Last year, a tornado decimated a small Colorado town and one unfortunate family. Now the residents of Holly are slowly rebuilding their homes and lives the only way they know how—by looking ahead instead of revisiting the past.
With a shy smile, four-year-old Noelia Puga lifts her arms in the air, prompting Gus to scoop her up off the floor of his mother's living room. After the tornado, the Pugas—Gus, Noelia, and Gus Jr.—moved into the modest one-story house down the street from where their own home once stood. Gus's mother, Aurelia, and eight-year-old Gus Jr. weathered the twister here; though some windows shattered, both escaped unharmed. Noelia, with her long, dark hair and mischievous brown eyes, the picture of childlike giddiness, squirms out of her dad's grasp and skips into the other room, giggling.
Gus remains silent, his brown eyes glazed with a faraway look as his family members recount their struggles and small victories since the tornado. Gus' brother Jorge—in town from San Diego just before Christmas for the funeral of their father, Pablo—recalls how quickly the community and its neighbors cleaned up the debris, and Aurelia frets about Gus Jr.'s newly developed fear of rain and wind. Her two beloved parakeets, roosting in a cloth-draped cage in the corner, chirp away obliviously. They'd been right next to one of the windows that was destroyed, but nary a feather was touched.
Sitting across from a photograph hanging on the opposite wall—a framed memory of smiles, two parents and two kids against the portrait-blue background—Gus perks up at the mention of Rosemary. He struggles to describe the months following the storm before finally managing, "I still wasn't used to her being gone. I couldn't accept it. Come 3:30 every day, I'd turn and look at the door and expect her to be walking in from work."
Though Gus can't avoid driving by his old house, until recently he'd never stopped there. He'd rather not think about that night, things he's blocked out so he can resume his daily routine: waking at 3 a.m., driving his truck sometimes as far as Nebraska, and returning home, every evening, by dinnertime. He's made no attempt to replace his old home, the will to start over stalling under the sheer burden of the effort. That, however, began to change after his children saw workers rebuilding on the lot behind Aurelia's house. "The kids thought it was for them," Gus says almost guiltily.
He lifts his shirt to reveal tan skin branded with a pattern of angry-looking scars, cruel reminders of the jagged tree branches and shrapnel from his own home that lashed his back as he clung to the tree. The scars are finally fading along with his recollections of the tragedy. While he may never be able to completely face the memories, Gus is getting by, continuing his work, and providing his children a good life—and eventually maybe even a new home. "My son wants his own room again," he says of rebuilding. "It's not so much that I want it, but for them."