The last call I got from my husband last night was heart breaking. He was on a short break to warm up from being on a missing person hunt. In deep snow. In single digit temperatures.
He didn’t have to call me and possibly shouldn’t have even taken that moment but those are the ones where I think he just wants to hear our voices.
This boy was a college student many states from home. He had not been seen since the he left a bar the night before, however they had found his sweatshirt and shoes. It’s one of those sad stories of someone crying out for help. What about the bartender? The last one who saw him and stopped serving him? What about all the houses in between where he was and where he was going? The footprints. The dogs sniffing his trail.
This station is normally not very busy. In fact, I probably jinxed my husband by telling someone that earlier in the day. Oh he’s working a 48 but the second 24 is at his part time station which isn’t too busy. $%$^&. So sorry guys. I tried to ask the right questions and listen in the right moments and not press too much but both of us are having that unanswerable ache of “why?” and “what if?” in our simple minds. Why does this happen? What if he’s just steps away? What if someone took him? What if he’s safe and sound somewhere being a typical college student? We hang up with the I-love-you-bye but it takes a couple rounds. I can tell he is not ready to end this call. We hang up but tonight I know it’s not the last I’ll hear from him even though it’s already well after 10 pm. Irrational sporadic thoughts tumbled through my head. Forming over and over. I visualize them forming up one after the other in a bowl of alphabet soup. I don’t know why but sometimes I think in weird visuals like that. Hang up the phone now! Go find him. That boy is lying in a snow bank somewhere as we speak. There’s my daughter. She’ll be in college in only 6 years. Oh goodness if this was a lost girl I’d be thinking of a million other unthinkable acts. We just registered our oldest for high school classes. Have I shared enough with him on the dangers of the big wide world? What’s the most important thing we need to do prepare him? What makes a difference between this age when they are here with you watching tv and away from you getting drunk at a bar. And look at these Olympians on TV. Living the dream of their life. What stories do they have of decisions made in dark bars in college towns that kept them on the path to the Olympics and not lost on a cold, snowy night? With swirling thoughts I crash hard on the couch while these stories of gorgeous Olympians play in the background. I wake in a daze 40 minutes as my daughter turns off the TV. I do the last check of my phone and see those words. Found him. Tragic. I slip into bed next to my two youngest who always sleep with me on firehouse nights. It’s a ritual to sleep in a big puppy pile in our king size bed. They are a sweaty mess of deep rhythmic breaths that a mother never gets tired of hearing. I ponder how I can keep them this way and soak in these moments and dread the coming decades when they’ll be off on their own. I am resttless and toss and turn and can’t sleep. This is so not like me. I am a hard sleeper. I think of the fire wife community. Of the wives who take this even worse than I do and often struggle to sleep. Something I usually can’t relate to. I think about those differences in our lives as a fire family. When life and death are so frequently the subject of conversation. And how we get to hear the details in the moment of, or shortly after the crisis. Not after the fact when it has been distorted and sensationalized by media. The moment that the person is missing, alone and freezing in the cold. That very moment you are sitting snug in your couch and he is out there somewhere. And his parents are a thousand miles away frantic and worried and not able to do anything to help. But my husband can. Hang up the phone and look some more, I want to urge him.
I want to share with others who get it.
With my dear friends in the Fire Wife Sisterhood. But somehow it’s too soon. Does his family even know? It’s just that I want to share the perspective. A reminder. That these moments have a way of erasing from your memory any minor complaint you may have had about your spouse or your life just moments earlier. That day in particular my husband and I were both frustrated that every time we tried to have a conversation about a simple summer camp topic we needed to decide, the tones would go off for a neighboring department and it was too loud to talk through them. Grrrr. Just hours earlier we were incredibly frustrated over that. Since this event, not even noticed. Totally forgotten until I went to write this post even. Who really cares if we sometimes have grumpy irritable phone conversations when we are able to bond and share so deeply over life and death situations? Perspective.
Having a firefighter in your life most definitely brings perspective.
But these events live on and on with you. Now, it’s a new day. I got a couple hours of sleep and took my son to an early hockey game. My normal life moving forward. My husband called me while I was at the game and unloaded some more of his restless thoughts. Dissecting the rights and wrongs of the hunt and discovery and handling of the new media. I found myself using words like “body recovery” and “homicide” while sitting in the stands next to a bunch of hockey parents who probably haven’t thought about those topics since they last watched CSI. So I softened my voice a bit. Also out of respect for this family whom I will never meet. I haven’t had that boy, his parents, his girlfriend off my mind all weekend. It’s riding around in there as a reminder of gratitude that my kids are all young and still under our watchful eye but also that it’s such a short season before they are not. This is one that I can sense will go in that memory bank with other calls my husband shares with me in intimate moments. The elderly woman with raw ankles from being shackled in bed. The multiple SIDS babies. The 4 year old in the minor car accident that his little body couldn’t handle and was pronounced at the scene. The 2 year old wrapped in a beach towel who toppled into the deep end of the pool and my husband accompanied in the med-flight copter. The young girl from the nice part of town who was drugged and raped with various physical items and left naked in a car at a gas station in the ghetto. The 5 year old who knew how to keep the roaches out of his bowl of cereal. The man who failed at his attempted suicide and talked to my husband’s crew with half of his face blown off. The young children who were left alone day after day until one day the 2 year old pulled the dresser on top of himself and they were forced to call 911. The baby who had been left in a bed all day without food or a diaper change. I could go on. So could you. It’s not a contest and you don’t want to compare notes on the “worst call”. It’s just, human. Leaving it inside is not healthy. But there’s only a few to whom you can get it out safely and with an understanding ear. Every fire couple has their own variation of the dance through these conversations. Some do it well. For some, without all the skills, it can be divisive in their marriage and destructive to a fire career. For us, it’s been a bonding experience. The perspective that shows us how silly and petty so many of our arguments are. And how grateful we are for our family. And that intense ability to focus on what you HAVE and not what you are missing or is inadequate. The perspective that helps you quickly forgive and forget and move on to healing and empathy. Maybe it’s selfish to think this way but for us, disentangling the tragedy in our weak human minds always comes down to one thing. If it was our child, we would want the first responders to do whatever they could to help.
To make it their life’s work and give every last effort to save, rescue, search.
I know my husband is the one God planned to be there. Alongside these tragic situations giving everything he can. As if it were our child. So the memories live on with us and in some twisted, tragic way, heighten the intimacy in our relationship.
Because if it were our child….
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