Enough heat to melt metal in the palm of your hand; a stinger, a rod, an electrical current, and a job. I’ve been welding for as long as I can remember, fusing together two cold and useless sharp edges to make a seamless connection that allowed no distinguishing difference between each individual piece; enough energy, passion, and heat, to make two; one.
Flipping the hood down, you can hear breath echo into your ears, feeding your mind with heightened senses when the world goes dark. Focus. A solid ground found, the rod, at a thirty degree angle from the stinger, steady hands, and the Lincoln Electric Welder humming behind you. Darkness. Tip the hood up, find your bearings, set the rod close. Steady. Breathe. Nod your head to the task at hand, and drop the hood. Lower the rod, and move it gracefully across the surface, create a spark. The light is intense, and consumes the space. Everything illuminated in the path of the energy. Blinding heat. Steady now. With synchronized breathing, and the deep lull of the welder behind, place the rod in the space, deeply fill the gap, touching each side, watching it submissively kiss the rod, melting into the touch, forming a liquid that shines more brilliantly than a million diamonds. Spatter showers you in tiny droplets of shimmering steel, liquefied until it hits your skin. Searing heat and the blue melts to red. Defying the pain, slowly, with precision and attention to detail, a weld is formed, leaving behind no weak spots, stopping only to replace the rod, and continue the pass. It’s art. Over and over, through and through, it’s art.
My welding background got me to where I am today. It’s a lesson in passion, patience, and persistence that helped shape the person I have become. It’s cold, and scientific on one hand. And on the other, it’s an outlet for a desperate need for power, control, and artistic expression. It comes down to an equal combination of all aspects, each one just as important.
I was a loose cannon, with my hood down, cold and scientific. I had forgotten passion, control, and expression. I had lost myself.
The oilfield proved to be a hostile environment that was fueled by the opinions of the people I had once considered family. Not only was it required that I prove myself, and my ability. It was deemed necessary that I overcome the decimation of my name that stood in front of me. It was a frost bitten bitch, and I was cornered. If I wanted to feed my child, I would fight. So fight I did.
Most of the time, I spent studying compliance regulation and safety rule. OSHA and I became very well acquainted, and the crews I oversaw were “my people.” When I initiated my career in Oil and Gas I had 38 employees that I found myself loving because they were so reprehensible. Similar to the baby bird that is so incredibly ugly, you find it cute. I had found some level of control. But remained the cold, sharp edged, woman I intended to be for the rest of my life. I spoke to no one out of professional conversation, and spent time bouncing from office to office, location to location, learning the methodology of a convoluted and corrupt industry. I loved the challenge, relished it.
And then there was Skitzy Dugway.
Christmas Day 1 a.m., my company wrecked a loaded water truck on Skitzy. Twelve miles of treacherous hell, Skitzy is notorious for taking a life every year due to impassible weather conditions, steep grade, and overconfident driving. Ice slicked roads, and inappropriate chaining technique left my tractor/trailer combo lying on its side, destroyed, the driver unscathed, fortunately. -19 degrees, there we stood, watching it snow, huddled next to the leaking tank of production water. The scene was gruesome, and you wouldn’t have believed the driver made it out alive, but by a miracle of God he did. We were going to need a crane, two dozers, and a grader in the long run. For now, we needed a short term plan of attack. The final consensus was that Christmas day wasn’t the day to complete the project. Paging out a crane crew wasn’t going to happen, so we decided to drag it out of the way, and allow for traffic to pass until we could completely restore the pass.
We essentially left the mess for the next day, understanding we were at a standstill until we could page out all of the additional help we were going to need. I retired to my bed at five o’clock in the morning, and waited for Santa to grace my obliterated life and tiny apartment with his ruby cheeks and holiday spirit. Hunter and I found some joy in the day, and opened gifts together. I was exhausted and apprehensive to approach this moment. It was impossible, and I knew it would lack luster. Financially I couldn’t compete. Emotionally I was an embarrassment. Nonetheless, I gave it everything I had. He was amused, and at 3, quality of gift pales in comparison to size of the box. We played and I enjoyed his toothy grin and innocence. Zachary and I had decided sharing the holiday was in the best interest of Hunter, and I watched him smirk as he packed up my baby, and told him to “Tell her bye.” I kissed him, and he leaned into his dad, pulling my heart with him.
Wrapping paper covered my floor, along with my hope. I had a wreck on the mountain and a wreck in my house. I flopped on the couch, and heard the signature tone of my phone going off with a text message. I grabbed for it in my pajama pants, still face down on the couch. I pulled it from my pocket, and watched hurt ooze from the screen.
“You did this, you ruined our family, Merry Christmas.”
“I hate you for this. I hate that you broke everything. I hate you.” More Zach……..
“Zach, I did what I had to do.” “Fuck you.”
More hurt bled. More hurt cut me down. I was alone in my own wreckage and he was throwing bombs. I curled up, the way my son had in the red curtains, in physical agony and total chaos. It physically hurt. I threw the phone the next time it toned, uncaring who it was, or what they had to say. It hit the wall and fell to the floor like a messenger that had just been shot for delivering the message. I turned my body to the back of the couch and sobbed into the hurt. Wrapping paper crackling under my shaking body. Glitter adorning my body, showing false shine in my darkness. My tears lulled me to sleep, wet and desperate eyes closing out the world.
