Mom, Me, Eli, Faera and dad, Puerto Morelos, 1988 (Credit Unknown)

Gilberto, 1988

The boat was delivered to us with approximately ten tons of sand and seaweed from the nearby ocean.

You see, when I was a kid I lived in a small port town in the southeast of Mexico; it lay against the Caribbean ocean, on a huge plot of sandy land. A small picket fence lined it, but the picket fence was unusual, as it zigzagged slightly and was made of uneven pieces of wood that must have been found along the beach. But what really made it stand out from the other houses was that enormous clear dome.

The roof was dome-like and made of thick vinyl; the type hockey players smash each other into. Only we had no hockey players in the Caribbean. We did have bats though. As a young child I learned that bats couldn’t seem to avoid a dome-like roof made of vinyl. They would swoop through town, avoiding moving cars, people and houses, and smack right on our dome. And yet that never really seemed so unusual to me, it was a simple fact of life.

Being only a few yards from the dense jungle we were assaulted nightly by a swarm of hungry bats, they would swoop, dive and sometimes smash against the clear dome with brutal precision, and when they did, it sounded like a homerun or hail landing on a car, a solid crack and bam. Whoever built that dome had seemingly invented an anti-radar device as well. Its glossy curved surface caused bats to not understand its location, not unlike modern stealth jets. Thank god the building was only one story high, or we might’ve had more than bats landing on our roof.

The jungle was a crowded place, one of the few areas of town my brother and I were tacitly prohibited from visiting, aluxes, enormous cats and swarms of bats lived in it. I only ventured as far as the mouth of it, quickly retreating to the safety of our sandy yard, adventure had never been my trait. And thinking back on that period of time I remember my mother reading The Hobbit out loud, I pictured the jungle as a Caribbean Mirkwood, or really, Mirkwood was my Caribbean jungle, and I dared not break that spell of imagination by actually entering it.

Then the storm came. With ferocious force it ripped trees, toppled cars and blew away all sorts of human possessions including my stuffed teddy bear and not stuffed pet cat.

The storm was named Gilberto, storm number six of 1988. There was a great silence, a natural quietness in the eve of the storm. Not the slightest whisper escaped the jungle, not a bird in the sky or a fish in the ocean. They knew, without radios or army men, they knew the storm would come.

Image of Gilberto, NOAA, 1988

The day before the storm made landfall, army men came to take us away. We drove in a crowded school bus, peeking out on the now horizontal palm trees that lined the entrance to our town.

When we returned to our house a few days later, a boat lay docked in our front yard. It glimmered in the hot sun, white as the sand that surrounded it and every inch of the house, which overflowed with sand and seaweed.

What was no longer there was the bat-killing dome. And that night as I lay in my mosquito-net-covered bed, I could no longer hear the bats.

Anita Brown, Jesse and Eli Siegel, Faera Taylor and the late Jules Siegel.
Puerto Morelos, 1988, credit unknown.
Back of photo, 1988 — Credit unknown.
Special thanks to Lisa Crofts for finding it.