When legends die
It started with my oldest son.
We had been texting about my drinking earlier in the day and then, that evening, I got a text from him: “Dude! You are a legend!”
I thought he was still talking about my drinking, even though I had mostly been a solo home drinker. Still, a blood alcohol level of .45 or higher three times would qualify me as a legend, me thinks, n’est pas?
And, he wasn’t talking about my drinking, he was talking about my career. Huh?
Turns out that he was out bar-hopping, and ran across one or more of my boys. They figured out who they all were, and that it was a small world, after all. Based upon the conversation — whatever it looked like — and, I didn’t inquire, he came away with the idea I was a legend.
I was stunned. On one hand, there is no bad news there, right? On the other hand, and not with any sense of ego or false-humility, I had no idea what he was talking about. I don’t think I was anything special. I knew that I had promoted early, of course, but not the earliest. I knew we did our jobs thoroughly, with excellent customer service, and we had fun doing it.
I tried to do the right thing every single time, and I expected the same from my troops. I gave my people feedback within 10 seconds or 10 feet, whichever came first — and focused on what they did right, especially when the tasks they were presented with were complex.
I fought the fights that needed fighting, much to the chagrin of my bosses sometimes.
There is only one thing I know that made me different. Five minutes after somebody had a “knock down, drag out” with me, I could, and would, defend them on another issue if it was warranted — without prejudice or favor. I know that most people cannot do that.
I was simply a product of my peers — Danny, Scott, Bill, Gary, JoAnn, Marlys, Chuck, Dennis, Randy, Earl, Lewis, Jeff, Houston, Bobby, Matt, Hank — and so very many more. Yes, there are a couple of rabbis in there, but only a couple.
I only raised my voice in anger on the fireground twice.
The first was a structure fire, with a 50-MPH north wind blowing, and all but one of my crew disappeared around the north side of the building, instead of protecting the exposure to the south. I went up to the trailing firefighter, said “Give me that goddamn hose!” and quickly knocked the fire down through the picture window on the porch. Shortly, the newly-arrived Randy was at my elbow, asking gently if he could take the hose from me. He’s one of the best ever, and I graciously accepted, and reverted back to command mode.
The other time was with a good crew, but with a new unit that hadn’t had the valves confured properly. Bill and I were running a textbook fire, and Randy, again, was sitting in the attic scuttle awaiting water. After several radio calls to charge the line, I hit the front door — to find the crew in question donning their breathing apparatus.
“Goddammit, if you don’t charge that *&^%$&^%$! hose line, you’re both fired!”
The looks were precious, as they didn’t yet have their masks on.
The only other time I can even remember getting annoyed with my crews was on a fire where they were conducting overhaul on a residence, but were not being discreet in handling a voluminous amount of personal sexual appliances. Something large and pink came flying out the front door for all the neighbors to see, and I was having none of that — especially after I had assured the homeowner that this was nothing new, that we would use discretion, of course. Marvin, WTF?
Then the time came to retire. I was Acting Chief for a few days, as the rest of the officer corps were off on a retreat.
So, I typed up the memo, addressed from myself to myself, announcing my retirement — not many people get to do that!
The day came, and I hopped into a white (the safest color) engine — one of our customs — with a full crew, and drove myself home, 29 minutes away.
After I retired, I went through gastric bypass, and my fate as a future alcoholic was sealed. I thought I started drinking because of the love story stumbling, or being retired and now “useless” — but now I know better. There were things at work within me that I knew nothing about, multiple demons that often amp-up around age 50, and the alcohol was simply my medication, albeit not a prescribed one.
Before the gastric bypass, I was simply a drinker. Afterward, I was doomed, and there is a high percentage of GP patients in the rooms of AA. Why? Small stomach, little food to dilute the alcohol, slop-over right into the blood-rich, highly-absorbent intestines. Once that alcoholic trigger is pulled, there’s no going back.
All those fine, fine people with whom I did it all, and saw it all — except actually deliver a baby. Sadly, to all of them but a few — I am dead and gone.
I understand, I really do, and I am not angry… but I miss them.
At the very least, it’s awkward, and, at the worst, painful and tragic. It’s horrible to watch a man lose his way, his pride, his very soul — and very nearly die more than once. Thankfully, they don’t understand the despair, the desolation and isolation, the fear, or even the self-immolation, that takes place; the depths of hell that I never imagined existed, let alone be doomed to frolic amongst them. Hopefully, none of them will ever understand, as they cannot possibly understand unless they go through it, and I pray they never do.
The good news, of course, is that I am not dead, even if it was touch-and-go for a while. My health is good, I am approaching 90 days of sobriety (this week) and I feel good, optimistic. Most of the time I am dealing OK with being single, and I try to stay in regular contact with my four kids.
When it’s time to raise a glass to the tradition, to the history, to one of the most special brotherhoods in existence, I always say, “To those who came before us, to those here now, and to those that will follow in our footsteps…”