Some People Can Touch Our Lives!
Sometimes in the most unlikely of places people can touch our lives in a personal way. What we learn from that encounter is for reasons unexplained become embedded in our soul and a part of them stays with us. It's as if what they had to say or share was so important that they passed that message onto us to pass onto others. For that reason I pass this experience onto you the reader though this is still just a story from my mind.
I remember that day as if it was only yesterday. It was October 7th, 1982 and I was a pipe fitter helper in a Federal Shipyard in Washington State. At that time I was assigned to Shop 72 where pipe fitters and helpers were assigned to removing pipe from parts of the eight story USS Kitty Hawk, aircraft carrier. My mechanic handed me the work order that morning that wasn't so difficult that it required a two man team.
My instructions were to go to the 3rd deck aft section Mess Hall Number 3 and remove all piping so other shops could refurbish the space into a four star dining area. Then I was to go to the fourth deck just below that section and remove any protruding pipes from the ceiling. I picked up my tool bag and made sure I had enough cutting pads for my grinder, put my hard hat on and headed for the Dry Dock #2. Workers from many shops were busy scurrying about due to this being a 1 year overhaul.
Work was being done on every deck, upgrading and improving both technology and hopefully the quality of life for sailors and marines when deployed again. I spent the first half of my shift removing the piping in the mess hall and after I returned from lunch I went below deck to see how much work was waiting for me before I would drag my air hose down to that area.
When I got to the right passage I found there was no power but then I was used to that and had two flash lights. I was good at holding a flashlight in my mouth to get a job done. It was a narrow passage way and I found the right part of the overhead ceiling. I saw six pipes of varying sizes and once I checked brought down a ladder I felt I could get the complete job done by 3 p.m. I was in one of the parts of the carrier where there were no other workers.
I prefer it that way compared to work spaces where eight different guys want to do eight different things and everyone seems to be in your way. I was about to turn and go back upstairs when I heard a faint tapping against metal. Sounds of others working around the ship are not unusual but something was different about this sound. It was a rapping. Four raps, repeated over and over.
As I paused and listened, my ears tried to determine what they were actually doing. I wondered why it was a persistent pounding rather than noise that stopped. I knew how few workers were in my area yet the sound was close. That was when I realized the noise was close! Closer then I had imagined. The noise was coming from my passage way. I aimed my flashlight down the passage way which became a dead end.
There were no other door hatches yet as I walked down the passage way the sound grew louder. My flashlight shone on a manhole cover that was located in the middle of the deck and the lid was on it but not bolted. Curiosity made me place my hand on the lid and I felt the vibrations of the rapping against my hand. Someone was under me. Instinctively I took both hands and lifted the steel plate off and saw only darkness.
As I swept my flash light across the sloped tank space I saw a worker and the pained look in his eyes as he weakly raised his hand to me. I felt my heart race as I yelled down to him that I was going to get help; but he begged me not to leave him. Desperately I looked around and that's when I saw the fire hose on the wall. I unrolled it and lowered it inside the tank.
Then I tied off the excess hose and slid down the hose careful to keep my balance as I made my way to him. He told me he was an electrician from Shop 20 and I saw his hard hat nearby. He told me his name was Dennis and that he didn't think anyone would ever find him. I tried to reassure him that I would get help, and asked how badly he was hurt. "I broke my back and I can't feel my legs." he told me and I saw one leg terribly twisted underneath his body.
I asked him how long he had been down in this space and why someone had put the lid on the hole when he was still down here injured. Then I asked him how long he had been down here. "I've been down here a long time Raymond, if you only knew how long." he said. His eyes. I will never forget the gratefulness seen in his eyes. “I'm so glad you heard me knocking.” he said with relief in his voice. He was in his 30’s I guessed.
