Ishmael's Blog

August 4, 2009

Die Another Day

Filed under: Die Another Day — Ishmael @ 12:01 am

Have you ever seen a round coin?  I bet you answered yes and thought, “What kind of fool question is this?” didn’t you?  I would be greatly surprised if you didn’t, and I would also be greatly surprised if you have ever actually seen a round coin.  You’ve seen and held a coin that is circular and has a front, a back and a side, but I doubt if you’ve ever seen one that is round from all sides like a marble.  What you have seen and held is a slice from a sphere.

The reason I ask this has to do with choices.  You can’t toss a round marble up in the air, catch it, flip it over on the back of your other hand  and say, “Heads I win, Tails I lose”.

Every day you wake up, and every day you make the decision to live; or maybe one morning you wake and decide – not.  Are you going to take a coin out and flip it?  I did.

Do you know that the suicide rate among veterans aged 24 and under is two to three times higher than the national average?  True story.  It’s not just in the United States, either.  There have been studies published in the US by the Veterans Administration, in the United Kingdom and even in Russia.

There are a lot of reasons given, some down to earth, some with fancy names like Separation Anxiety.  Here are a couple:

  • harrowing experiences in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan
  • those entering military service at a young age are already vulnerable to suicide
  • obstacles to getting a new job, particularly if they were injured in action.
  • become homeless
  • turn to alcohol or drugs or suffer mental illnesses such as depression
  • longer deployments were a contributing factor
  • personal and legal problems

 This is the one that comes closest to the truth, as it relates to me.

Leaving any job can be hard, but for people leaving the armed forces the adjustment to their new circumstances can sometimes be particularly difficult

No kidding.

I joined the Navy when I was seventeen, I was intelligent enough, (so said the Navy), that I got a really good school in Electronics, went to school at the National Security Agency and the Army Security Agency, and in eight years in the Navy I went to sea three days and that was to go fishing!  I caught one fish.  I love to fish, but am generally lousy at it, and I almost got washed overboard on one of the trips.  The only reason I didn’t was I grabbed the rail as I went under it.  The Captain of the fishing boat was more upset that the wave that almost washed me overboard went down the open hatch and got his bunk wet.  I could understand that, sea water is tough to clean out of cloth.

After I was discharged, I actually lucked out and got a job working in a reduction plant for Kaiser in Mead, WA.  Now for those of you who don’t have a firm grasp on what this means, it means I was working twenty feet off of the ground on a crane that in the Fall the temperature of the crane metal was 120 degrees.  In the Winter, the metal was down in the 70’s, but the wind coming in the window made it thirty below.  The reduction cells below you put out gas that would gag a maggot because the crane you were working on could not put the correct ratio of chemicals in it, because the crane was broken.  If you worked down below on the cells, you would take the covers off and using the crane pull out a carbon block, take a twenty pound steel bar and chip off the crust around the hole you just created.  The hole being opened exposed the molten metal which was 2000 degrees Farenheight.  No mistake, 2000 degrees.  Then you would use the overhead crane and put a 400 pound carbon block back in the hole, and go do that for two more hours.  There were open 30 gallon barrels of ice cold water every so often that you would plunge your wrists into to help cool your system back down.  One of the guys I worked with had the nickname “42 and Puke” because he would get halfway through the carbon change, at cell 42, and puke his guts out.  Then you would take a break, eat lunch, and start over again.  You needed to sweat, because then when the molten metal spit at you it would hit and just bounce off, instead of burning its way in.  I still have burn scars around my neck and my arms from where there wasn’t enough sweat.  That was the job that I was lucky to get.  It paid better, and had better benefits, than any other job in town.  My first day there I wasn’t an Electrician yet.  I actually worked on the cells for over a year before I became an Electrician.  Want to know what my first job was on my first day there?  Go down to a particular cell, remove the glove, and bring it to the foreman.  No big deal, ok, I can do that. I went down and got the glove; it still had the man’s finger in it.  You learned to be careful really quickly.  My wife worked in the Emergency Room at the largest hospital, (it was also the only hospital), on the North side of town where the plant was.  She said you could always tell the guys that came in from Kaiser, even if it was their day off, because they would sit there and tell the nurses to take someone else, they were ok, even when they were holding a bloody rag to their arm, or holding ice on a burn.  We were used to it, it was our job, it’s just what we did.  Like an abusive situation, you can get used to anything if it happens long enough.  It becomes normal.

