Fitter Girl

Dripping wet, 98 pounds, it’s summer, carrying steel from one side of the room to the other.

“hey, fitter girl, why you want to do this?”   I think to myself, “she wants a baby and we can’t live on a woman’s pay”

I say, “I was unhappy sitting behind a desk.”

“hey, fitter girl, I thought “take your daughter to work day was YESTERDAY!”  (laughter)

I continue working.

Home, soaking wet, exhausted, bruises on my shoulders from carrying pipes.

“kathy, can you go get me mac donalds?”


“hey, fitter girl?  can you bring me a left handed pipe wrench?”

My middle finger goes up.

I decide I need to focus on something to be valuable.  Because being a 98 pound girl won’t cut it.  I decide I’m going to be a kick butt welder.  I go to the hall and practice for hours each night.  I get decent.
Time for a new job site.  New foreman, I’ve never met him before.  “you ain’t like M.W. are you?  ’cause she’s an asshole and you better not be like her.”

I don’t know her, but I’m my own person and hopefully not an asshole.”

“hey fitter girl? do you wanna suck me off?”

I carry a core drill up a ladder because there’s no stairway yet.  No I don’t want to suck you off.  “she wants a baby, that’s why I’m doing this.”  

Home.  She hasn’t brushed her hair.  There’s food in the garbage disposal from yesterday.  She’s playing video games.  “can you get me Mac Donalds?”


it’s raining, next day on the job site.  Mud.  slogging.  The welder doesn’t show up.  My chance.  I say to the foreman, “I can weld.”

~skeptical look across his face~….”okay, let’s see what you’ve got.”

New machine, plugs it in.  I put on my welding hood, I’m going to totally impress him.  The rod spits and sputters, just won’t run right.  I felt sick.  Terrified that maybe I didn’t know how to weld after all.

“it’s not working right.”   He curses and puts on the hood, picks up the stinger, and lo and behold, doesn’t work for him either.

Machine was hooked to the wrong voltage.

“hey, fitter girl?  you shouldn’t be welding.  you shouldn’t be here.”

I was up near the ceiling.  Somehow a shower of sparks happened to fall on the guy who said that.

Foreman:  “you won me over, you have that line over there to weld, I’ll give you K.Z. to pimp.”

Home.  It’s my thirtieth birthday.  She throws a twenty at me and tells me to buy something.  Lovely.

“she wants a baby but I don’t think she’d be a good Mom.” 

“hey, fitter girl?  Wanna go out with me?”

not really.

My welding hood drops and he’s gone and she’s gone and all that exists is the glowing puddle of metal.  Salvation.  Resurrection.  Zen.  Meditation.  Peace.

“hey, fitter girl?  You’re ok.”

“I’m damned good, is what I am.”  



Elaine Adams

I was in class and heard that it was a substitute teacher, it was math class.  I walked in to class and saw a woman dressed to the hilt like it was thirty years prior.  Cat glasses.  Heels.  Everything was a flashback from the fifties.  And me, not being able to hear, was fixated on the flashback.  And excruciatingly aware of how bad the rest of my classmates were treating her.

My classmates also treated me badly, I was the lowest on the pecking order.  Bullied quite a bit.  High school sucked.  So I empathized with Ms. Adams.  She’d teach for a couple days, then the regular teacher would come back.

The students were horrible to her.  I think because she was several decades behind, appearance/fashion wise.  So stupid.  I saw her  close to tears several times.  I reached out to her.  As, just, “I’m as demonized as you are.”

I was just trying to survive.  It surprised me when she took me under her wing.  She took me to mother/daughter events.  She showed an interest in my success.


I struggled in math.  She tutored me.


She had no daughter.  I went with her to the mother/daughter event at her church.


My brother told me that NASA would call her and she’d do math problems that nobody else could figure out.


Sabrina called me and I saw Elaine in myself.

I mentored Sabrina.


I looked her up today and found out she had died in 2014.  I also found out that she was quite the philanthropist.  And that she took a special interest in women and girls succeeding in math.


Was she a lesbian?


It doesn’t matter if she was a lesbian or not, she loved and wanted girls to succeed.


Happy Mothers Day, Elaine!

From your adopted daughter, Kathy.
I made it.  Hopefully I can help others as you helped me.

The deaf kids

I was one of the deaf kids.  I always kind of felt separated from my so-called peers.  I’d look up and people would be staring at me and laughing and I would have no idea why.

