Scars

We all have scars, for to live a life it is inevitable. Whether they lay upon your skin for the world to see, or deep underneath where only the devil resides. We have them, they are there and in most cases these scars are hard earned remnants most choose to ignore or forget.

But to me it seems what we do with them ultimately defines us as human beings.

I will show you mine.

I have all kinds of scars to share. Hard earned in the heat of battle, worn like an inner badge of honor. Obtained through circumstance, or byproduct of a life lived teetering towards the edge. Deep painful scars left on my psyche after watching as those you love most cease to exist. Mental scars developed from years of horrific imagery that never heal, growing, straining; leaving behind just enough meat for my eccentric brain to pick.  They thrive and live on, never quite healing, instead evolving in darkness.

I will gladly show you my scars because I feel it’s what we as human beings must do. My scars don’t define me, they never will. My scars don’t enrage me, for how can you remain mad at what was? I survived, learned, and grew, therefor my scars electrify me, making me stronger, hopefully wiser, tempered and kind.

To carry my scars both inner and outer, under wraps, stowed away from the world means I have lived a life for me and me alone. I believe we are supposed to live our lives for others. So we as a collective whole may learn and grow. Knowing there are more; that someone is never alone and they need not stare at their scars wondering why? What if there is one person out there who doesn’t see their inner scar(s)? You know them. They only see what’s pouring from the depths of their soul as an incurable leak. Like blood from an open wound. For them there is no ability to heal, to form a much needed inner scar. An ultimate reminder that what they went through was actually needed although it may not seem like it at the moment. To know they will survive, carry on and experience the life of their choosing.

The choices we make in life dictate our outcome.

My aunt and I (as we always do) had a wonderful conversation about life, death, the job I have done for over 20 years and the experiences associated. My Aunt having worked a suicide hotline and of me being a fireman. We talked about loved ones lost, people near death, and the loss of my dear uncle not more than a day ago.

The key being we talked.

She asked me; after everything, with all I have encountered in life.

Had I ever contemplated suicide?

My answer was, has and will always be; No.

Life, no matter how difficult at times is this amazing gift we have been given. It is ours to do with what we choose. I cherish every single second. I know there is a life is over for me ticket floating out there somewhere, waiting to be punched. But not today man, not today.

So every day I make a choice.

I get up in the morning and I look at my scars.  Several look like bullet holes across my abdomen, there is a 12 inch one that runs the length of my chest. I have scars on my legs, hands and feet. I have scars around my groin. Each representing a moment when I could have said quite simply; why me? Then given up..

I stare in the mirror at this aging 54 year old body. Once in peak shape ready to climb any hill, cut down a tree, drag some slash, pull some hose and spread water on a rapidly advancing fire.

Now, I get dizzy tying my boots. Sometime I lose my balance and just fall. I can no longer run, no longer climb, no longer carry 50 pounds of gear on my back like it’s nothing more than an extra jacket. Hell I can barley raise my right arm over my head! The absurdity at times is unreal. Medications are taken daily to regulate everything, and to keep bad things from happening to me somewhere, somehow, further down the road!

Quite a different world from simply a few years ago.

I stare, and I stare some more. Then I smile, because I am alive. I cheated death. I get to see another sunrise, another sunset, I live in a country where I can fulfill whatever crazy dream I chase no matter the age or restriction. The only thing to hold me back is me, myself and I.

I stare into my eyes.

I stare at my reflection to see the faces of those I have lost. The inner scars begin to show. My first wife Kim (heart failure), my second wife Jacy (Leukemia), an unborn child, my grandparents, my father, several friends, and now my uncle. I think of them all. I wonder what was, what could have been and what if? I thank them for all they brought into my life for I grew as a person from every experience shared with them all.

The outer scars are reminders, the inner scars are pain.

So what do you do? How do handle these emotions, these reminders, these in your face every fucking day reminders?

As I said; every day you make a choice. Every day you decide how you are going to deal with you and your bullshit.

Today, like every day. I choose life, I choose love, I choose forgiveness, I choose a future, I choose to wake up and see the sunrise, I choose to sit on the porch and watch the sunset. I choose to bring a smile to a friend, as well as to a stranger. I choose to never, ever let my scars hold me down.

Every day, every way.

Wake up, put your feet on the floor, stand up and take one step forward.

Only you can, for no one else can do that much, for you.

Learn to love your scars.

Look at them, look and look some more, then look away and ponder what the the day and life holds in store for you.

I promise you will become stronger.

I promise your fears will subside.

I promise your sadness will deepen before you rise above. But YOU WILL RISE ABOVE!!!

I promise you will tap into the aggressive beast that resides within.

I promise you will ONLY be you.

And that alone is worth the scars….

Coming to Terms…This ones for you Jim Wilson.

“If I ever needed to know how he was doing, I would simply read his blog….”

So are the words of a man I hold in high regard.

To Jim, this one’s for you.

Coming to terms with a traumatic event in your life can at times become very difficult. You and you alone will ultimately decide how, where and when you face whatever collateral damage that event may have inflicted upon your mind, body and soul.

I do not believe there is any one answer. For those that believe there is a dedicated path to recovery, I have no words. That every human being is so cookie cutter perfect, a simple pathway of textbook answers by those in the know is exactly how each person will perfectly handle grief, suffering, stress, emptiness, loneness, mental isolation, adversity and a host of other emotions is absurd.

Now don’t get me wrong, the help afforded through networks of well-meaning individuals with countless hour of education is definitely needed, wanted and effectively utilized.

My problem is this; those preaching the loudest are not the ones in the know. They are not the ones who have suffered and been helped. They are not the ones with hundreds of hours of education within the process. To me, when I look around the ones preaching the loudest are those who are arrogant and the closest to you. With little regard to how you feel, or the knowledge you have obtained along the way, believing they know more about you under the guise of caring for you because they are close to you and you appear to be struggling. Yet their motive most times is very clear. They wish to be the ones to say at the end of the day, they were there, and it was because of them and them alone that you are making it. In the end it is about them and not you. Most don’t even know they are behaving in this irrational manor, a smaller handful do and enjoy it.

There is no substitute for experience and even though I am speaking for myself, I wish those experiences on no one but wear mine like a badge of honor. I have earned this shit! Good bad or otherwise, I have earned my way through surviving each and every single devastating thing I have witnessed or been party too these 53 years of life. The ones speaking the loudest have witnessed little in my opinion and although everyone’s tolerance or idea of what a tragedy may or may not be is differing, I am sure I will be chastised at some point for my view being wrong or delusional.