Now you ask, what does this have to do with anything?  I’ll tell you.  I got this job because a man I was stationed with in Puerto Rico and his Dad worked there. They put in a good word for me and I was in.  To get a job there at that time, if you weren’t a relative of someone who worked there, or a real good friend, you didn’t get on.  He was trying to watch my back, help me out just because I was in the Navy with him.

 I went through all of the training and schooling, had all of this experience, and this is the best job in town?  Did I tell you? I turned down a job with IBM and Al Gore’s company, Electronic Data Systems to go to school for two more years to become a computer mainframe Systems Analyst.  I actually had one of their headhunters fly up to Spokane and interview me at the Ramada Inn.  Why would I turn down a job like that and take one in a reduction plant?  Simple, my family meant more to me than a high wage and being on the road 75-90% of the time after the school.  I figured I wouldn’t know my children and I would be divorced in five years.

I would come home from the plant and my wife said she could see me outside and I would be whistling, (poorly), and as soon as I walked in the door I would be instantly angry.  Just like throwing a switch. I lived like this for several years.

Here’s why.  When you are in the Military, you form close bonds quickly with the people you work with.  You don’t have time to waste.  You count on these people to watch your back and you watch theirs.  You become closer to them than what used to be your other family, your relatives.  You laugh together, cry together, hope together, and if you are in combat, pray you all make it out together.  I was lucky, the equipment I had to work on was huge and fixed, so I didn’t have combat duty, so I can’t really talk about that.  I would put friends and relatives on a perfectly good plane though, and when they came back it had bunches of holes in it, so I did pray a lot, and I’m not a religous person normally. 

 When you get out of the service, there is no one there to watch your back, no one there to really talk to.  You look at the civilian people walking around in blissful ignorance and think, “You fool, you don’t have a clue as to what is really happening.”  You are lonely, cut off, and afraid – plain and simple.

So, one morning I got up and flipped the coin.  It came down Tails.

 At this time Lee was still alive, but he wasn’t around to talk to when I needed him.  Ken was becoming a friend, but I couldn’t talk to him.  I didn’t want to tell my wife and upset her.  So I lived a lie, I hid what I was going through. One time Ken and I were out getting firewood .  We each had a one ton truck that would hold two and a half cord of wood.  For those of you who don’t know what a cord is, it is a stack of wood 4’x4’x8′.  Now multiply that by 2.5 and that is how much we could get on each truck.  A cord of Tamarack weighs 3,000 plus pounds depending on the pitch content, so each truck had about 7,500 pounds of wood right behind the driver.  Interesting.  One day I started to drive off the road, I actually had the right front tire off when I had the thought that Ken would have to pull me out, and what if the only thing that happened was I was paralyzed for the rest of my life?  That would be a real joke, wouldn’t it?  Also not real fair to Ken, he’s actually a pretty decent person.  Why inflict my problems on him, he had nothing to do with it.  So I managed to get the wheel back on the road, nobody the wiser.  I did have a Colt Gold Cup Model 1911 .45 caliber at the time and it started looking pretty good, but then I thought if my wife found me like that she’d be mad as hell and would kill me herself if I screwed up, besides, it would be kind of messy.  So I sold the pistol before it looked better.  Did I rationalize myself out of it; did I just chicken out; did I not really want to die?  Maybe, I really can’t tell you, because I just don’t know.

I think my wife knew, she is a very smart, very caring, and very intelligent lady.  She asked me one time why I married her, I told her it was because she was smarter than I was, and why should I have to be the one to have to talk down.  She kept after me for several months to go to a weekend getaway called Marriage Encounter.  I had enough Encounters and just didn’t want to go.  Nag Nag Nag.  I finally went just so I wouldn’t have to hear about it anymore.  It was a good weekend, it forced me to talk to my wife about specific questions, like death, religion, and pain.  It was the first time I cried over my Dad.  When the weekend was over, Lee and Cindy were there to greet us.  They had gone through the same thing.  After the weekend, my wife and I decided to talk to people after they did their weekends and were what was termed a Post Encounter Presention Team.  That’s where we met Mike and Shirley.

Looking back, was it a good thing the coin came down tails?  Maybe.  Was it a good thing that I went on the weekend when I did?  Definite yes there.  Am I glad to still be here and see my wife every day and see my Grandkids? Damn straight!

If you think you need to flip the coin, and have it come down tails, re-consider.  I don’t talk religion, politics or sexual preferences, and I don’t want to.  There is one line I firmly believe in though:

THIS TOO SHALL PASS!

Stick around and see what happens, it could get interesting.

I think everyone at some point in their lives thinks about suicide, of voluntarily opting out.

What caused you to think about it?
What caused you to stop from doing it?
Will you try again?

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