(“Regrets, I’ve had a few… but then again, too few to mention.” And I use those lyrics as covered by the Sex Pistols, and sung with the snarl of one Sid Vicious, not Sinatra. Anyway, for the past few months I’ve been on a “sabbatical” from the Fire Department… trying to decide what I wanted, what I should do, and if that part of my life was who I was anymore.
And Sid Vicious… he overdosed and died when I was in kindergarten, 1979)
I’ve had a gun held to my head, literally. And a cop shot the man holding it four times in the chest before that man could pull the trigger. And if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this now, I’d be rotting in a graveyard.
Another time, “open season” had been declared on the Birmingham Police. Me, standing over an East Lake overdose in a Section 8 parking lot, pushing Narcan, and a semi-automatic weapon rained down bullets. I dove down behind the apartment’s exterior staircase. The lead hit the pavement around us, it sounded like bouncing marbles. The cop with us that night quit, never came back to work.
I delivered a baby once, in an upstairs bathroom near Legion Field. A year later, my friend Bryant made sure we didn’t forget her birthday and we went to a party they had for her in an open field. Nothing felt more like it mattered.
I once walked into a house full of children squatters, no one older than 16. The house didn’t have power, instead huge piles of trash, and the kids used their phone lights to lead us to a back bedroom. We found the fourteen-year-old mother lying in a pile of trash, her newborn next to her, still connected by the umbilical cord, and also lying in a pile of trash. The mother was texting on her phone, and inconvenienced. She told us she discovered that she was pregnant when the child started to cry out of her.
No one cares.
I’ve worked alongside gods. Some of the best people on this planet. Men and women so genuine, it doesn’t make sense. (Dedrick Hope, that sentence is for you.)
I’ve worked alongside child molesters, pedophiles and sexual predators. These things tend to only come out after the fact. True, nonetheless.
I’ve been stuck with a heroin-emptied needle… a few moments after it’d been in the arm of the man overdosing, right outside the Anchor Motel. They ran a bunch of tests on me and I never heard anything else about it, and that was seven years ago.
I jogged two miles uphill on Ruffner Mountain, on a bad right hip, to find a young girl ready to take her own life. She was pretty, and 23, and oh-so-serious. She’d left detailed goodbye letters to her loved ones on the dash of her car. Out of breath we talked for forever, and made promises to give life another look.
I’ve gone to one… two… three firefighter suicide funerals. One was a good friend, who hung himself on Christmas Eve. This past year, I met his son, who’s now on the Fire Department, and I cried my eyes out.
I’ve carried a five-year-old girl out of a burning building. No one cares.
I’ve broken up bloody dog fights. My frayed outlook on humanity… it tends to put cats and dogs on a pretty high pedestal.
I’ve been attacked. Ten on one. Five on one. One on one. I just laughed.
I drove a fire engine through my neighborhood on Halloween, handing out candy to the packs of costumed children. They looked at us like gods.
I’ve carried the bodies of dead children. Car accidents. Domestic “accidents.” SIDS. Everytime it was as awful as it sounds, maybe worse.
I got promoted.
I got demoted.
I’ve seen so many people overdose and die. So many. Too many. Die like Sid Vicious.
I’ve been drug tested countless times, dozens… hundreds… who knows. No one cared that I’m straightedge.
Since day one, circa 2006, I’ve been assigned to the busiest fire stations in the great state of Alabama. Station 19. Station 14. Station 21. 24 hour hauls, every third day. I walked around like a zombie for most of the days that followed each shift.
I’ve dug through soot and ash, on my hands and knees, for the burned remains of an infant, left behind to die by her father. When we first got there, the flames were two stories higher than the roof, lighting up the Kingston sky.
I’ve worked under Chiefs that could be kings. Men that could back up every task, every order, with their own actions.
I’ve worked under Chiefs afraid of fire, justifying it with bizarre and unjust orders.
I’ve been suspended for wrecking a fire engine, and for starting an IV, and for disobeying orders, and for disobeying orders.
And another time for disobeying orders.
I love fire.
I’ve laughed at all the wrong times to keep from falling apart.
I wrote the history of the Birmingham Fire Department and it was printed in a book. I called it “The Fight,” and I quoted Springsteen.
I don’t have much fight left.
16 years and some change. Will I miss it? Sure, some things… my beautiful friends, who I lived with every third day, and fought with in the trenches. And I’ll miss carrying on the legacy of my Father, a veteran warrior with Birmingham for 23 years. But it’s time for me to go. I’d always promised myself that I’d step away when I was no longer in love with firefighting. And does that break your heart to read? Because it certainly breaks mine to write it.
And money? It’s never been about the money. Never. Ever.
There’s just so much more I want to do. Write. Family. Black Market. Hockey. And hockey.
In closing, feel free to insert any cliché expression that you feel fits here. Closing chapters, moving on, or some other bumper sticker saying you may know. But for me, it’s not about some endless search… looking to find some vague “meaning of life.”
It’s about continuing to find the meaning of my life.
“We’ll laugh like little children telling secrets. Probably cry like old women drinking gin. Cause I’ve done my tour of duty, now I’m home and I ain’t leaving here again.” — Jason Isbell