The phone rang an hour later, and I hesitantly drug myself off of the couch, not sure what type of ill natured person I’d find on the other end. Steve…….my boss and the only friend I had………..I missed the call. The phone toned, another text.
The wreck, a distraction….perfect. I pulled on dirty jeans, tugged on my snow boots, and grabbed a coat. I felt no need to adorn myself with make up or even attempt presentation at this point. I pointed my work truck towards Steve’s house to pick him up, and flew down snow covered roads. When I got to his house, I didn’t find what I had planned…..I didn’t find my boss, ready to go. I found a broken man, with an empty home, and an empty bottle of jack, two empty thirty packs, and an addiction. I found reality. It was the first time I experienced alcoholism, and the image haunts me to this day. He lay on the stairs, passed out, and partially dressed. He missed her. He missed his kids. The house was empty. I sighed hard into the situation and pulled up my boot straps. Ok. Not the wreck I had prepared for, but nonetheless, a distraction. I lifted his limp body, and he raised his eyes to mine.
“Merry Christmas” he slurred.
The smell of vomit resonated and tiny particles clung to his face. Involuntarily, I started to cry.
“Come on honey.” And I heaved him backwards stumbling down the stairs. He grunted and stood, stabilizing himself on the banister.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” He asked as if I had interrupted a secret affair. I was stunned, and injured from him falling on top of me, striking me in the cheek with his flailing arm. I looked at him with painful eyes, and tears still streaming from an overload of emotions that I just couldn’t explain or tolerate.
He stepped over me, tripping slightly and stumbling. He found the couch, and I sat on the floor. I moved to my pockets, and clutched my knees, watching him cuddle up to the blanket he always slept with, and falling right back to sleep. I knew his loss. I knew his hurt. We had discussed it a million times, and I didn’t want to see him like this. I knew he didn’t want me here, but at this point, he was oblivious anyway. I cleaned up his vomit, and picked up a few dozen beer cans, all empty, all aluminum beacons of an attempt to drown this ominous pain. I wanted to explain that it didn’t work. He already knew. It was beyond that point now. I wiped his face, and my tears soaked his shirt. He barely moved despite my insensitive and somewhat irritated cleaning technique.
“I’ll see you tomorrow” I said to myself and his empty soul. I left his wreck, to go back to my own. It was a battle I would watch him fight for the rest of our lives, I already knew that. It wasn’t one I could fight for him, despite my desperate attempts. It is one of the many defeats in my life that wasn’t for a lack of try, just simple and blatant inability to love it better. No one wants to be saved. They want to have the strength to save their selves.
I took the long way home.
Two days after Christmas, December 27, I found my way back to the wreck on Skitzy, to see the damage to the landscape we were required to repair. The truck had been removed and all that was left was a leveled burm and major ruts. The wind was blowing, and the temperature hung around zero. I wasn’t wearing appropriate clothes and the cold air tore through my skin. I cussed myself for knowing better. Steve recovered slightly but still smelled like vomit and desperation. Oblivious, or simply choosing to forget, my Christmas visit and bruised cheek, he poked fun, and threw snow at me to antagonize the situation. He and I had become close by this point, he knew my situation and approached it with caution, never crossing lines I had CLEARLY drawn in the sand.
He’s my best friend.
We assessed the situation and found some way to laugh about Murphy and his laws being a pain in the ass. We couldn’t catch a break. From the north we heard the familiar hum of a CAT grader. I paid little attention and had made a skill of being defiant and dismissive of any and all oil field workers, including operators. But the machinery intrigued me. We stopped on the peak of the dugway and the grader slowed to a stop. The door opened and a man I’d never seen leaned out.
My mind skipped and I found myself stunned by his proud but informal posture.
Never in my life had I looked at someone the way I looked at him. He was fascinating, very rough. Blue jeans and work boots, a dirty ball cap and a tattered sweater. He climbed out of the grader like a seasoned professional. My mouth gaped open. He made a few exchanges with Steve and barely acknowledged me standing there. I was relieved he didn’t glance at me; he would have caught me staring. I was enamored.
“Well alright then, if you guys need anything here’s my number.”
He called out the digits and I memorized them instantaneously, concrete as if I had called him a million times.
He looked at me then, catching my eyes, and my body was suddenly warm, heated from the radiating heat of my cherry red cheeks. I was blushing. I don’t blush. Ever. His eyes burned into me with cold intensity.
I opened my mouth to speak and nothing came out.
I nodded and turned away before he caught me stuttering.
Steve stared at me, quickly surmising what was happening here. He laughed out loud as the grader pulled away, teasing me relentlessly about the stranger.
“His name is Trent, Carrie.”
I inhaled and my eyes gleamed, he laughed out loud. “Trent and Carrie….sitting in a tree……….”
“Jesus Christ Steve……shut up.”
I snatched my phone off the dash, still not talking.
“Trent Blade” I input running my finger over the screen, and the phone number…….
“Shut up.” I said again, way too late to be a dignified response to his teasing, and completely off cue…… I was very distracted.
He laughed again. My heart raced……..
My cold calculated scientific approach gave way to passion and art. I flipped the hood down, stinger in hand I drug my rod across the steel, initiating a spark. Ready or not, the world was illuminated with the arc of electricity between him and I, and in that moment, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, I had to know this man. It’s art.