31 August, 2009

My Dad

I can't speak for anyone else, but for me writing is good therapy. I don't really care if these posts are read or not. Sometimes I simply need to get things off of my chest, and now is one of those times.

When I was 22 my father died after a long battle with cancer. He slipped away peacefully in his own home while he was asleep. The last few days of his life he'd become a little loopy due to the cancer having spread throughout his body and I was preparing myself for the time he'd be gone. One night I came home from work (I was living with my parents at the time) and popped in a movie down in the living room. My aunt and uncle were asleep upstairs because they'd come for a visit knowing that Dad wasn't going to last much longer. My sister had been spending as much time as possible with Dad, but she'd had to go back to work. As I was watching the movie, I heard my Mom get out of bed. She came into the living room and I thought she was going to tell me the TV was too loud. She had that "just woke up" look and in a totally normal voice she said "He's gone." Mom had grown used to the sound of my Dad breathing through the oxygen machine and she woke up because the sound had changed due to Dad having passed away. Contrary to what you see in the movies, there's no instant crying. What I felt was nothing. I was totally numb. I went upstairs to my aunt and uncle that Dad was gone and came back downstairs. By then all the lights were on and I went in to take a look at Dad. Someone had to close his eyes and that someone was me. I didn't want to do it, but I had to do it.

The way my mind handles grief is like a time-release pill. A little bit is broken off, dealt with and then put away. Repeat as necessary. Even though Dad died in 1994, every now and again something will trigger a memory I had buried about that night. Tonight I was watching the show "Without A Trace" and Jack's father died. That show triggered my memory of my Dad's eyes the night he died. I'd always remembered closing his eyes, but tonight I remembered what his eyes looked like. Dad's eyelids were half shut and I could see his grayish-green eyes. It's very true that a dead person's eyes definitely look lifeless. It's that memory, a little piece of the grief, that came out tonight fifteen years later after the event. I thought that I'd "gotten over it" but I don't think anyone ever does. I loved my Dad and having him die when I was only 22 changed me.

After I had closed Dad's eyes I stood up and looked at him for a little bit. I turned around and my Uncle was standing there. That's when I lost it. I grabbed my Uncle and started crying. He hugged me and said "He's in a better place now". I don't know who was making the phone calls, but my sister wanted to be there and was in no condition to drive down and my brother in law would have to stay with the kids. So, I went to pick her up and she was crying almost the whole way back. I don't know how I kept my wits about me. Maybe it was youth, maybe it was because I'd already released some of the anguish earlier... I don't know. By the time I'd returned, the funeral directors were there to take Dad away. They told us that sometimes the family would stay in a different room because seeing their loved one taken away was too painful. Some of my family went to the basement, but I stayed upstairs. I honestly can't remember who else was with me, but I watched Dad's body being carried out. I knew it was just a shell, that Dad wasn't in there anymore. He'd been released from all the pain and suffering. I understood that. I remember the visitation and parts of the funeral service at church, but I can't recall the burial. After that, life was a matter of us learning how to live without him. Every now and then, something will make me think of Dad and sometimes that leads to a bit of crying. Tonight is one of those times.

12 August, 2009

The Borg

The diesel borg is trying to assimilate me. At the shop I work at I don't do much engine work aside from replacing the things bolted to the outside. Coolant pumps, exhaust manifolds, thermostats etc. Every now and again they throw an injector job my way, but those are so few that I have a hard time remembering how to change them. It's fine with me, because I'm not really interested in engine work and I don't know enough about heavy duty diesel engines to do that sort of thing. If I have a decent service manual at my disposal I can do whatever needs to be done, but it takes me a lot longer than someone who does engine work frequently. Things seem to be changing these days. I've been given more engine work and I'm not sure why. Maybe the foreman is getting tired of doing it (he's gettin' pretty old) or they've realized that my neat, clean and orderly working habits (bordering on obsesive-compulsive) are suited to engine work. Last night I was doing a head gasket job on a Cummins M11 and much to my chagrin, I was actually liking it. I guess it's because I'm more familiar with diesels than I used to be. I have no problem tearing into a gas engine in a light truck or car, but I think my lack of knowledge with diesels made me fear having to work on them. Adjusting valves on a diesel is humorous though. Car engines haven't required regular valve adjustment for decades, but the archaic diesels that are installed in big trucks still have to be "tuned up" from time to time. It's a perfect example of how big trucks are "old tech." Speaking of old technology, while I was working on that M11 there was a driver in the next bay talking cars with my foreman. The driver gave the old "I'll work on old cars, but the new ones.... What do you need all those wires for?" I smiled to myself and thought "Oh great another one of those guys." The truck this guy owned was an old and decrepit 1996 Freightliner with a Cummins N14 engine. Which, of course, is all mechanical. I was wondering if he kept clinging to that old clunker so he didn't have to drive something with one of those "new fangled electronic pieces of shit." Back to the engine work. I'm not knocking guys who like doing engine work. Someone who's a good engineman is a valuble asset in any shop. It's just not the thing for me. I never understood the fascination with engine guys. Just because someone can spit out specifications for a few engines doesn't necessarily mean he's good. It just means he has a great memory. But, the guys who get all their specs from memory aren't always right. They do things the same way so often that they think it's not just the right way, it's the ONLY way. For example, the last time I was being punished with a valve adjustment job, before I could find the engine's data plate (valve lash specs are always on the data plate) my foreman spit out HIS specs. By the time he finished his sentence I had found the data plate and *snicker* he was wrong. Now, I know better than to tell him he's wrong so I made sure he saw me writing down what he told me and even asked him to repeat the specs. There's a touch of the "I'm right" disease in our shop and I'm just as guilty as anyone. Nobody wants to admit they were wrong and I learned early in my employment at this shop that it's easiest to salute, say "Yes sir!" and then do the job how you want to do it. This sort of thing happens so often that a former coworker and I would salute each other whilst being lectured by someone who was "right." So, what I did with that valve adjustment was said "Yes sir!" and waited for the foreman to hide in the office. Then I did the job with the manufacturer's specifications. Everyone walks away happy. I guess things like that contribute to me not wanting to do engine work. Because I have to do it their way, and their way might not work well for me. Since I'm a bit of a noob with engine work, I frequently do things the way I'm told to. If I find a way that works better for ME, then I do it my way. In the end, if they'd just provide me with a service manual and leave me the hell alone, I'd probably be happy doing engine work. It's a small shop though, so the politics will always be getting in the way. Maybe I just don't play well with others.