I don’t know why I felt the need to get that off my chest but I did. All part of the process I guess.

I digress; I said this one’s for you my friend so here we go.

I have not comes to terms..

I still haven’t comes to terms with the passing of my first wife Kim. She was an amazingly beautiful human being, the mother of my first two sons and quite simply the kindest person I ever met.

If she did something to upset you, the minute she knew there was nothing that would stop her from correcting that wrong. In ten years we fought once. Once and it lasted a whole 20 minutes or so. She gave me two of the greatest gifts I had ever received. One is currently a CHP officer and the other works construction hoping to one day be a fireman like his old man. She never saw them grow up, she never saw them off to school, helped with their classes, went to camp with them, or guided them into adulthood. She missed it all. All of it.

I know she is gone, I know she will never walk through the door again, I know this is part of life and I know I carried on the way she would have wanted me too. I wish I could say goodbye, but I never have been able too. My heart hurts when I think about her, she was taken way too soon. I would have given it all up, walked away, allowed her life to be with someone else, somewhere else if it meant she wouldn’t have been taken.

I had not dealt with a lot of death at that point in my life. It was strange to see her after she had passed. Serene, peacefully in eternal slumber. It always stuck with me, if I close my eyes I can see her now. My job had not jaded me yet, life hadn’t begun to punish me. Little did I know.

I am also incredibly thankful for our time together. She made me a better person, she built up my confidence, supported my decisions and always stood by my side through the consequences. And believe me there were many. To deal with the younger me, love me and stand by my side on a daily basis took a saint.

There is a picture of her on our wall. She will forever be 34. To be so lucky.

I have still not come to terms with the death of my father.

A man I revered early on in childhood, who through failure and disgust with what I can only assume was himself, became an angry, grumpy and at times violent man. As a young boy I looked up to him, idolized him, loved standing in his shadow and believe me when I say my dad cast a large shadow! I learned much from him. It is because of him I have always believed in doing what’s right, even when no one is looking. Speaking for those who cannot or do not have the power to speak regardless of the consequences and never faltering on a true friend. EVER!

It is also because of him that I have spent a lifetime struggling with an explosive temper. Fighting the urge to fight at the drop of a hat or hit my kids as a form of punishment! I wrestle with it daily, but I do it because it is what’s right. I hated him for the times he beat me, I despised him as a teenager for those years and knew I would eventually become bigger and stronger than he would ever become. I did eventually become bigger and stronger, it didn’t help.

As he grew older he became harder to be around. I became softer in my stance but the damage was done. Our years of butting heads made it where I had a hard time loving him, seeing him as anything but a bully. My parents moved onto my property so we could keep an eye on them as they aged. In my naïve thought process I thought it would bring us closer but it pushed us farther apart. Both of us stubborn, both set in our ways I found myself purposely avoiding him.

When he passed away in our driveway, all I wanted to do was turn back time and say I was sorry.

Sorry for being a troublesome child.

Sorry for fighting/rebelling against him all the time.

Sorry for never living up to his standard.

Sorry for not being the son I am sure he wanted as I was adopted.

Sorry for so many damn things I could write an entire book.

I carried, and still do; all the guilt.

I just needed to be eight again, when he was my dad. Really my dad! The man who held me, kissed me, hugged me, let me sit next to him during a Niner’s game. I will never truly know what happened or why. But that was all I needed and as I parent my kids feeling as though I am failing at every moment, I pray when I am gone, I did a good enough job and they won’t feel this way. It sucks…

I have not come to terms with my second wife’s death.

How do you say goodbye twice? How do you even fathom believing you can not only lose one wife but two! Seriously!! What the hell is wrong with life that this can happen again! How can two amazing women walk into my life, stay for a while and then be gone like the wind. Ten years the first time felt like a dream, this (16 years) felt like the blink of an eye. An alternate universe, a black whole.

Kim went fairly quickly; her heart failing, it was painful, scary but she only suffered for a short period of time. But Jacy, poor Jacy struggled and fought, and struggled some more. She lived with incredible pain every single day, while trying her very best to show a consistent positivity that one could only hope our society strives for, yet really; who deserves that much pain and struggle? Who?

Jacy was a people person and not one person I knew thought otherwise. She had the incredibly rare ability to make a friend from anyone. She could morph herself into any situation and always be loved by all. It was her gift. Anywhere anytime, it didn’t matter. The back of the school yard as a teacher or the far reaches of Haiti. People flocked to her, people loved her.

She willingly and gleefully raised, loved and cared for my first two sons, we added another son together and adopted our daughter. She always placed the kids first and did her best to keep them on their toes, created fun lasting moments in their lives. I still don’t understand how life can take away two moms from one set of boys and the only mother three of them ever knew. Leukemia is a bastard.

I am unable to clear my head from the vision of her taking her last breath. It is with me most days. I look at those I love and pray to never see them die the way I saw her pass away. When my children are sleeping, I stare at them to see that little movement. The rise and fall of the chest. I am permanently scarred. Always looking to see if you are alive. I have witnessed the passing of so many human beings, it wears on you over time. Death staring you in the face. It makes it hard to appreciate life sometimes. While others may hear a clock ticking in the background, I hear a life clock clacking loudly, harshly, reminding me it (death) can be at any moment.

I have not come to terms with my own mortality.             

Three important people in my life gone. People I never knew beyond the few seconds I attended to them in the course of my job, gone. Faces, feelings, the most awful things one could ever have seen done to the human body, emotional disconnect, doubt, all run through my thoughts every single day.

Spending my entire adult life hiding behind a wall of false security. Being a firefighter, we train, learn and work our best at protecting you while needing to feel invincible. It is the only way we could do our jobs. Nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you, and your good deed bank is overflowing so how can anything bad ever happen to you?

Three gone and I feel wounded. Then I learn that I have an aortic aneurysm and a failing heart valve a mere 8 months after losing my wife. Where is the justice? Why do bad things keep happening? Is there any sunlight left in this world? Why does the darkness always fall upon me or the ones who surround me?