I’d go to use the bathroom and the other girls would circle around the stall I was in and chant, “stare, stare, I don’t care, you’ve got dirty underwear”.

Did they say this because I was staring because I had to read lips?

I think because I couldn’t hear people and I had to read lips, people thought I was staring at them and also kind of stupid because I wouldn’t always understand what they were saying.

Needless to say, childhood, being “mainstreamed” was kind of hellish for me.

I had to go to speech therapy for a long time.  I think I was in fifth or sixth grade before it was decided that I could speak well enough to get along.  I had particular trouble with the letter, “S”.

Once or twice a year, for reasons I didn’t know at the time, my parents would load me in a car.  We’d go someplace, sometimes a house, sometimes a school cafeteria, sometimes a restaurant.  What I remember about these times is relief.  I was surrounded by other deaf kids.  Other kids who knew what my life was.  Matthew.  Shelley.  Robbie.  Others whose names I do not remember.

Those were times I cherished.  Times when I wasn’t on the outside.  Times when I was just as good as everybody else.  Times when I wasn’t ridiculed for not being able to hear.

I miss those kids.  I lost contact with them.  This makes me sad.

I am sure that those nights, what I thought was just play-times with other deaf kids, was probably a support group for parents of deaf kids.

I remember there was an auction one year, and my family donated a lot of things to the auction.  I don’t know what the auction was benefitting.

I am so glad my parents took part in whatever group this was, just because it gave me the chance to interact with other kids who were like me.

I think I am a better person for my hearing issues, but yes, I’d love for it to go away.

I want to reconnect with the other deaf kids who were part of that group, but I have no idea how.

I limp along in my life today, and the hearing continues to be a detriment.  One day.  One day, I hope this can change.






To the “little” heroes

This is all about the unsung heroes.  The ones who do the small things that change lives, with no expectation of repayment.

When I was nineteen, I was in a far-away town, going to college, driving an old rickety car.  I was pulled over one day by a police officer.

“What’s wrong, officer?”
“You have no brake lights.”
“oh, gosh, that’s dangerous.”
“Pull over into this parking lot.” 

So, I pulled into this parking lot and he followed behind me.  “It’s probably a fuse. The fuse block is located here.”  points to the area below my steering column.

Sure enough, it was a fuse.  He could have given me a ticket.  Instead he chose to help me.  This would have been in Winona, Minnesota in 1987 or 1988.  I still remember this small act of kindness.  Wherever he is, I want to thank him.

One of the “little” heroes.  He didn’t have to help me.  He didn’t have to tell me about car fuses.  It took him about ten minutes out of his day.  But he showed a stranger a small kindness.

Also in the same general time-period, perhaps a little later, 1988 or 1989, I was newly married, also in Winona, Minnesota.  I was not mechanically savvy, and my husband, less so.  We lived in a little trailer on the outskirts of town, we had paid 2500 for it, fully furnished, and it was a wedding gift from his mother.  We were dirt poor.  One day in the middle of winter, the furnace wouldn’t work.  I happened to be at a friend’s house babysitting.  Brian called me at Tammy’s house.

“the furnace is dead, there is no heat.  Stay there for tonight.”  

I drive there in the morning.  He’s sleeping in the kitchen using the oven for heat.  We scrape together all the spare change and cash we have.  We come up with about $30.00.  He has to go to work.  He tells me to go and buy a space heater.

I go to the hardware store.  Not knowing anything about electricity, I buy the best space heater $30.00 would buy.  (hey, it was thirty years ago, almost!)

I get home.  Take the space heater out of the box.  It’s got a weird plug on it, and I can’t plug it into any of our outlets!  (wrong voltage, I’m imagining).

I take it back to the hardware store in tears.  But I know nothing about electricity, so I can’t figure out what space heater I need, or what to do.  I was pacing the aisles and crying for probably a half hour or so.

“Ma’am?  What’s wrong?”

I blurted out my situation.

“hang on, I get off work in an hour, I’ll come over.”

He came to our trailer, with an electrical meter, and figured out our furnace problem, and asked NOTHING in exchange.  Just a thank-you and a hug, was all he wanted.

He was a “little” hero.  He didn’t donate tons of money, he didn’t give his life.  He gave an hour of his day to a stranger who had no means to pay him back.