I placed a snicker's candy bar in his hand and offered a smile of encouragement to Dennis. I was about to leave and go for help when he grabbed my arm and asked me to wait. "Wait, please for just a moment. he said. I looked down as he held up a memo pad and shipyard I-D attached with a clip to me. "Please take this with you." he said. I smiled and said, "Sure Dennis.” and I placed them in my jacket.
"I'll be back as fast as I can so you just hold on. I promise I'll be as fast as I can." I said. When I reached the top of the hatch, I hesitated and decided that I would leave Dennis one of my flashlights so he wouldn't feel alone. But before I could lower it down, my flashlight illuminated his body slumped in the corner. To my disappointment and shock, I saw that he had died months ago.
Yet I had just been talking to him. Then I realized that I had been talking to his ghost. It was then that I sat down on the cold steel deck and reached my hand into my pocket and took out the memo pad. I took off the I-D Clip and opened the pad. What I read was a love letter from him to his wife Debbie and the date shown was seven months old.
Here is what he wrote:
March 28, 1982,
“I’m writing my last love letter to you in my final moments in the space I fell in four days ago, while my flashlight batteries last. I don't know how long I was unconscious nor do I know today's date or when another worker placed the lid on the opening above me. I hold no anger towards him and when this memo pad is found I hope it will be given to you.
I know you must be worried. You must be scared and heartbroken not knowing what’s happened to me. Sometimes husband's just up and leave their wife and maybe that thought crossed your mind. But my love, I could never leave you. You are all the happiness I could have dreamed for. So many times I feel that no other man could be loved as deeply as you have loved me. I write this with tears in my eyes as I realize that my fate is sealed.
My back is broken and I cannot feel my legs, but baby, I’m not in pain. Please don't feel that I suffered slowly in pain. No one is working in my area and I got lost trying to find my way out. With the lid on the manhole opening now, I know no one will hear my yells for help. So I’ve accepted that this is where my last moments will be spent and I want them to be of you and me.
I’m looking at the picture from my wallet of you and our baby Christina. I don't feel alone sweetheart. This picture has always captured the magical feeling of love in your eyes and Christina's sparkle in her eyes comes from you. How I wish I could be saved and watch her birthdays come and go and see the delight in her eyes as Christmas presents are unwrapped each year.
How I wanted to grow old with you. The memories of your love comfort me at this moment when otherwise I would see only darkness. You gave me the best four years of marriage, love and happiness I’ve ever known. You listened and sacrificed yet you never once failed to encourage me to reach out for my dreams. You did countless things to show your love and too you they were just little things, little ways to let me know I had been on your mind.
But they were never small things to me darling. In return, I always tried to give to you and Christina those things you never had. I couldn't give you the world, but in my own special way, I tried to fill your heart and life with a sense of believing that you were loved. From the rose garden you adored to making dinner every weekend, the lavender scented bubble bath on Friday nights to cuddling together watching your favorite DVD movies, as I smiled and wiped a tear from your eyes, I truly can say I feel blessed by your love.
I also wish I could have whispered these words to you in person, rather than on tear stained lines. But life is full of unexpected situations and sometimes we learn from them and sometimes we must deal with them. I hope you will always tell Christina about me, of the moments I held her and played with her especially of the day I took her to the J.C. Penny baby event, where 12 babies crawled 40 feet to their daddy’s arms and she reached my arms first.
Oh my God darling, how I wish I could have held you one last time. How I could have shared that one final magical goodbye kiss with you. My flashlight is growing dimmer baby and I’m getting very sleepy. I know that I will pass away quietly without pain and without fear. I’ll be waiting in heaven for you and Christina, I promise.
Love, your husband Dennis!"
Dennis had written his name and address and phone underneath his love letter to his wife. Tears were still flowing from my eyes as I stood up, picked up my tool bag and made my way off the aircraft carrier to find my foreman. I vowed to deliver his memo book to his wife as I had promised. Dennis embedded in me the powerful feeling of love two people can share and how love sometimes overpowers death, just long enough to ensure that something special is given to the one they have left behind.
©2006 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)