My oldest is a newly christened CHP officer. He has wanted this since he was 8 years old. I am beyond proud of this man for chasing his dreams. Success always follows hard work. Yet, I don’t sleep at night sometimes worrying about him, on his own, with back up 45 minutes away. Especially in today’s climate! He is a public servant, raised in a public service family. All people are to be treated with kindness and respect until proven otherwise. No one person is any better than the other. Yet all some see is the badge which incites hate. Never mind the person or the fact that even though you hate him for what he represents he will gladly protect you, while upholding the law. Praying daily I am the one carrying all the bad luck for the entire family. It all stops with me.

I have a girlfriend. She is amazing. But what is she in for by being with me? Is she destined to perish to soon as well? Will some other medical bullshit mow her down in the prime of life? Would she lead or live a better life by never being with me? Am I cursed? Will her family be cursing me if something does happen? How many people do you know who lost everything twice and are still sane? Still looking for the sunshine on daily basis? How many?

You know, funny tidbit, things come in threes! Are we truly fucked in the end?

Friends have come and many have gone over the last almost two years. Faces and attitudes changed. Some telling me what I should be doing and not supporting me when I didn’t agree. Others openly accepting changes in my life because they understood. Missing a few who kept quiet but just disappeared. Relearning people all over again.

Coming to terms means: To begin to or make an effort to understand, accept, and deal with a difficult or problematic person, thing or situation.

I don’t know if I will ever truly come to terms with some or any of what I have just described. But I do know this, because unlike many humans I have encountered. I know, like and love myself, regardless of any doubt, struggle or pain. I can look in the mirror and say yes; I would hang out with myself if we ever met.

In the end, there is this;

I will always, wake up each morning, put my feet on the floor and take one step forward. Life is so incredibly beautiful if you take a moment each day to look around. It is also too short to think otherwise. Move forward, every single day, breathe and know what will be, will be.

And this.

If you ever want to know how I am doing? Just read my blog.

Thank you for being you Jim Wilson..

Dream or is it a reality?

It always seems to happen when I am feeling that my life is good. No, let me rephrase, it always happens when I feel as though my life isn’t just going good or well, but great.

It sneaks in through the night using a cover of darkness and a weakness associated with slumber. Knowing the intended victim (myself) doesn’t stand a chance because there are no walls, no observance of its presence until it is too late.

Sometimes it masks itself using my family or friends as an intended target. Other times it drags up memories of the past, the atrocities associated with a long career such as mine. Either way it has a way of tearing me down, leaving me feeling spent both physically and mentally. Other days, it leaves me wrecked beyond belief and I wonder just how much more one man can take. I am confident and strong, I always have been, but there are days I want to curl up and cry for no reason at all.

Dreams of death.

Last night as I slept, Jake my second son came to me in a dream. I was fishing and he appeared in front of me from nowhere.

I said: Jake what are you doing, how did you get here?

Jake: I came to say goodbye dad

Me: Where are you going?

Jake: It’s time for me to go, just wanted you to know I love you

Me: what are talking about?

Jake: Goodbye dad (as he vanished)

The rest of the dream consisted of me doing everything I could to get home! To find my son! And as with most hectic, disorganized dreams every obstacle was put in my place! When I finally got there, he was in fact dead. Gone from this world. It was a nondescript death, a combination of every horrible thing I have witnessed over the life of my career. It was horrendous.

I haven’t been able to shake it.

Here is my problem. I know what it is, I know what these dreams manifest from, I know that it is not a reality.

But

I also knew every single thing about my first wife’s death before it happened because I had in fact dreamt about it over a several year period. I knew everything about where to go and what to do at Stanford Hospital because in my dreams I had been there even though I had never set foot on the property once.

I knew after my second wife was diagnosed with Leukemia that it wasn’t going to go well. Oh at first I believed it was my cynical side, you know that part of us that is carefully crafted from years of getting burned?

But as we went along I did my best to keep faith, to suppress my feelings of dread, to be the most important person in her life during every hiccup or stumble. All the while knowing, not guessing or having a feeling, but knowing she was in fact going to die. Why? Because I dreamt about it over time. From the hospital visits to the pharmacy runs, to her addiction to opioids. I dreamt it all. I knew she would die at home, I knew she was going to suffer and I knew she would leave a huge mark on this world. Not just because of who she was as a person, but because it always came to me in a dream. The only thing my dreams got wrong was her dying in our dining room. In my dreams she died surrounded by family at her dads.

So what is it about me that this happens too?

Is this a curse that only I can live with and if so, do I embrace the knowledge or cower from its implications?

I have so many wonderful people I talk with about my life, my emotions and how to deal with the past.

I have someone very close that I love who lets me talk openly about those last two years while watching the woman I cared for deteriorate and die. The ramifications of being alone but not alone, a caretaker, a warden, a nurse, a pharmacist and surviving nightmare after nightmare. Who listens to everything and anything that comes to mind while I am venting about these crazy notions in my head, understanding completely without thinking any less of me as a person. A beautiful safe space in my life.

But these dreams, these damn dreams, I just need them to stop! I’m weary of death, I am weary of pain, I no longer wish to carry the sufferings of so many in my head only to be replayed over and over again at the whim of nightfall’s grace.

So what do I do?

I do what I have always done.

I write about it for you.

If you are suffering in the slightest I need you to know you are not alone. I need you to understand it doesn’t feel ok, but it is and you are fine. I want you to feel as though you can talk about it, express those very same feelings without judgment or remorse.

I am blessed with the ability to write, to share, and to explain things in a way that you can understand. Everyone has a gift, a talent, something they are particularly good at, I have been told this is mine. Writing allows me to get these feelings out, to purge them from my mind, to let them go even if it’s just for a little while.

If you have something that allows you the same freedom you need to act when you feel down, you need to grab whatever gift you have been bestowed and make it your ritual. It will help I promise.

If you can’t, please find a professional to talk with, to council.

Now, I am going to try and call my son, I think he is out of class by now.

I just need to hear his voice.

Can we talk? Please???

I wrote this piece on August 4, 2018. I could not bring myself to post it back then. But as I sit here struggling with so much guilt and pain over my wife passing away this last week on October 20. I think it speaks volumes to my mental status over these last few months. I also think that if you are reading this, struggling with how you feel you may or may not be handling adversity in your life. You will see that its ok, the pain is real, the rambling mind is real, and you need to understand you are not alone. I may feel alone right now, but know I am surrounded by love. You are too. Just reach out and ask for help. Please….

Can we talk for a minute? Please?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those talks where it ends something like; it’s not you, it’s me.

Because trust me, it’s all me.

But we need to talk none the less.

