The construction site gets so quiet after 3 pm. I’m working for another hour, but many other trades are gone for the day. It’s nice. I’m perched halfway up an 8′ ladder, wiring a complex control panel, near a floor-to-ceiling window that has finally been uncovered. Before today, the entire building was dark because of the thick white plastic shrinkwrap that sheathed the scaffolds around the outer walls. Now most of that’s come down, and I’m in line with the setting sun… Albeit with a terrible view of highway and ugly industrial buildings.
I still hate construction. But now I know that there’s so much else out there, which makes it almost okay… At least, no where near as depressing as when I worked on the giant new hospital, on my first electrical job. My crew has two different construction sites on the roster right now, as well as a million other small assignments in offices and institutions and the like, and so I’m not here every day, or even every week.
When I do end up having to put in several days in a row at this site, I really feel it… Not just in my body, but also in my mental state. There’s just so much hopelessness around a lot of these other tradespeople, leaking from their pores along with the stench of cigarettes and shitty food. I know, I know, stereotypes… And yet. And yet there’s something there, you know? A kernel of truth, about hard working class jobs, and lives, and the men for whom that is reality. (Yes, it’s all men, I’m one of three women among the 300 or so workers here: There’s another electrical apprentice, and a drywaller.)
And as for how it affects my body, well… I spend a lot of time studying my hands, when I’m on breaks and when I’m washing up at home after work. The outer edge of each of my index fingers is cracked raw at the top joint, from pulling insulation off of wires. The tips of each thumb are also split in two or three places, especially at the edge of the nail. I wear bandaids, layered with electrical tape for durability, and then paint them closed with liquid bandage each night. I also use moisturizers all the time, everything from thick creams that come in a tube, to the handmade salve my friend gave me. Does it help? I don’t know. The cracks still happen.
Of course, my finger tips also cracked when I worked in coffee shops. My hands were rarely as filthy back then, but regularly exposed to toxic cleaners and the acidic oils from coffee beans. Was that any better than drywall dust and wire-pulling lube?
Overall, I’m not terribly bothered by the rough state of my hands. I’ve never been one to wear nail polish, or maintain long nails, or even wear rings. (As of yesterday, I’ve started wearing my wedding ring on a light chain around my neck instead of on my hand when I’m at work, after hearing a totally awful story about an accident with another apprentice and his wedding ring catching on something… Too terrible to share, too risky to ignore!) It’s just so weird, to watch them get rougher and rougher. It’s one of the few changes I can actually see progressing as I continue down this path. I know I’m getting stronger, because I can now easily do things that were difficult a few months ago, but it’s not like I suddenly have rippling biceps or any other physical marker of this. My hands, though, they are looking like they’ve got a story to tell.