Unknown House | Mérida, Mexico
Once upon a time, there was a house on a boulevard on the Yucatan Peninsula on the Planet Earth.
Inside lived a man who wore boat shoes, his wife who hosted parties, and their two children who hated socialites. Every night, the Moon would rise high above their humble abode, part of the quaint, colorful city of Mérida, and offer them a blessing:
Tonight you will sleep with your eyes closed but your heart open.
And every night, the man, his wife, and their two children would fall fast asleep, with their eyes closed but their hearts open, underneath the silver spring Moon. They would drift off to landscapes made of cotton candy and cotton balls, dark forests filled with missing persons signs all through the wood, and train rides to nowhere, and conversations with talking animals, and a hammock.
In a summer field.
Somewhere in the middle of the country.
Somewhere safe, for somebody.
But then: one night, the man and his wife got into a fight with their two children. They pitched insults at one another and they screeched questions about each other’s moral compasses and they cried out loud that, “NEITHER OF YOU KNOW HOW TO LISTEN TO US.” And the man and his wife stormed off to their bed, and the two children stormed off to theirs, and as they settled into their beds —
— the lights —
— began —
— — to flicker.
And then: S N A P .
A loud, harsh cracking sound. Like a gong, but more direct.
The house went dark. All of the lights went out.
The house was still. And the clouds in the sky parted ways as the Moon pushed her way to the front. She had tears in her eyes.
She quivered, “A human made me cry tonight,” barely able to catch her breath as the night sky began to unfold. “This leaves me no choice. I’m sorry for what I must do,” she spoke, softly, ceremoniously.
She took a breath, then turned her eyes to the bedroom of the two children. She slowly lifted a stream of her best light directly into their room, beckoning them to come and open the window. The two children grabbed the hands of the outstretched moonshine and drifted out, floating through the window, and up into the night sky.
Then: silence. Pure, unsettling silence.
Then: the man and his wife yawned awake.
They noticed that the night sky was gone and that the day had started and that they couldn’t hear their two children. The house was still. The wife sat up, slowly, leaning into the quiet to see if she couldn’t hear something lurking in the silence.
A draft of wind, perhaps, but nothing more.
The wife called her children’s names.
Then the man called his children’s names.
Then, in unison, they both called their children’s names, twice.
An investigation opened. The office of public safety went through all the motions. The public outcry waxed, then waned, and nothing ever came of the search for the two missing children. For the next three years, the man and his wife lived in a chamber of isolation, paranoid and distrustful of the outside world, despaired by the unsolved kidnapping of their two children. They both died of mysterious causes two years later.
And that humble abode, a house on a boulevard, in part of the quaint, humble city of Mérida, on the Yucatan Peninsula, on the Planet Earth — it sat empty, for decades. Vandals slowly pickpocketed their way through the house’s personal belongings and left the rest to rot. Then, it was forgotten. It sat on the same corner in broad daylight, every day, waiting to be seen again.
(Or something like that.)
Someone lives here.
I know because there’s an orange, yellow, and purple hammock strung up in the courtyard on the first floor.
There’s also a candle, a bouquet of fake flowers, a mop, a mirror, and a crucifix laying on the ground next to the bed swing, and an empty carton of a Nescafé Latte on the stairs nearby. I don’t know how to feel about it. The contrast of this large house to this humble vagabond bedroom setup is difficult to swallow. I hope that, whoever lives here, if someone lives here, they can stay here. For good.
It’s a sizable house in one of the ritzier Mérida neighborhoods. The space feels like it’s been abandoned for quite some time. The smell of human feces wafts through the drafty spring air, the glow of morning light drifting down from the sky above the Yucatán Peninsula. The structure is composed of mostly concrete and tile, two stories, spacious, open, and occupied.
American Ruins, even if it isn’t the United States.
Access is easy. There are three entrances on the front of the building, not to mention extraneous doors and porticos guarding various entrances into the house, on every single side of the high walls that protect the property. I choose the door positioned inside the open-air garage because it’s cracked the widest. There’s a staircase to my left, blanketed in years of trash and dust; a bedroom to my right, where I find a single boat shoe, a calendar filled with appointments, and a roll of stickers; and a hallway down the middle that leads to the back of the wreckage where an empty pool collects tree shavings, mosquito carcasses, and dust.
I kneel at the hammock altar and close my eyes. Imagination, activate. Out of the darkness, a kind face appears. It’s a woman in her ’30s, dark brown skin, exactly my height. Warmth radiates from her eyes as I open mine, smiling as the apparition stands in front of me. She extends her hand.
“Mi nombre es Angelica.”
Angelica picks me up and drags me to the pool deck, past the dusty stairs, past the utility room, and straight down the hallway to the pool deck out back. She nudges me to take photos with my iPhone. I was unprepared today and didn’t bring my new camera. I’ve been practicing with it, and I feel a bit disappointed that I don’t have it, but Angelica reassures me:
I begin to capture my surroundings. Almost immediately, I notice graffiti of a machine gun on the second floor. It flips my stomach. The breeze wraps its arms around me as Angelica places her hands on my shoulders.
I don’t like guns.
I never have.
On the day Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris murdered sixteen of their classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School, I was standing with Justin Trenkker at the back of the field behind my elementary school about an hour south of Littleton, CO. Justin was bragging about making out with Alexa Dement as I was secretly dreaming about making out with Justin Trenkker when I noticed Vice Principal Peggy Healer running towards us with fervor and urgency. I turned and watched as teachers rushed kids off the playground. Something was wrong. I looked back at Mrs. Healer who was shouting something. Instinct kicked in, and I bolted to the school. I didn’t know why I was running, but I knew there was danger in our midst.
Hours later, after the school lockdown let up and Mom came to pick up my sister Megan and me, I learned that Columbine High School was the site of a bloody massacre. I learned my brother was supposed to run in a track meet there. And I learned slowly, over time, that many, many adults don’t care if kids get slaughtered at school, that a significant percentage of the population is addicted to the Second Amendment in the United States Constitution, that the Republican Party’s answer to widespread violence is to equip teachers with guns. I learned that, by and large, the epidemic of school shootings exists solely in the United States.
And I learned that I hate guns.
Angelica’s hands squeeze my shoulders as I come to. I’m sitting underneath the graffiti of the machine gun at the abandoned house in Mérida. I’m crying. Tears catapult from my eyes onto the rotted pavement, my heart beating rapidly, trying to escape my chest cavity. Angelica crouches down and hugs her arms around me. “Esta bien. Esta bien. Esta bien.” I glance up at the sky, trying to catch my breath, but nothing helps. I’m inconsolable. Angelica doesn’t mind. She holds me close and continues to tell me everything will be alright. I pull my arms close to my back and sob, years of anger and sadness tumbling out of my body through my salty, apathetic tears.
Will it ever stop?
As my cries begin to subside, I close my eyes again and whisper to Angelica, “Gracias. Muchas gracias.” I open my eyes, and she’s gone, her arms no longer embracing my sorrow.
My phone rings. It’s Perla, my friend who’s hosting my time in Mérida. We were at her son’s basketball game when I decided to go take a walk and happened upon the ruins of this homestead. “Bueno, Blake, the game is over.”
I pocket my phone and peer up at the graffiti of the machine gun one last time. I rest my hand on the wall and can hear Angelica’s steady heartbeat. I descend the cracked and ragged staircase and as I go to leave, I pass by the makeshift hammock one last time.
Someone lives here. I don’t know if her name is Angelica. I don’t know if this person is even a woman, but I know I’m a guest in this house, and I’ve overstayed my welcome. “Adios, chica,” I whisper to the house.
“Adios, chico,” it whispers back.