Saturday morning, my husband Eric announced he had a plan.
That’s always slightly worrisome, I thought, but only said, “Let’s hear it!” out loud.
He wanted to replace the fuel pump in his pickup, which started with backing it into the garage, removing the bed liner, and cutting a hole in the box so he can get to the gas tank. Because he’s still all messed up from his broken neck, this would take my cooperation and assistance.
Immediately I flashed back to the early years of our marriage, when he was still in the Navy. It was a rainy evening in Virginia Beach, Va., and he needed to replace a gasket or something in our only vehicle. I think it had something to do with the transmission. To get to what he needed to reach, he had to remove the drive shaft.
Please understand, my mechanical abilities are limited. I was raised with three boys and a father who would think nothing of re-building a motor from scratch, so I have a pretty good understanding of how things work. When I started driving, my brothers would always say the same thing when I asked them for help with something.
“I’ll show you how to do this once. Then you’re on your own.”
I learned how to flush my radiator, change my oil, change a tire, jump start a car…the basics.
So Eric and I are in Virginia and he’s lying on the ground under a car. I think it was a Plymouth Volare.
We lived in a townhouse complex, so the car was parked in front of the house along the curb. There was a bit of rain coming down and it was chilly, not unlike this past weekend.
Eric’s friend Ed, whom everyone referred to as Big Fat Ed, had stopped by and was watching the process and helping a bit. The car was jacked up, but Ed’s nickname didn’t come from nothing and he couldn’t really fit under it.
Partly into the process, Eric started getting sick. His ship was getting ready to pull out on a six month cruise, and he and the rest of the crew had all received a battery of shots that day, including one for yellow fever.
He would work outside for a bit, then come in to warm up. I watched, pretty helpless. I couldn’t really do much, and he had to have the car ready to go to work in the morning.
Maggie, who was probably about two years old at the time, had finally gone to sleep, and we were losing the daylight.
Eric would sit on the couch and almost fall asleep, slipping into a stupor as his fever heated up. He had gotten the gasket replaced, but still needed to put everything back together.
I left him zoned out on the couch and gestured for Ed to come outside with me.
“Can you get this back together?” I asked.
“Justine, I can’t fit under there,” he answered. “I’m Big Fat Ed. But you could.”
My hair was much longer then, so I bundled it into a ponytail, slipped a hoody over my head and pulled the hood up.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
I walked outside and looked under the car. The rain had continued, and a giant puddle of water, transmission fluid and other yuck had gathered.
The second I laid down on the ground, I could feel the yuck seeping into my hood and hair, but I cowboyed up and got to the task at hand. With Ed lying on the ground next to the car and me lying under it, he managed to walk me through the process of putting things back together. I will admit, there were a few swear words involved on my part, but for the most part we chuckled our way through the ordeal, mostly because I didn’t know the right words for anything and Ed started using the ones I had assigned the parts.
“Now grab the dooflinky and line it up with the thingumdoobie,” he said, barely able to get out the statement without laughing.
We managed to get it done, then Ed took off back to the ship to get cleaned up.
I went in the house and removed my nasty hoody sweatshirt.
Then I went over to where Eric was asleep on the couch and woke him up.
“C’mon, honey, let’s get you to bed,” I said quietly.
He jumped up in a panic.
“I have to finish the car!”
“It’s done,” I said.
He thought about that for moment, accepted my word on it, and headed for bed.
The alarm clock went off the next morning and he again jumped up in a panic, then started yelling at me.
“Why did you let me go to bed! I have to get the car finished!” he barked. “I can’t be late!”
I waited for him to finish ranting, then reminded him what I had said the night before.
“It’s done,” I said. “Ed and I finished it.”
He eyed me suspiciously, then left to check on the car. At this point, I was feeling a little less than well-rested, having spent at least an hour after he went to bed trying to get the yuck out of my hair.
Eric got ready for work and left, and I think Ed must have told him that day what I had done, because he came home that evening all hang-dog and sorry looking, but slightly amazed.
“I can’t believe you did that,” he said.
I just gave him one of those female, snarky, cocked eyebrow looks and went in the kitchen to start supper. When he followed my in still talking about it, I finally just told him I had done what needed to be done. To be honest, it was over 20 years ago and I’m still secretly quite proud of myself, but could have never done it without Ed.
So Saturday, we used the dreaded 4-wheeler (yes, it survived the rollover much more intact than Eric) and pushed and pulled the truck into position in the garage. We wrestled the liner out. While I was in the house making a quick lunch for us, he cut the hole in the box.
We got as far as we wanted to, then decided to wrap it for the day and go watch the Twins.
I didn’t have to roll around in mucky water. I didn’t have to give silly names to pieces and parts. And thank goodness, no one needed the truck to get to work the next day, so Eric can pace himself and finish the rest of the project without me.
Now there’s a plan I like.