Ain't No Grave
Ain't No Grave
I don't know when it started or why. Maybe something happened to me as a kid. I'd need psychotherapy to get to the root of it, or at least one of those self-help books that were a dime a dozen; the height of fashion back in the old days. Well psychotherapists, though some might say they're much needed these days, are in short supply and self-help books are better used for kindling than for anything else.
But that's neither here nor there. The long and the short of it is that for as long as I can remember I've been afraid of small spaces. Claustrophobic, they called it. As a boy I'd wake up in fits if the blankets got wrapped round me too tight. Used to piss the old man right off. He couldn't understand it. Far as I can tell, he never felt fear a day in his life.
I was born in the South. My father fought in Iraq. The second time, not the first. My dad's dad worked in the coal mines; a career I couldn't begin to contemplate. He went to Vietnam briefly, but was sent home with a bullet wound almost immediately.
"He still earned his medal with blood," my father would say.
My great-granddad fought "the damn japs" as I recall him proclaiming loudly to those who cared and many who didn't, long after such comments had gone out of fashion in favour of political sensitivity.
It's enough to say I came from a proud southern family with a history of military service, populated with strong men. My fears were not well received by those men.
I remember one night, after waking up screaming from another dream in which I'd been buried alive, hearing my father argue with Ma after she'd checked in on me.
"Ain't no cause for it," he'd say, "you think any one of us cried like that in the war? That was real fear. Not this 'maginary shit."
"He's just a boy" she'd reply quietly.
"He ain't," I heard him say once; "he's sixteen. Shit, I enlisted at seventeen." Ma had no reply to that. There was never any reply to father's life in the army. As a child, embarrassing unmanly fears could be dismissed; I'd grow out of them, but the older I got the harder it was on everyone and the less Ma could think of in the way of excuses. She told me I'd get past it someday. I never did.
Maybe it was out of some macho-masculine need to prove myself, to have myself thought of as a tough guy. Fearless. I had no other fears. You could say I was reckless. I would engage in all sorts of risky behaviour. Heights, dark places, dangerous animals, speed, isolation; hell even public speaking... These were no problem for me. I'd look for a new hit of adrenaline daily. I'd find new and increasingly more dangerous activities and none of it bothered me, but no matter what I did, no matter how I tried to face it, I couldn't stand tight spaces.
Elevators were a challenge and whenever possible, I'd wait for a crowd to go and catch the next one, if I ended up being able to get in at all. It kept me fit at least, taking all those stairs. I never took a subway a day in my life; the aisle seat on planes required a couple pills and two fingers of bourbon, no ice. I couldn't even think about boarding a plane if I'd been issued a window seat or, God forbid, the middle seat.
And that's how it happened. Or, at least, that's where it happened; no one quite knows how and I'm not one to theorize. I don't know if we were the first; we sure as hell weren't the last...
We were high over Northern Canada, but it wasn't the height that bothered me. I'd been working up in the oil sands and was heading back south for my month off. I liked the north. It was wide open and empty. No crowds, no noise, just space.
I spent most of my time trekking through nothing but wilderness, keeping an eye on pipelines and equipment, making short runs to nearby towns for supplies and doing survey work. I didn't actually work on the oilrigs themselves; I was sort of the on-call