Rumpus Exclusive: “Giant Possums of the Promised Land”
At the Heather Glen Apartment Complex there was no gate, no lights, no tall buildings, not many people on the streets. There was a moldy Jacuzzi and a small pool where dead insects, used condoms, and mutant ducks with red lumps on their beaks congregated and left trails of green poop. The cool colombianos y venezolanos and some of the emo boys also hung out there. Blasting salsa over aguardiente. The loner kids included the weird sad maricón from Argentina and they hung by the lake with all the mosquitoes and frogs. The apartment complex was ten blocks away from Iglesia Cristiana Jesucristo Redentor and six blocks from the Pastores’ house. Our townhouse sat facing the dumpster and, beyond it, the lake surrounded by dying palm trees, framed by the crisscrossing highway. From the third floor we witnessed the stunning orange sunsets eating at the sky while families of possums violently dug up their dinner. Sometimes por la mañana I’d wake up to Mami’s screams, Dios mío, one or two possums killed that night in a gang fight over scraps of avocado. En Colombia: truchas. En Miami: el animalejo ese. They particularly enjoyed Tata’s fried plantains, would crucify each other with their pointy teeth for it. Possums were giant rats that we pretended were not giant rats because this was the U S of A, the Promised Land, where friendly giant Coca-Colas handed you a green card to shop inside a luxurious McDonald’s until the end of your days. There were no disgusting animals here. Cómo se te ocurre. Estamos en los Mayamis donde todo es luz, todo brilla, todo tiene descuento. Pa’ balancear la cosa, air fresheners suddenly appeared in every outlet of every room in our townhouse, meant to do exactly what Mami loved: conceal the true smell of our lives. Instead, we smelled like an out-of-business candy store. Rotting amid the strawberry vanillas and the Fabuloso. Every time people came to our house Mami asked us to shut our doors so people couldn’t look out the south windows into the dumpster or see Tata’s room, where pictures, letters, and notes with no frame populated the walls with their clear tape and terrible handwriting. Tata taped up every note that every person at church sent her, and Mami thought it was, ay, so low-class; they fought about it constantly. Por lo menos, Mami argued, at least use a frame, Mamá. Tata didn’t care.
Este, Tata said, este es el museo de mi vida.
Mami so impatient con Tata, so impatient con el mundo that wouldn’t give her a real house, a real job. So what if Milagros promised her an accounting job at a Colombian newspaper that didn’t need any accounting but instead sent Mami to distribute flyers in the suburbs, to rich people’s houses at night, and be thereafter chased by the neighborhood police. The first night, Mami returned giggling like a fifteen-year-old running from home with her machuque, but after a week of this degradación, she wanted nothing to do with the flyer pendejada. Soy una mujer educada, carajo, she’d say with watery eyes. Did the neighborhood police care about Mami’s wall-to-wall windowed office in Bogotá? Did they care about the secretary who watered the plants and delivered tintico in the mornings? Cachaco, please.
Where was the Miami life we all dreamed about from those Marc Anthony music videos? Where was our South Beach and our Versace and long, shiny hair unbothered by the humidity and our larger-than-life apartment overlooking the playa? Where was that feeling of grandiosity and fullness? Where was that sense of superiority that we briefly felt the moment we told everyone in Bogotá we were moving to the United States—uyyy a los Mayamis—and amid the tears, the feeling of reverence? Cachaco, perdío. Nowhere to be seen. Instead, we jammed our life into Tata’s townhouse—Tata had sashayed to Miami a year before, joining the Exodus of the Juan Family out of the País de Mierda. She joined my tías when Grandpa was found dead on the toilet. We joined Tata when Mami’s heart died one too many times.
La vida es dura, Tata always said. Life is hard, girlfriend.
Rumpus original art by Eva Azenaro Acero.
Excerpted from Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera. Copyright © 2020 by Juliana Delgado Lopera. Reprinted by permission, courtesy of Amethyst Editions, an imprint of The Feminist Press.