You see I am having some problems with our relationship. I recognize that I haven’t been forth coming or honest about my feelings lately. That keeping things really close to the vest as it were has been my modus operandi. It has been tough for the both of us I know as I am constantly peppered with questions when seen out and about. But the thing is, I am not doing it on purpose. I am cowering in silence.

Things are rapidly changing in my life and as much as I live to talk with you through this medium it hasn’t been a priority out of fear. Couple that with a request to stop writing about a certain main subject (my wife), exhaustion on my part and a feeling of continual inadequacy in all aspects of my life and well you can see how the information clam has sealed tight.

I hope you can forgive me, but I’m having other issues as well. My brain cannot get past the continued bad luck that keeps raining upon me and my family. It never seems to end! I swear some days I am afraid to go outside, open the mail or even take a phone call out of shear panic to what’s waiting on the other end of the line. Everyday life is scaring the hell out me, I never know what rock is waiting to fall on my head, what vice is waiting to squeeze the last ounce of compassion and care from my heart, what nerve will finally be worn raw!

I lay in bed at night thinking about you and how bad I need to talk to you but when the time comes I just cannot bring myself to open the laptop and stroke a few keys! I know if I do, maybe something I say or am going through may help you, may give you strength or tell you it’s ok! As in for example; hey, see that guy has the same problem, life isn’t so hard and isolated after all!  But for some reason I just can’t do it! I have even gone as far as staring at the screen while trying to find the right words, but only my anger at this life comes through in ugly, disturbing tones. Things written that do not show a strong man able to conquer all but a weak tired man ready to climb into a cave, never to be seen from again, and then of course I end up deleting anything I have written.

My anger is off the charts! I find more days than not I am ready to blow! Some days I pray for someone to look at me the wrong way so I can finally lose my shit! Let out all this pent up aggression, depression and frustration. But thankfully it is never to be.

I will never understand how I won this lottery of spousal death twice? The first time around was relatively speaking quick, from diagnosis to passing was just under a month. I thought that was bad, I thought what the hell, how can this be? I thought life is so fucked up when it’s taken away so quickly and harshly! But what’s happening this time is 10 times worse! We have had hope, then sadness, then hope again, then more sadness then miracle hope as in a Bone Marrow Transplant and then more sadness and then a little hope and finally being told; this is as good as it’s going to get. Maybe she will pass within a year, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

Even with all that, nothing compares to watching what all these medications in combination with GvHD are doing to the love of my life! Watching her deteriorate to the point where some days her brain is spot on and others she is almost a dementia patient. What the fuck!!! I get so freaking mad when I see her struggling and I know it comes across wrong or feels like I am taking it out on her and the kids but god damn it I am pissed!

Are you still with me? It might get a little dicey from here on out.

What fucking God would do this to a person? What God would take away a mother and wife twice from a man? What God would sit back and watch all this happen while I am supposed stand under this cloud of despair and think there is a supposed purpose to all this? Are you fucking kidding me!!

My kids hate everything! The older ones are running away, the younger ones are trapped here but for the most part staying either in their rooms or hiding behind a video game screen.

Every day is the same as we try our best to all take care of mom, while terrified to leave the house as she cannot see and struggles due to breathing issues to get from one room to the other at times! She puts on a super brave face for everyone out of fear that she is letting someone down. But in reality she is in more full body pain than any of you could ever imagine! Her ribs are broken (yea that’s right broken) from coughing all the time, her feet and legs swell up as she can no longer adequately move fluids throughout her body as I said before she is blind and don’t let her bump anything as even a pencil size eraser bump will turn into a dinner plate size bruise and sometimes those bumps will break the skin which leaves blood everywhere!! So tell me, please, what God would do that to a person??

I hate being at work, and I hate being at home! I want our life back! I want her life back! Hell I would trade places with her in a minute. But we all know how stupid that sounds because it is an impossibility!

I wake up each morning worried something is going to happen to me! Seriously, what if something happens to me? Tell me I am wrong at how scary that sounds! You can be honest, I won’t hold it against you! But think about it. You wake up every day and you are it! The sole provider, the sole parent, the sole caregiver (that she trusts) at home, and you feel as though you cannot take any more, but for some reason it just keeps fucking coming!!!!!!!!!! Just because she is sick and dying doesn’t mean the bills stop, or the debt goes away, it doesn’t mean the kids can just automatically accept that dad is now the end all be all for parenting, it doesn’t mean the ranch will just run itself! No it’s all on me! Fucking Me!!!

You know what is even funnier? Come on, guess what’s even funnier???

Through all this, I am supposed care about your emergency when I show up in my fire engine!!! Don’t get me wrong, I do, I still give it 100% when we pull in front of your house, but please forgive me if I am not as excited about your papercut, vomit, alcohol laced sickness or cancer that you thought you had but really didn’t because you were misdiagnosed during a DMV physical by a third party doctor who swore you had a pacemaker which you had no idea you needed due to a history of diabetes that runs through your entire family but missed your third cousin Billy.

Yeah……

Still here?

Sorry I know this was supposed to be a talk between you and I and it has instead turned more into a rant. I never meant to bring you any worry or discomfort, I hope you can forgive me. I am just tired, really, really tired of it all.

Deep inside, I am struggling hard. I wake up every morning and stare at her to see if she is still breathing. Somedays I am lucky and she is up, fumbling around in the kitchen making coffee, other days she looks dead to the world and I freak a little. Every day is spent in the house trying to keep up. I no longer know which way to turn.

I feel as though there is nothing positive going on in my/our lives. I have a career that has been placed on hold for 5 years now and I feel it slipping away. The horses and the ranch are barley getting by and I have other people riding our horses as I cannot even throw a leg over one. I am struggling to find joy in the little moments with our kids as those moments are few and far between plus when the times are good there is always a backhanded slap from something that goes wrong when we get home. I feel myself aging at a rapid rate and I fear death may find me soon too and that scares me the most. Eventually losing their mom then losing me not to long after. The thought of my kids having no one when this bell is finally rung is petrifying.

I have always tried to make light, be funny, show anyone that will listen that no matter what, you can get through anything. And now I feel like a hypocrite. For I have nothing positive to say, no words of wisdom, no stellar advice.

All I hear in my head is the sounds of sadness and quote from long ago.

People die every day, what are you going to do about it?

Answer: Nothing.

Thanks for taking the time to listen.

 

 

 

So? You think you know.

