was necessary.

My father finally had his day in court. He had to go to Allendale Federal Prison for six months and six months home probation. That wasn’t so bad, but bad enough. The news did inform the public that there were no bodies found in my backyard. Why would anyone do that? It was a man who lied to the FBI agents in order to get out of his own mess. It was all hearsay and nothing else. The only crime my father was guilty for was being involved in a money laundering scheme that put him away for six months and not being a rat. He kept his lips shut and did his time. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes. My anger subsided and I forgave my parents for being so secretive with me, and doing what they did. They were trying to support their family, but in a non-conventional way. During the time my father was away, I wrote him letters, and drew him funny comic pictures to keep him laughing. He loved it. He wrote me a letter. It was the very first letter I ever got from my dad. I still have it till this day.

My family stuck it out together, as a team. We didn’t turn on one another, as some families might have done. When my father returned home that first day, we had the whole family there to greet him. It was a new and fresh start for him, and for us.