(Preface: Because my children don’t know all the details of my fist marriage, I hesitated to write about it. Since it is relevant to my life, I picked my way through it as tactfully as possible. And in case any of you were wondering, the names of the guilty have been changed to keep them from coming after me, not necessarily to protect the innocent. I mean, why would an innocent person need to be protected, unless this was “Dragnet”?)
Divorce was imminent, evidenced by his moving out. Several months into the new job, a telephone call came for me on the office phone—before the time of cell phones. The voice on the other end of the line stated flatly, “Your husband was hurt on an oil rig out in the Gulf and was flown to a hospital in Lake Charles. He wants you to go there . . . . . . name of hospital . . … address . . .. phone number.” I explained the situation, was excused from work and hit the road right away.
My mother-in-law had briefed me before entering the hospital room that a piece of metal had flown into his eye, and they did not anticipate being able to save it. Propped up in the bed, a large patch over his eye, he seemed different–like a stranger. The separation had put some distance between us, and there had been no contact for months. When we separated, I took my father’s advice: Slam the door shut. Do not let him keep his foot in the door, and do not keep your foot in it. Even though it was final for me, a strong sense of longing and need hung around that hospital bed like a curtain.
He wanted me to come back, but he had burned my bridge back to his heart long before the move south. I tried “doing the right thing”, but going back out of pity did none of us any good. After a short time, I returned to my Thibodaux apartment for good, hoping he would one day see it was best for both of us. The damaged eye was not saved, resulting in monetary compensation from the oil company. We were divorced less than a year later, and I never knew how much he received, nor did I ever expect or get a penny from him. We have never spoken since.
The new roustabout job was working out well for me, especially since the pay was twice what I had been making as the secretary to the president of a major paintbrush manufacturing company. Jen, a deck hand on the Rachel Reneé, a supply boat working at the same dock, was looking for a place to stay, so I took her on as a roommate to share expenses. Things were looking pretty good for me. James had been satisfied with my performance, and all was going well until the day I arrived at work and found the supervisor from the other hitch sitting at the radio desk.
“James took the week off. You’re gonna be working for The Man this week!” he said in a tone about as rough as I’d ever heard from anyone before in my little life. I responded in the affirmative and carried my gear back to my room.
“Hurry back! You gottalotta work to do” he shouted down the hall at my back.
Typically, first day at work, James would brief us as to what was going on that day and night, and if I were tired, I’d hit the hay in order to get up around 7 p.m. to make my twelve-hour night shift. Not so with Timmy at the controls. He sent me outside with an assignment right away, which I did with neither question nor hesitation.
Rather than remind Timmy that I was the “night” dispatcher and roustabout, it was best to just do as I was told and not worry about all that. After working 36 hours, I finally got to take a shower and go to bed. The next day, he had me up at daylight and working outside. Every time I went inside to get a drink or cool off, he said, “Nobody told you to come inside.” Respectfully, I went back outside.
As I worked diligently in the heat of the summer, word spread as to what was taking place—a battle between man and woman, at a time when Women’s Lib was full swing. Evidently, Timmy had shared his evil plot against me with some of the captains. To my advantage, the captain of the Rachel Renee, a much older man, thought my superior was wrong in his malice toward me and felt he should let me know there was a scheme afoot.
That’s all the fuel needed to make my Wilson blood boil, but not in the way you might think. His plan would backfire, because this was one little dock worker that would not be so easily run off. Other boat crews showed their support by bringing food and drink while I operated the crane. A captain from Florida brought me cool slices of cantaloupe; another brought a sandwich and cookies. Their support gave me the drive to hang on.
That evening, Timmy sent Craig out to ask me if I could make potato salad. While the two of them shot the breeze, drank sodas and prepared steaks for the grill, I made potato salad and enjoyed about thirty minutes of AC. After the potato salad was done, Timmy sent me straight back outside. When the steaks were done, I went inside to eat and heard, “Nobody told you to come eat.” And back outside I went.
By dark, expecting to be denied entrance once more, I boarded the Rachel Renee instead. The captain and crew were sitting around the table, including Jen, and invited me to join them. They were already discussing my dilemma and what could be done. They brought out a tape recorder and one by one testified to what they had seen over the past few days. As the victim, I wasn’t saying much. The reality of being an intruder–a woman in a man’s world–was starting to sink in. Even so, all I knew to do was the best job I could and let the rest happen as it would.
Later that night, Craig allowed me into the trailer-office so I could go to bed. Next morning brought more of the same. By that point, it was evident that his goal was to be rid of me. It was discriminatory to say the least; though we didn’t use words like that back then in regard to male-female work situations. I had worked all that day, proving he could not get the better of me, and then he made me work all night, too.
After sleeping a few hours the next day, I got up asked him if I could take a ride to the little store up the road. Being denied the privilege, I went and sat out in my new car and listened to music, instead. Even though my shift would not technically start until 7 p.m., I thought it strange that Timmy did not immediately put me to work. Maybe I had gained his respect? Maybe he was softening toward me?
While I sat enjoying some REO Speedwagon, two young captains from Pensacola walked up to the dove-gray Regal. They were young, beach bum types who did not fit well into this oilfield stereotype. They will go down in history for giving me my first night-time crew boat ride out to the Gulf, where I experienced the glowing phosphorescence of the saltwater. I’ll never forget it. They had just been to the store on foot (I would have gladly given them a ride had I been granted permission to leave the dock) and were each carrying a large paper bag. That could only mean one thing: BEER!
Even though drugs and alcohol were forbidden on the dock and the boats, it was done all the time. There was no such thing as drug testing back then, either. Sure enough, they were sneaking some Miller onto the boat. Their secret was safe with me—under one condition. “Give me a sip of that beer!”
After giving me a hasty sip of the beer, and for fear of getting caught, the beach boys quickly moved on. Immediately, Timmy was outside the office, yelling at me to come inside.
“That wasn’t Coke you were drinking out there was it? I saw you drinking that beer.” Timmy said with an amused look on his face.
“I only took a sip,” I responded.
“No drinking allowed on the premises!” he shouted triumphantly. “YOU’RE FIRED! Pack your bags and go home!”
Angry with myself for doing something so stupid after working so hard not to let him get the better of me, I packed my bags. Before I could leave, Jen came to encourage me not to give up easily. She advised me to call Miss P. and ask her to come down and get the full story. She said something about the Labor Board and unfair labor practices, which was all lost on me. After much deliberation, Miss P. was called, and Timmy was livid that I would undermine his authority.
Miss P. arrived and got the boss’s side of the story first. Heck, she was a woman. She should have been on my side. She then asked me to tell her what had been going on, which I did in great detail, mentioning that there was a cassette tape recording of captains and their crews testifying to what they had seen. Regardless, she reiterated that drinking was not allowed on the premises; and even though Timmy said he did not see me drinking, I had confessed that I was. As for the tape? She wasn’t interested.
That is what one sip of beer and honesty got me, F I R E D! (Let that be a lesson to you, children. Never be honest about breaking the rules…I mean, never get caught breaking the rules…I mean, if you break the rules and get caught, never volunteer any information. A lesson I have yet to learn.)
Timmy sat at the desk, gloating with satisfaction.
Awash with indignation, iced with embarrassment, my last words to him before I slammed the door were, “You haven’t seen the last of me.”