Gracious Ruin


  1. 1.“The hike up to Timpanogos Cave… we rose 5,638 feet”: Small facts about the Timpanogos Tour like these were found on the National Park Service’s website for the cave.
  2. 2. “I’ll be able to show you all the stuff…”: All quotes from Ranger (Other) Andrew come from notes I took on the cave tour.
  3. 3.“A regular hurricane can release as much energy as 500,000 atom bombs”: In the Prologue of David Fisher’s book, The Scariest Place on Earth: Eye to Eye with Hurricanes, Fisher explains the absolute danger and power of hurricanes—at the end of which, saying that “the scariest place in the world” was “Miami, Florida, on August 24, 1992”—Hurricane Andrew.
  4. 4.“Between August 14 and 28 in 1992, Hurricane Andrew transformed”: I found it interesting that my attempt to find the exact dates that Hurricane Andrew began and ended was more difficult than finding the stories about the hurricane’s effects. I wonder if this is because, as a people, we don’t care as much about the statistics as we do the tales of real humans fighting to survive. In any case, this bit of information was found on
  5. 5. “Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm”: This is a book is a collection of images and information from only months after Hurricane Andrew.
  6. 6. “Glass might shatter… the sound of a train barreling… wait out the storm”: This description of Hurricane Andrew comes from the account of Grace Laskis on page 17 in In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew. She and her family survived the storm by hiding in her bathroom.
  7. 7. “Even the oils of our skin… can stop it from progressing”: This was both told to me on the tour and on pages 2-3 of an article written by the National Park Service that can be found here:
  8. 8. “This same curiosity… entrance to another cave”: James Gough and Frank Johnson weren’t the first people to discover these caves when they found them in 1913, but it was through their discovery that the caves were protected by the National Park Service. It is on the NPS website, along with the information from the tour, that I found their story.
  9. 9. “They found it… to repeat”: This is where stories diverge on what happened. Some say that a landslide covered the entrance, and the cave was lost. Other stories say that the boys hid the treasure they found and ran off to Idaho. For the purpose of garnering emotion and metaphor, I chose the follow the latter.
  10. 10. “It was eventually found again… professing it a national monument”: Timpanogos Cave was found again in 1921 by Vearl Manwill and a small group of explorers. After finding the cave, they formed the Payson Alpine Club and wrote letters to the National Park Service to come protect the cave, which they did rapidly. This information can also be found on the NPS website.
  11. 11. “Hurricanes are born… destructive force of power”: The entirety of this section comes from the chapter “Out of Nowhere” in David Fisher’s book.
  12. 12. “Trucks are thrown… waves of destruction”: These images are based on photographs of Hurricane Andrew’s aftermath found in Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm.
  13. 13. “Everything people worked for… It’s just life”: This is based on a quote from Bobby Wawrzyniak, found on page 38 of Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm.
  14. 14. “I want to come home”: Though I searched for this email conversation with my father, I was unable to find it six years later. Though not directly quoted, I know my father told me he loved me, he worried about my future regrets, but that I could come home if I needed to. I also know that I said I would keep trying anyway.
  15. 15. “I wondered if it would be enough to send me home”: To be fully accurate, I could have demanded to be sent home and my mission president would have done so. At the time, however, I was too afraid to ask because there was a stigma in the culture of my religion that people who came home early from missions had done something wrong. Injuring myself meant that I would have no choice in the matter. I wouldn’t have had to feel like a failure in that way.
  16. 16. “They turned around… back with lanterns”: Again, the historical accuracy of what happened in 1913 is a bit hazy. This is based on what I found in my research through the NPS website.
  17. 17. “On the cover of the book… strength, or hope”: As a writer, it’s hard not to wonder if I’m seeing what I want to see in these photos or if I’m finding some hidden truth in them for myself. I try to not use things for my own gain, though I understand that it’s my opinion; I choose to see hope in this photo—in many of the photographs the book has to offer. Maybe I’m just an optimist.
  18. 18. “When it reaches Category 5… over thirty feet”: The categorization of hurricanes and what that means can be found on this table created by the National Hurricane Center:
  19. 19. “A girl handing out… together through strife”: These images can be found on pages 72, 80, 90, and 82, respectively in Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm.
  20. 20. “I don’t know what I was searching for specifically”: What was most painful about this moment for me is that I had been taught that if I went to the scriptures with an honest question, a real purpose, I would find an answer. Not finding one, even in Christ’s words, broke me completely.
  21. 21. “After a Category 5 Hurricane passes, there is not much left behind”: This is simply based on all the photographs taken from the aftermath of a Category 5 Hurricane like Hurricane Andrew. For an example, see pages 34 and 35 of Hurricane Andrew: Images from the Killer Storm.
  22. 22. “I peer through photographs of decimated Florida”: I looked through many photos of Hurricane Andrew in my time researching the storm. The pictures I speak of here were found in books and on the internet. Too many to name.
  23. 23. “Pat Warren, a survivor… like that”: This is a direct quote from Warren on page 139 of In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew.
  24. 24. “Why do you hate yourself, Andrew?”: These were perhaps some of the most life-altering words ever spoken to me. The truth that rang from the question is what finally made me realize the truth of my homosexuality. I had grown up feeling an attraction to men, but it wasn’t until that time that it finally clicked. I hated myself because I couldn’t accept that I was gay.
  25. 25. “It Gets Better at Brigham Young University”: BYU is a private university stationed in Provo, Utah and is run by the LDS Church. This video was created by a small gay-straight called USGA (Understanding Same-Gender Attraction). They filmed it as part of the Trevor Project’s series of “It Gets Better” videos. A few weeks after viewing their stories on YouTube, I joined their meetings. I participated for nearly two years before I moved away. Were it not for this group, my struggle through “coming-out” would have been insurmountably worse.
  26. 26. “I’m gay”: I am actually uncertain if I said these words aloud in this moment. I can’t remember the first time I spoke them aloud. I do know, however, that moment was when I admitted it to myself. That I accepted myself.
  1. 27. “I say it hasn’t affected me… soon be revealed”: This is a direct quote from La Wanda Scott, published in In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew. This book is perhaps the most important one that I found on the storm. It tells real stories of real people who survived it. It’s helped me realize that the beauty of humanity lies in our ability to survive trauma. That being destroyed doesn’t have to be an end, but can rather be a beginning.


AJ RomriellA.J. Romriell graduated Utah State University with a BS in Creative Writing. He earned First Place in the 2017 USU Creative Writing Contest for Poetry and Second Place in the 2017 Utah Original Writing Competition for Creative Nonfiction. His work has been featured in Tinge Magazine, Twisted Vine Literary Journal, Peculiar, and Sink Hollow. He lives in Orlando, Florida with his husband, Jed, and their husky, Kira.