On one side of the kitchen table, a Lieutenant and the ladder truck driver play backgammon. Over in the recliners the Captain and two other firefighters are engrossed in a show with a marble-mouthed gold miner up in Alaska. There’s a firefighter holed up in the office likely watching shows about home renovation or obscure British cars. And I’m smack dab in the middle of them, around those people who are more than co-workers or “brothers”, they are my sense of normal in an otherwise abnormal life.

14 years I’ve been here on this department. Been up and down, married and divorced more than once, had great crews and those who made me dread coming to work. Had side businesses of my own, worked for others, made whiskey and bad decisions, made others laugh and seen things that made me weep openly. Two things and two things only have been my constant here: every two weeks the fire department pays me, and my love for a cup of coffee has never abated.

I should feel comforted, when I’m here. I appreciate that they pay me to live in this golden cage for 24hrs. at a time, long stretches of training or waiting, peppered with moments of adrenaline dumps that keep me craving more and crazier calls. But right now, in the weirdest of ways, I’m alone in my head, for real. The passionate woman wants me in her life, but from a distance for a while; I get that. To rebuild trust or be willing to, one cannot just flip a switch. Wherever it lands I hope for the best, for both of us. For the first time ever, I’m facing the arduous task of learning to, at the risk of sounding like a new age bull-hawker, actually look in the mirror and NOT feel a sense of self-loathing. To have relied on others for so long to define my sense of happy, and finally realize that that’s MY job…..that is a concept that not only boggles my mind, it flat out terrifies, even when in the company of these men who I am willing to entrust my very life.

I’ve spent so much time trying to make others laugh, smile or like me that it became it’s own form of dependence. And while I love to laugh like a tweaked-out maniac as much as the next guy, seeking a sense of balance, happiness and fulfillment can’t come from jokes, jokers or the like. These guys at the station would do anything to help a brother (or sister) out, to the point that off-duty guys are dropping by the station ┬áto check in on your mental progress, but ultimately? They realize as well that we need to jump off that cliff of our own free will and flap the hell out of our own wings. Woodworking, baking, writing, being a dad, all things great to be sure, but in the end we gotta be good with ourselves and calm in our own hearts. And for a skeptic like me with an arched eyebrow every time I see a mirror, that’s a crazy tall order. But, it’s time.

Terrified to be here. Glad to be here. Ready to be here.

Hope you’re ready for the ride, too.