A smile, a laugh, a hug and some jokes, you see me as I am and you think that you know. It’s the same old ground I’m always walking, with a head held high, false face, and fading reality.

You think you know.

This shadow of mine casts a dark reflection for which carries my soul. Walking side by side, flesh, muscle and stature tells you a tale, but my shadow harbors the truth. It’s darkness and rage, horror and fear, a shadowed jail that no one sees when peering at it’s presence upon the ground but me. Yeah I see it; you only see me.

I pray for cloudy days, for rain filled with pain, pressing so very hard upon my skin like needles tearing flesh from the bone. Helping, this searing sensation creates a neural overload strengthening my resolve when ever my shadow is gone. Building up future energy and tolerance for when the sun shines around me so I may survive it’s golden rays for just one more day. I have no place to hide.

You think you know

You think you know me when we meet, my smile and kind looking eyes but it’s all an act. My laughter and tears are played for an audience, I have become a master actor at life. Doing what I can to appease my shadow, to help hold these demons within. But much like an actor I must retire into solitude, and darkness, to a place inside my head where I can safely practice my lines. It’s a moody uncomfortable place where people can and do get hurt. But regardless it must be.

What you don’t know or will never understand is the sheer context of my life. I feel like a broken glass. Shards chipped, broken, then broken again. Placed carefully inside another glass for all to see.

You think you know

You mean well and want to help, but you have no way to reach inside this jar, pick a shard to begin putting me back together without hurting yourself, without bleeding and breaking just a little each time you try. Blood mixes with pain to become rain that falls back down on me. It hurts to much to try.

It’s all there for you to see. I’m all there, confined within the very transparency of glass for all to witness, not fix. Ultimately it is my gift to you. My way of helping you to never become broken, and for those already broken to understand it is ok to accept the truth and to be seen by those who care but don’t know.

So next time you see me, please don’t act like you know.

Because you can’t……

The drive home just isn’t long enough.

In a row, our legs move fast, pushing, yearning and striving they sling  copious amounts of sweat. Some in unison, others to the beat of another distraction. All of us moving, dripping, staring, and for myself, wondering why.

It is a mental game working a machine to nowhere. The windows before us showering our sight with images of a life outside. Yet here we are, trapped in the concrete confines of metal, muscle and weights.

I am trying to keep in shape, it is important for not just my physical ability but my mental muscles as well. So much trapped upstairs, so many thoughts, painful thoughts that emerge then disappear.

One hour in the gym. One hour to myself. Ok really only to myself mentally as I am surrounded by others in search of their own mental nirvana as they too work through their own physical pain. Yet even though it is for my benefit, and even though I almost always feel better after, I wonder if it is enough.

Shaking off the urge to once again over think something I have made a very astute observation. Legs burning, climbing, pressing against an artificial resistance I cant help but notice the man next me has become, well lets just say a tad bit competitive. Yes, it seems that us men cannot help ourselves. Even though this man and I haven’t spoken nary a word, have made no eye contact or even signaled a nod or shoulder shrug it appears as though when I speed up, he speeds up. Curious.

I try a little teaser to fortify my observation. For fun I decide to alternate speeds. Moving from fast to slow within one minute intervals I am sure this will dispel what I believe to be a subconscious race. I am wrong, with each interval change my face forward, without so much as a glance my neighbor matches me step for step! I am trying my hardest not to chuckle as for fun, I turn it up a notch! Without fail he continues to matching me step for step! Like an old school drag race, or two kids racing without actually breaking stride to run it doesn’t matter what I do, my workout neighbor never misses a beat!

Just when things couldn’t get any weirder a new piece of meat jumps on the elliptical to my left!

Ha! Now I have one on either side!! There is no way they both will keep pace! Again I am wrong! Without fail both men instantly keep pace with what ever I throw at them! It is as if us men have a racing gene that we are born with! That one thing inside that says to us: Did that guy just call us chicken??? Oh I could so beat that loser! You’re going down!! Yep a real bonafide, inbred, racing gene, and us men have no control over it.

I step off the elliptical leaving my unintended racing partners behind. Smile on my face as I roll over to start some resistance training before hitting a few well needed free weights. Then just like that, as I sit on a bench, sweat pouring from my face I am back. Back into my reality. One filled with things I cant discuss, pressures I cannot relieve and images I cannot erase.

I have so much to say, but no one to listen. There are plenty who want to talk, or talk at me, but that’s not what I need. Recommendations for professional help are always the first thing offered, but the problem is, these people, these professionals, they may have education, but they haven’t lived my life, walked in my shoes, understood or even tried to accept the culture for which I thrive. You cannot help me if you don’t understand me, and you cannot understand me unless you’ve stood alongside me, in the shit or next to me as I m surrounded by my brothers and sisters as we joke and laugh about things you would never understand. I cant take it home, but I cant leave it here, it follows me everywhere.

I used to complain that I needed a longer ride home. Time to brush off a bad shift or horrific experience. Decompress, listen to good music or my favorite morning show. Just me, the truck, some distracting sounds and time to think, letting it all go before I walked in the door to a wife that hadn’t seen me in days.

I once had a semi-truck on the freeway lock up his tires because he came upon heavy smoke covering the roadway. We couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see us, the wind was blowing 60-65mph, the fire was vegetation and it was running hard. I’ll never forget that sound. I was on the pump panel, engaging two wildland lines so our guys could fight fire. The smoke shifted quickly and we screamed for everyone to get off the freeway as that sound got louder and closer. I could barley see the engine, and as I cleared the tailboard jumping down the embankment, that truck slid right on by! If I had still been standing at the pump panel well, either my life would have ended in a full bagpipe salute and some nice speeches or at the least I’d have been scared to death, left with some soiled undies.

Another time at a vehicle accident in the middle of the night, while walking towards our truck to retrieve extrication equipment, I stepped on a 50K line. Now the car had taken out several poles including a series of high voltage lines. We worked our way into the scene and as we did all lines on the ground were identified. So on the way back for more equipment I kept telling myself; self, look for the power lines. And look I did with the exception of one thing, I completely missed my line of travel. Stepping on that line was an awful moment filled with terror. I knew what it was the minute my boot made contact, and it took me a second to realize that if in fact it had still been charged I would already be long gone. Electricity through my foot and out through my head as I hit the ground. Charred deeper than a forgotten shrimp on the barbeque. But again, I was lucky, the line was dead and I was not.

