As I started my run this morning, I thought of you. I remembered when I was newly married to my fireman and sometimes life just seemed unfair. I went from living with my parents to living with a roommate who was gone so often I was sometimes scared out of my wits on lonely nights. We were newlywed though and reveled in every second that our dirt-poor existence allowed us to be together. We were young. Life was young. We had a lifetime of experiences still to come.
As I rounded the first bend in the road, I thought of you. I remembered when I was pregnant with our first child and we went shopping for baby items. My firefighter kept asking the store clerk about the latest safety protocol on infant car seats. Then he test drove all of the “stretchers” (which the rest of the sane world calls strollers) down the aisle of the store before deciding which one was safest, most stable, and therefore acceptable to carry our baby. I stressed over how far away, at what job, or on what call my fireman would be when I had to send him a page saying it was time. I considered the possibility of birthing our child alone, even though I didn’t want to.
As I turned up the next street, I thought of you. I remembered the day my firefighter chose to switch careers. Sure, volunteer firefighting is thrilling and being a paramedic is rewarding. But he wanted to be able to advance more without becoming administrative level. He wanted a 9:00-5:00 job so he could be home with each night. He wanted to learn more and grow more as a person. Then September 11 happened and as we watched in horrific awe, I knew that his new landscape design job was not going to fulfill our family’s needs nor abate his desire to return to firefighting and paramedicine.
As I reached my halfway point in the run, I thought of you. I remembered the day my fireman graduated from the fire academy again and began his first full-time firefighter-medic career. I can still feel the goose bumps I felt as I watched the ceremony while I cradled our new baby girl, with our toddler at my side. As she watched her Daddy, her hero, give his speech, the smile on her face could split a heart wide open.
As I ran past the creek at the end of the road, I thought of you. I remembered the resentment I felt as my fireman packed up all his stuff to go spend a shift living it up at the firehouse, while I slogged through dirty diapers, piles of laundry, and ABC fridge magnets that always ended up in the arch of my foot. No matter how little sleep I got each night, he was still the one who got to stay in bed because he had work the next day. Yeah, work! I could show him a thing or two about real stinking work! Try staying home and raising kids, rather than basking in communal glory over firefighting deity status each shift.
As our neighbor zipped past way too quickly for a residential street, I thought of you. I remembered when the topic of jealousy was so big it created its own dreary weather inside my head. I was mostly jealous of time. He had time to pee in private, but I didn’t. He had time to watch newly released movies at the firehouse, but I didn’t. He had time to get in shape by playing ultimate Frisbee at work, but I didn’t! He had adult friends and actually held adult conversations with them, rather than reciting nursery rhymes and Pat-A-Cake for the thousandth time. I couldn’t even remember what an adult conversation sounded like, but he didn’t seem to care.
As I turned back onto our street, I thought of you. I remembered the day I chose to give up my bitterness and resentment because if I didn’t, I knew it would destroy our marriage. I went to church and found a stay-at-home-mom’s bible study group that met every Thursday morning, with or without kids. I went. I’m shy so mostly I listened at first and absorbed the fact that these women battled resentment and jealousy too, and only one of them was a fire wife. I wasn’t crazy, just human!
As I neared the end of my run, I thought of you. I remembered when I used to think no other woman could possibly understand what I was going through. I’m not just a wife and a mommy. I am a firefighter’s wife. My kids worship their Daddy on so many levels. The girls and I don’t just send him off to work, we pack him up and ship him off for days or sometimes weeks. We live this firefighting lifestyle with him, for him, because of him. With 14 years behind me now, it is easy to look back and remember the way my feelings have taken shape and changed and morphed throughout the years. At several points, our feelings could have been the end of us, the end of our marriage, but they weren’t. Instead, I found friendship in the most important place. Other fire wives would become my saving grace, as well as my life’s passion.
As I walked for my cool down, I thought of you. I remembered the way it felt to be together, in an entire room full of nothing but firefighter wives. I relived the feelings of love, support, and encouragement each woman gave to another. All of you were there: the newlyweds, the pregnant mommies, the career doubters, the newest academy graduates, the resenters, the jealous ones, the cancer fighters, the near-retirement wives.
As I slipped my silver key in the door and tumbled the lock, I thought of you. I thought of how strong we all are as firefighter wives. I hope I never have to face cancer with my fireman. But if I do, I know I will face it with you by my side. I hope I never have to get a visit from Chief saying my fireman isn’t coming home from shift. Thanks to you I know now that I’m not the only strong woman who has this fear creep up on her at times. I hope that 10 years from now, I will attend another Firefighter Wife convention and I can put my arms around my fire wife sisters and look back and say, “We were there. We did this. Look at all the fire strong marriages we’ve strengthened this past decade together.”
I love you ladies, for being the Fire Strong, Firefighter Wife each and every one of you is individually and especially, together.
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