5 February 2016

There was a time

I've been thinking about my old days at the refinery lately.  I have no idea why, but the memory of my summers there have returned.  The place is being taken apart, bit by bit, the very ground upon which it stood will most likely be stripped to bedrock and  carted off.  All traces of it will be gone.

It was a difficult place for me.  I could do the work, but I never really fit in there.    This place was one of the last bastions of unabashed manliness.  The workers were all men, who spent their day with other men, talking like men to men about man things.  It was before our watered down version of the male, of men playing at being men, before man caves and man buns and ironic facial hair.  I don't really fit into the new era either, but never mind that for now.

I was thinking about applying to return there when I received news that it was closing down.    Even though I never fit in, the money was good, and I thought the need for gas and oil was not going to decline any time soon.  A lot of men I knew- and by then, a few women- were out of work.  The average age there was 55.  Refinery work requires highly skilled labour, but, unfortunately, the skills only exist in a refinery, and are completely non transferable.  I don't know what their options were after they were laid off..  I don't know how many crossing guards the surrounding cities needed.

I've been thinking of one man in particular.  He was a short and dumpy man, who married a short and dumpy woman.  They even sort of looked alike.  They had two daughters in quick succession.  Before long, they realized something was not right with the elder of the two children.  She wasn't hitting her benchmarks.  Other things were noticeable in her behavior.  They had her checked repeatedly by doctors, until they found one expert who could tell them what was wrong.

The fact that the man and women were both short and dumpy and even looked alike was no accident, it was a warning. It was a sign that they both carried a rare recessive gene, and now their daughter had both the recessive genes and got the full effect.  She would be hyperactive. She was developmentally impaired.  She would progress, somewhat, until about the age of seven or eight, and then she would begin to regress. She would forget what she had learned last first as she went backwards.  She would die, almost regressed to the infant stage, around fourteen or fifteen. There was no cure.  There was no treatment.  By the way, you should have your younger daughter checked as well.

She had it, too.

The man's home life descended into chaos and madness.  His attitude towards his wife verged on hatred.  I was told by those who knew that the feeling was mutual.  They went to marriage counseling, but they were only staying together for the children.  he did everything he could for the children.  Advocated for new research, spoke to newspapers, joined support groups and lobbying groups.  When he came to work, it was a relief to get away from all that.  He could just be one of the guys for a while.

Intellectually, I felt sorry for the man.  But whenever I spent any time with him, he was utterly unlikeable.  He treated me with contempt, which I assumed was on account of my height- I have often drawn  the ire of the short.  He was cross, ill tempered, condescending, and very often threatening, although I have to give him some credit: he didn't back down when I called him on one of his threats.  His attitude, his anger at the world in general was understandable, but it didn't make him easier to work with, or to like.  He was an example of the Nancy Kerrigan Syndrome: you can be a victim, and still be a jerk. 

But I've been thinking about him again.  Him and his kids.  I remember the photos of the children on his desk- two blonde, curly haired children, perhaps 3 and 4 years old.  By now they are twenty years dead.  That was all the life they had, and no more.  No one should ever had to have borne that.

And then, assuming he was still at the refinery, he lost his job. 

It's just something I've been thinking about.

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