There just isn’t a drive home long enough for that. There is no amount of time behind the wheel that erases those instances, and those were only two! There are ones I’ll never, and I mean ever talk about! Because if I did my family would never let me out the door to work again! Now on top of all that imagine adding death, destruction, despair and the simple added pressures of a regular life along with it. Kids, spouses, ex spouses, bills etc…

How do we turn all of that stress off before walking in the door to our families?

I don’t know, I wish I had the answer.

But what I do know is the guy across from me on the squat rack is a mean asshole when he’s drunk! It’s been a while so I don’t think he recognizes me which in a way is to bad. Maybe he’d apologize for the shitty things he said and did while we tried to help him. Or maybe he would cuss us out for ruining his evening. Oh well maybe Ill head back to the elliptical machines and find some others guys to subconsciously race taking my mind back off the darkness within.

It is only 10 days a month.

Today another fine California Highway Patrol officer perished, this time at the hands of a drunk/impaired driver.

We have friends who are family with this outstanding young man. Only one year and four months on the job, gone in the blink of an eye due to the selfishness of another’s actions.

In my city we (the fire department) work hand in hand with our CHP officers. We hold great respect for these men and women and working together we create a safer place when juggling the very dangerous world of our Interstate system. Although our jobs are different yet in some cases strangely the same.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been terrified while working on the freeway. How many times we have almost been hit or had drivers veer our way. I personally have had an individual swerve purposefully at me with the intent to strike me with his vehicle.

Two weeks ago a CDF Fire Engineer was killed while working the Thomas fire. Although no real details have been released, I did read he perished from burns and smoke inhalation. Another fine young firefighter gone to soon.

We (the fire service) give up so much in our jobs and we are proud to be given the chance to perform the tasks for which we work so hard to perfect. But one firefighter killed, just as having one officer killed is one to many.

I wrote this post two weeks ago and it is all I can think about at 1 am this day after Christmas. A Christmas neither one of these fine young men were able to spend with their wives, their children, their parents or their friends.

Rest in Peace Officer Andrew Camilleri, thank you for your service.

Rest in Peace Fire Engineer Cory Iverson, thank you for your service.

It is only 10 days

They say it is only 10 days and what a cushy job we must have; while everyone else is working we must be relaxing, doing what we want while leading a life of luxury with such a grandiose forgiving schedule. Ten whole days, ten easy, lazy days a month?

Man I need a cushy gig like that! Yeah that’s what they say.

It sounds simple enough, the life of a firefighter. I personally have been one since 1995. When you say it out loud 10 days a month really does come across as a dream job of employment, and to some degree it can be. Yet the reality is, 10 days a month can lead to 50 years (30 working + hopefully 20 retired) of heartache, injury and despair.

Our schedule is a nifty one and it has changed a few times over the years. From days Mon-Fri 0800-1700, to a Kelly schedule format which consists of one day on (24 hours) and one day off (24 hours) for three shifts then four days off (96 hours), to the current scheduling of 48 hours on and 96 hours off that most departments (at least on the west coast) use today.

When I became a full time firefighter it felt as though my world had screeched to a complete halt. You see my previous work schedule consisted of 6 days a week and anywhere from 12-14 hours a day. My job was laborious and I was paid by percentage for materials moved so although I could have worked 5 days a week at 8 hours a day I was in fact a hustler. If you even hinted there was more money to be earned I would hustle for it, it was who I was and I enjoyed it every time I opened my paycheck to reap the benefit. Being a hustler is a part of me the fire service completely stifled as I never found a direction within the wide array of specialties we provide that kept the hustler feeling alive.

That was me, and it was a long time ago, yet I fully understand it is the same schedule of many hardworking Americans today. But the reality is most means of employment consist of an 8-10 hour a day schedule or a 40+ hour work week. A person is paid for the hours put in on the job and provided overtime for anything over those 40 hours. Hopefully being paid accordingly for the effort.

So why does it bug me when someone gives me shit for supposedly “only” working 10 days a month?

Why do my hackles stand up the minute I detect that smart-alecky you have it so lucky, you must work several jobs because you have life so easy type attitude?

You know I do work ten days a month, 10/24 hour shifts which never by the way work out to those cakey 10 days a month. You see we firefighters are always working extra, which I don’t mind, in fact one of the requirements for being a firefighter is you possess that type A personality which consists of always being a problem solver while continually taking the lead in any situation.

Example: We don’t just put the fire out, we stay behind no matter how long it takes to ensure the building is safe, you are safe, you have what you need, your neighbors are ok, hell we have even taken the family pets back to the firehouse and cared for them until arrangements are made! It is just is who we are! Helpers!! But let’s make sure we have our facts straight before running our mouths and tripping over our tongues shall we? There is really nothing easy about anything we do, we do it well, we do it right, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as it done with heart, conviction and compassion. Also let me clarify when I say working extra. Working extra comes in all shapes and sizes, from mandatory hold overs, shift trades, extended incidents, sick leave/vacation coverage, mandatory training, or recalls for large incidents. Plus we are consistently understaffed so you can see how quickly 10 days grows to 12, 14, or 16 days away from home serving the citizens we swore to protect! That’s half a month away from our families. Half a month away from watching our children participate in life, half a month during which time our significant others become single parents.

As I previously stated ten days a month is our base, this equates to a 56 hour work week on average. Sometimes it is much more, other times it is a few hours less. So right out of the gate we are already above the 40 hour work week. Now let me say right here, no complaints on our part at all, it is what we signed up for and trust me when I say there is a LONG line of qualified individuals waiting to step into any vacated position!

But whenever someone whines to me about how cushy my job is with this luxurious 10 day a month work schedule it bears truth to remind them of the pleasantries a 40 hour work week affords them personally. That’s right pal you get up in the morning after sleeping alongside that super special someone every night, grab some coffee, kiss the kids, pet the dog and head off to work. Then after putting in 8-10 hours at the old job, you can go home, or to the bar, or an adult league softball game, or bowling or to your kids school play or, or, or, or this could go on indefinite. Every night upon arriving home if you so choose its dinner with the family, spending time with other loved ones, working on that project in the garage, watching late night television and then going to sleep again next to that super special someone to do it all over. Wash, rinse, repeat. Pretty sweet right?

Here is my work week or 2.5 days that I work.