A few years later.  I was a second year steamfitter apprentice.  My car wouldn’t start.  It was towed to a garage, I hesitate to say which one, in case I get somebody in trouble.  But it was a large-ish garage on the far east side of Madison, Wisconsin.  The mechanic, a younger man, recognized that I was desperate, and couldn’t afford to pay much money, took me aside, gave me a great big long screwdriver, and showed me how to jumper the starter solenoid, so I could start the car.

“Just bring it back here for me to fix when you can afford it.”

For six months or better I was starting that car with that screwdriver.

Another “little” hero.

To all of you, I hope this goes viral (it probably won’t since not many people follow this blog), but if you see this and recognize yourself……


Twenty, twenty-five years later, I still remember that little kindness you showed me.




Less low key breasts

Breasts.  I’ve always had a complicated relationship with mine.  Usually it’s a casual indifference that keeps me from paying much thought to them.  I don’t generally feel “womanly”.

My life as a steamfitter?  Maybe.  Climbing in ceilings, reaching under freezers, carrying toolbags, and the boobage gets short shrift.

I switched healthcare providers this past January.  So, in doing that, I scheduled appointments to get established with my new doctors.

“When was your last mammogram?”


“Do you do self-breast exams?”

“Um, I never think about doing it?”  She gave me a stern look.  I blushed.

So a month later there I was, standing in front of a weird looking machine while a woman I didn’t know, (she didn’t even buy me dinner first), unceremoniously arranged my breasts on top of a glass plate.

“Hold your breath.”

“Oops, we didn’t get enough that time, we need to get up more by your armpit.   Hold your breath.”

The next day, a phone call.  “We want you to come back for another mammogram, we just need to look more closely at a couple things.”

“How soon?”

” Tuesday.”  (It was Friday.)

So, I began to worry.  Why did they call back so soon?  It must be something bad, right?  They sure got me back in quickly.

Tuesday comes.   “Hold your breath.”  This time many more pictures, way up high.

Wednesday morning:  “We want you to come in for a biopsy, we saw some suspicious calcifications.”


Now I was getting apprehensive.  I was acutely aware of my breasts.  I am not a terribly feminine person,in general.  I started imagining what my life would be like without them.  Would it be easier at work?

The day of the biopsy arrives.  Ex-girlfriend insists on going.  “How are you feeling about all this?”  

“Um, I dunno.  I’m not really thinking about it yet, there’s no point in worrying before I know if something is actually wrong.”

But I was a little worried, also weirdly detached.

“You’re going to be numbed up.  There will be a woman at your side the whole time, it’ll take about 45 minutes.  You’ll feel the first needle with the painkillers, and then after that you shouldn’t feel anything.”

I didn’t feel anything.  I felt outside myself.  It felt surreal.

Home.  Bleeding.  Bleeding a lot.  Soaking through bandages.  I entertain the thought of taping a maxi-pad to my chest.  I don’t.  Bleeding stops eventually.

Then the phone call five days later.  “Are you someplace where you can talk for a few minutes?”  

A long conversation.  The words “lobular carcinoma in situ” became part of my vocabulary.  LCIS for short.  Scary diagnosis.  Not actually “cancer” per se, but makes me very high risk.  “what you decide to do will depend somewhat on your family history, we’ll schedule you an appointment with a surgeon.”  

A surgeon.

Now panic mode sets in.  A surgeon.  I’m having visions of the women I’ve seen at music festivals, rocking mastectomy scars, I think of the courageous women who get beautiful tattoos all over their chests.  My mind is reeling with thoughts.

“Is there any family history?”  I think back as far as I can remember, none of my mother’s relatives had breast cancer.

“How about on your father’s side?”

Oh, crap.  My father’s side counts?   I call my aunt Carol.  “Yes, two of your father’s aunts had breast cancer”.  


I decide to start taking pictures of my breasts, just in case they were going to cease to exist.  I took many, many low-key photos.  Suddenly I was hit with the realization that I kind of liked my breasts, and the life-long ambivalence went away.   I remembered all the angst as a teenager, wishing they were larger, that they had developed earlier.  And then sort of a neutrality towards them as my feminism bloomed.  Then when I started working construction, they almost seemed a hinderance.

You know what?  They’re pretty darned okay, they’re part of me, and life is what it is.

Meeting with the surgeon comes.  “So, my colleagues and I believe that there’s a lot of fear and overkill when it comes to breast cancer.  Years ago, with your diagnosis of LCIS, a bilateral mastectomy would have been recommended.  With your family history, since your grandmother didn’t have it, nor your father’s sister, I believe you’re at the low-end of the high-risk spectrum.  I recommend very close monitoring, mammograms every six months, and I will write you a referral to our high-risk breast clinic.”

