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In the Ruins of My Blue House
The walls fell, but my memories remained
Tuli Farley
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Growing up, my life was layered with the experiences of two different worlds: one the chaos and diversity of New York, and the other a small, tranquil island in the Gulf of Mexico where the city pavement was replaced with roads of sand, and instead of insane taxi drivers were golf-carts driven by children.

I was born to parents who were not bonded by place, culture, or lifestyle. They existed in separate worlds but were unified through a love blessed not by law, but by the stars. My mother is a dancer and the director of her own dance theater company in New York City; my father is a musician and craftsman in Mexico.

Though I went to school in New York for the most part, I spent almost every vacation in Mexico, where my father has always lived. In the 4th grade I decided to live with him for a year.

The island where my father lives is called Isla Holbox, and it sits at the very tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our house wasn’t much—four small rooms under a palm-thatched roof, with scorpions on the walls and no running water or electricity. Standing only a few yards away from the singing ocean, those rooms were my remote escape from the city.

That house, which we called La Casa Azul (the Blue House) was a place that my mother found not long before I was born. It sat on the outskirts of the island’s small town—separated from civilization by almost a mile of beach. My mother was drawn to its serenity. She figured it would be the ideal place for reflection, a place to sketch and dream and dance, away from her busy life in New York City.

After I was born, the house became a pleasure to be shared with a family. It was a place to forge memories and laugh together in the hammocks. My mother wanted me to inherit it and pass from mother to daughter the gift of silent space for the most expansive thoughts. The house was meant to be an eternal guardian of memories.

That was before Hurricane Wilma.

Devastated

Isla Holbox has been hit by countless hurricanes. In 2005, when I was 10 years old, I arrived at my Blue House a few weeks after Wilma roared through the Gulf of Mexico. My mother and I had come to see the damage, answering my father’s call alerting us to our home’s destruction.

I could barely breathe as I realized that so many artifacts of my first 10 years had disappeared. The roof was gone. The closet had been picked up by the wind and used like a battering ram to smash the south-facing wall to pieces. The bed lay several hundred feet away in the grass. Our home was now a bleached skeleton that swayed in the breeze—breathing calmly while the remaining walls stood as fragile survivors of the harsh winds and screaming ocean that had taken everything else away.

I sat on the floor with a pit in my chest. Over and over I thought, “Nothing will ever be the same again—everything I grew up with, the place that made me who I am, is gone.” It wasn’t just my home; it was the park that I had loved—where I had played since I could walk, along with the homes of all my friends, and my father’s workshop and home.

image by YC-Art Dept

My father told me that among the trash and unfixable pieces of our old lives, a dead man and woman in a small raft had been discovered shortly after the storm. Soldiers sent by the government crowded around to retrieve the two lifeless, bloated bodies. They were refugees, the townspeople said, having chosen the most tragic of moments to flee Cuba.

In the wake of all that was dead—the people, the homes, the times passed there—the warm breeze and smiling sun seemed to mock the destruction. In the silence, the truth weighed down on me. I felt the temporary existence of everything.

The unavoidable path toward the future became clearer than ever, and I saw for the first time that it was built with both the stones of the past and hope for what was to come. I felt the gravity of not being able to go back, and a push forward into a new, unknown life.

Despite my feelings of loss, I had in that moment the most powerful sense of hope I have ever felt. The empathetic human spirit, the love of those around us, and the beauty that exists even in the worst of times—all of this holds the potential to balance out the horror of loss. It was one of the truest moments of salvation from despair that I have ever felt.

Hope Remains

Every few years Holbox is smashed to pieces. Each time, the town recovers, rebuilds, and eventually goes on, celebrating with another fiesta. The people never fail in doing whatever they can to help each other out. They remove fallen beams and structures, and comfort and mourn with each other when they uncover the bodies of their loved ones who stayed to weather the storm.

In the Blue House, we had a painting of a beautiful, soft spirit in a forest, kneeling down with her hands on her knees to converse with the other fairies of the woods. She was the light on a dark canvas, her gentle aura bringing joy from a two-dimensional plane. For many years during my childhood, she watched over me from the blue walls, bringing me health and happiness, my parents said.

There was very little left of my old home. The winds had swept away all notions of possession, but washed back up on the shore was none other than that smiling fairy queen herself.

To me, this felt like a kind of miracle. Or, if not a miracle, then a clear reminder from Mother Nature. Nothing—human or possession—lasts forever or even as long as we want it to, but each loss gives way to something new.

Rebuilding is never easy, and recovery is an arduous, lengthy, bitter task, especially when the only culprits are the winds whose breeze we long for and the waves we run to bathe in. But as the ocean promised when it carried our fairy back to the soft sands, there is always hope. That is the engine behind recovery, behind rebuilding and remembering.

The painting of the fairy queen now hangs above my bed in my room in New York, watching over me with care. Every time I look at her I can taste the salt, feel the breeze, feel the space where my home used to be. When I catch her eye, I feel hopeful once again.

She reminds me in a reassuring whisper that although my village is different now, and though the Blue House breathes with new walls void of old smells and memories, both what was and what is remain important. Things in this life survive for such little time, but their presence floods into what follows.

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(NYC-2013-01-17)

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