I get up in the morning, kiss my wife/kids goodbye and pray I see them in two days. I know this sounds overly dramatic but it is without a shadow of a doubt a truth you can only understand after dealing with the public and emergency responses over any period of time. There are so many things/close calls that have happened to me personally over the years I will never tell my wife about because if I did, even though she knows the job and understands, she would never let me walk out the door again. EVER!!!!

Arriving at work, I get a cup of coffee and go over the morning shift exchange between ongoing and off going members. This is followed by a shift meeting covering our agenda or expectations for the next two days. PT time is observed and then it is straight into morning chores which consist of station and equipment maintenance. The afternoon usually has training either in classroom, outside or online along with specialty projects and of course reports generated from emergency responses. Reports document the entire sum of all responses for city, and county wide statistics, insurance and homeowner or patient investigations. This sometimes goes into the early hours of the night depending on call volume or deadlines needing to be met. We have dinner as a group and head off into our own directions. Some take a little personal time as in read or study for the next phase in their career, while others may workout some more or as in my case write. Many take a deep breath and head nose deep back into station related work projects. Heading off to bed, hopefully to sleep (I know right? How awesome I get to freaking sleep on the job!), we wake up the next morning and do it all over again. After the required shift exchange we go home where the first day is usually kept open for clearing our heads while catching up on lost sleep. The second thru fourth day is trying our hardest to spend time with family and then in a blink it is back to work we go.

It all sounds easy right? Pretty darn cushy. Except for one thing. We handle emergency calls through it all. When the bell goes off we respond and we need to do so in under 2 minutes, no matter the time, day or night. That bell, that loud clanging bell knows no time limit or has a lick of sympathy because it is merely sounding an alarm to another’s tragedy. Tragedies also hold no time limit. They happen day or night, rain or shine, wind or calm. When it sounds we know no matter what kind of day we are having and regardless of how tired or worn down we may be it is our duty to respond to someone else’s worst day of their lives! Not only respond but always, and I mean always be on our A game! Plus we get the distinct and amazing pleasure of retaining every single horrible thing we have ever seen or done while performing that job! We carry it around like a suitcase full of horrors and that suitcase is always banging, shaking, live with action, gruesome action, reminding us constantly that we were there! What’s inside that suitcase wants to come out so badly and there are days it does and on those days it seeps into the presence of others it is always at the wrong time, the wrong moment leaving you drained while those around you are wondering what the fuck! Can you feel a bit of pressure there?

So let me break this down, yeah, break it on down now!

What that means is during my supposedly cushy ten days a month, I work, train, eat, run calls, fight the eternal, emotional nightmares, and oh if I’m lucky and it’s a good shift, I may get 5 full hours of sleep.

Yeah good times.

So let’s talk a little more about the mental aspect now that we have covered the basics of ten days a month.

When I started the chief told our graduating class: Cadets, you are going to see some things out there, some really horrible things.

Yep that was it.

We all laughed because we were larger than life, we had graduated, becoming probationary firefighters which meant we were now somehow invincible, indestructible and we’d fully bought into the bullshit associated with wearing a fire department shirt. Please understand I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all. The day I pulled that fire department job shirt over my head for the first time was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was a defining moment, an accumulation of hard work and drive, succeeding when others told me repeatedly I was too old to try or I would definitely fail. It also comes to note that I fully loved the career field I came from, but I always knew deep inside there was more, that I was supposed to do more, not for me, but for others. It gnawed at me day and night from the inside so when firefighting found me I knew it was what I needed to do.

It was difficult too for as I stated I had an established career, I owned a home and had a wife and child. To leave that security behind on the slimmest of chances one day I may get hired was a tough pill for my family to swallow. But they did, they trusted me and stood behind me all the way! All because I knew inside there was more. It’s why I get a little miffed when I see our shirts on non-fire personnel. It was the hardest garment to obtain because it meant you survived, you made it, and you wanted it that bad. You simply had to earn it.

I digress

We laughed, thought there was nothing we couldn’t handle and for a while it was surreal. Looking at your first dead person is overwhelming to say the least. Now throw in a side of body deformation, evulsion, amputation, violent drug overdose, murder, self-inflicted suicide by any means. Heck let’s play the old adage of children are the hardest. To me children are indeed the hardest, but it’s not because they are dead. Nope death is an end, they don’t know it or feel it, and the ones who suffer are those left behind. It sucks for someone so young because they never had a chance at life and that is a sad depressing thought, but for me children suck and stay with you forever when they are the living.

Mom has an overdose for the third or fourth time and said child walks in to witness us performing CPR to no avail. 5 year old in the back seat screaming for mommy who is clearly nothing more than a blood smear across the entire front seat, never coming back, never able to hold her child again. Son comes home from school to find dad slumped over the corner of the bed with half his head gone from self-inflicted shotgun blast, bits of skull and dura matter cover the wall and ceiling like bloody popcorn. We arrive to an insane scene filled with screaming and hysterics, mommy or daddy aren’t coming back and a child’s psyche is destroyed for life. Yeah the living children always get me. It’s the father in me, I want so badly to take them home, hug them, help them anyway I can and it is always without fail a very quiet engine ride back to the station.

But wait there is more…

There is no place in this damn town I can go without seeing ghosts. Every place, even some of my absolute favorites have ghosts standing around, looking at me, and asking me why?

Why couldn’t we do anything or how did this happen? They tower like billboards flashing a message that blinds me, leaves me seeing only white as repeatedly I flash back to a moment, that second in time where we either tried like hell or made base contact and called it as we saw it. D.O.A. Another father, son, mother, daughter, aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother etc.. gone way to soon.

A man overcome with fumes in a grain silo that no one could get too. Another steps in front of a train and faces it with a hardened resolve, we picked up pieces for what felt like hours. A car full of teenagers, flipping over in the night, their burned bodies found when the fog lifted in the morning. The smell of burned flesh, young, old, that smell, it doesn’t discriminate and it never goes away. We pulled those kids out for the coroner, one piece at a time, one badly burned smelling piece at a time. A teenager hung in the garage, with obvious signs he changed his mind to no avail, he was a victim of love gone wrong. Another teenager who shot themselves because that person was tired of being bullied, thinking a bullet was better than another day at the hands of his tormentors. A former law enforcement officer kills himself in front of us as we turn the corner because he couldn’t stand the pain any longer. I can never erase the image of red spray exiting the top of his head. Domestic abuse where a patient is terrified to have you help them simply because of your gender or look. Where it is all you can do to remain professional as anger seethes deep below the surface while you bandage up the knuckles of one’s attacker. CPR attempts, oh lord the CPR attempts, so many, more than I can count, and to be honest there have been so many that I can’t even put a win to loss ratio on them anymore and yes we do take it quite personally when we lose!