Phew.  I can handle that.

Now, I just have to start remembering to feel myself up.

On Bended Knee

He proposed to me in September 1987, I believe.  I said yes.  We had been dating for a year, and felt pretty good about each other.

I had a past.  One that filled me with a lot of self-doubt and low esteem.  I had just graduated high school in 1986.  Escaping that era, that past, and moving on to college where I could start over was a wonderful opportunity.

I was so desperate to be liked in high school that I allowed myself to be abused, taken advantage of.  I had been dating a guy who was fond of telling me, “Most guys would turn cold with your hearing issues, and you don’t even have boobs, but I still love you”.

“Most guys would turn cold, but me, I’m so wonderful I look past your defects”

I lost my virginity to him when I was sixteen.  I cried.  It was not a joyous occasion.  It was desperation to find acceptance, to maybe be loved.

So, years of being in that relationship, of basically having love-less sex, because that’s all I thought I was good for, had done a number on my self esteem.  I knew I had to get away.  My only escape was college.  I deliberately chose a major that would require that I move a long ways away from home.

And college was great.  I was finding myself.  I found love.  I was badly hurt and I had learned to steel myself against pain, against abuse, against emotion.  I could harden myself, make myself go numb.  Sometimes I wish I still had that ability.

Brian married me.  Something awoke inside me.  I began to let myself feel again.  But with it came anger, truth, honesty….and lesbianism.  Feminism.  I went to a sexual assault survivors support group at the Women’s Resource Center.  Processing through the pain of my high school years.

I realized I didn’t like men all that much.

I realized I could trust women.

I realized I could LOVE women.

Brian did nothing wrong, I have to emphasize that.  He was caught up in my self-discovery.  Wrong time, wrong place.  And he loved me, and maybe allowed me to lower my barriers.

I sank into a deep depression.  I realized I shouldn’t have married Brian.  I was dragging him along on a really convoluted self-discovery session that he didn’t deserve.

I asked for a divorce, two years after we married.  On bended knee.

Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

I might be dating myself, but I remember when Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup had to be opened with a can opener, the kind that punched a triangle shaped hole in the top of a can.

You poured most of a can of that stuff into a glass of milk, to impress me.  We were eleven years old.  You were my first kiss.

I had always been an outcast, in elementary school.  Funny thing about being a deaf kid integrated but the school district wasn’t all that great about educating the peers….people thought I was an ass.  They’d talk to me and I wouldn’t reply, so I’m sure they thought I was stuck up.  Elementary school was hell for me.

Junior high was my chance to start over.  I went to Junior High orientation with lots of makeup on, trying to make myself look Asian.  Anything to be an exotic stranger, anything except what I really was, the deaf scared kid.

My mother was mortified when we got home from that orientation, by the way, and was convinced from that day forward that I was artificially darkening my eyebrows.

“no, Mom, they really DO look like caterpillars”

Anyways, Brent.  You were in my seventh grade science class.  You seemed to look past my hearing aids. Past my awkwardness.  You asked me out on a “date”.  It was a movie, a movie about a Volkswagen bug car that was popular at the time.  Was the car’s name “Herbie”?  We went for pizza first, and the movie later.  We couldn’t drive.  Not old enough.  I think my father drove us.

You were the first boy to make me feel the “adult” kinds of feelings.

You invited me to your house one day after school. I knew your parents would not be there.  At work.  I was scared, but also so happy that you wanted to spend time with me.

You took me into the kitchen to make a chocolate milk.  You poured a glass of milk, then emptied most of an entire can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup into it.  And then drank it.  Without gagging.

I was properly impressed.

You kissed me.  My first kiss.  I had a metallic taste in my mouth, now in retrospect, I think it was fear, excitement, but I mentioned it to you and you said you probably had bad breath.  You touched my chest (flat as it was) and I touched you.

We never did have sex.  I loved you, though.  I can’t even really remember what happened, why we faded out, but I think of you fondly.  I would love to go back and talk to you one last time.

You died in, I think it was 1987?  In a motorcycle crash, with my other ex, Bill.  It’s strange how life works out.

I want to talk to you both, but you more so.  You left an impression in my life.

Here’s to you, Brent.  You and the rolling stones.