These are merely a few, a tidbit, the smallest of snippets regarding calls I have been associated with over the years. Many so very graphic and disturbing. We as firefighters get the distinct pleasure of bearing witness to the most horrendous acts one person can inflict upon another or themselves.

I think back to what the chief told us, what I stated above: You are going to see some things out there, some really horrible things.

He was right and in his defense it was a very different time. We firefighters were expected to be tough, to hold it inside, you were laughed at if a call bugged or bothered you in any way. We used and still do use dark humor to quell the inner beast at times, getting us through a shift. Firefighters don’t cry, they are supposed to be strong, and brave. We are the hero’s so we must act like it. Yet we never claim to be heroes and I personally cannot stand anyone within the service who acts as though they are, for we are just people. People who do a job for which we are well trained. We have a need to help and combined with education and overwhelming compassion that is why we do what we do. But hero? No

The ghosts are real. They are fucking real and they never go away. We keep them from our families and our children but they to pay the price.

Some days I just want to be left alone, I don’t want to talk and I’m a prick no matter how hard I try to keep it together. I am lucky, as I stated earlier my wife understands, but that is because she was once a firefighter so she knows the schedule, knows the struggles we go through and understands when I need to be left to my own devices. But that doesn’t make it right.

My children can’t do anything without me seeing the dangers! I am constantly all over them for whatever they do like an insane safety cop trying my hardest to keep them out of harm’s way. When either of my boys pulls out of the driveway I am constantly on guard, worrying the call will come that one of them has been killed in an accident. At the station when I finally get to lay my head down for a bit I pray they are all safe at home, yet images of horrific accidents or fire rolls through my head and instantly transposed upon my family. I close my eyes tightly and fight the mental demons knowing (irrationally) that one day the tones will roll and my address with be on the tip of the dispatchers tongue.

Speaking of addresses, there is no count to how many times the dispatched address is a person or family within my personal circle. Working in the town for which you reside and your children participate brings with it another responsibility, another personal struggle when things go south. When things go well, the pats on the back are extra special, but when things go south the stares are twice as painful. If you perish on my shift either before we arrive or in front of me, it is a tough to pill to swallow when I don’t know you. Your ghost lingers and wonders why. But if you are a member of my extended family, close friends, or even well-known acquaintances then it’s even harder. Looking into the eyes of your surviving family members is so hard, there are no words to say, your ghost is much harder to deal with and every time we (surviving family) cross paths the pain is all to real. You wear it like a badge of failure.

The fire service has determined PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a real thing. Thank goodness, because we are losing way too many members to the mental struggles that resides within us all. In this writing I have only touched on a small portion of what rolls around inside my head on a daily basis and I know I am not alone. There is so much more and one day I will talk about it all. One day I hope to purge all the ghosts, at the very least erase the faces. I know deep inside this won’t come until I retire as every shift has a new face attached. They say time heals all wounds, but these wounds never heal. They are covered in scabs, scabs that we keep picking at because we just can’t or in some cases won’t let them heal. We need to see them, feel them and remind ourselves they are there for some fucked up, unknown reason. I’d like to think it is our humanity reminding us its ok to feel. But after a while you just don’t wasn’t to feel anything anymore.

The best we can do is recognize the problem, show it to the world and find help for those who need it desperately. They are out there, and they need compassion and understanding for the weight carried upon their backs. Weight that feels as though it is driving them to their knees.

I have 6 years left to go.

6 years of only 10 days a month.

Pretty cushy gig huh?

8 Heads in a duffle bag..

Although my fingers have been fairly quiet as of late my brain has not. There is this strange struggle that goes on inside my head on a daily basis. It is as though two entities are fighting for the right to think and during that struggle neither seem to be able to act accordingly.

For the most part I have spent this entire process of dealing with the arduous task of caring for a Leukemia survivor, GvHD patient with positivity and faith. Struggling with the highs and lows, while finding strength and solace in my abilities as a caregiver with an upbeat attitude has helped immensely. Jacy and I have been so blessed to meet many of the people we have spoken with through the long reaching tentacles of the internet. Knowing that simply by sharing the human condition you have helped another is humbling to say the least.

But what do you do when you’ve reached what feels like the end?

Now I know deep inside, and I mean right now really deep inside, I fully understand it is not the end, that I not only want, but need to continue being open and honest. But I am struggling. Badly. It is why the argument inside my head continues on, it is why no matter how hard I try my fingers just can’t seem to find the keyboard, creating words that are meaningful to others while allowing me an avenue to vent, love and share with solicitude.

Constantly I stare into the screen and wonder what it is that is hindering my thought process, why do I feel as though I am constantly drowning and the only relief on the horizon is a shadowed man throwing paper life preservers?

To say it’s all too much that life is more than a person can handle has and always will be a cop out to me. I have been to other parts of the world, stepping from within the spoiled confines this country and my own personal bubble for which I reside affords us all. Witnessing true abuse of the human condition, desperate pleas from those who reside in squalor, with no more than two pennies a pair of shorts and no food to their name. Governed by those who care not about their people’s physical health and financial wealth but furthering personal gain. So I know, there is more inside me, more to give to my family, my community, my friends and my life. I know because I have seen true struggle and what I am facing inside is a mere droplet inside a rain storm.

Yet, struggling I am.

I used to go to work and hide my pain. It is a great place to hide ones inner demons as any day surrounded by good, like-minded people can bring about a recharge of the inner soul. One purpose, one goal, be there for the community and its citizens, save a life, save property from the destruction of fire, or help someone simply change their smoke detector batteries. The privilege of caring for one’s community on a daily basis is amazing. Spending 48 hours winding through the autonomous machine of daily chores while finding comfort in the twisted humor of your co-workers is electric! Starting a new guy down the right path while helping to refresh the volumes of knowledge 23 years has stored inside your head brings renewed life.

Instead as of late I’m feeling like a cornered parole, unable to do anything correctly while nervously twitching at the thought of going back inside. Working for a city (management) that no longer appreciates the enormous amount of effort we place with so very little in return. Refusing to acknowledge our continued attempts to assist not only them but the public to the best of our abilities while suppressing our very innate need to always help. It is demoralizing to say the least when you feel a department many have worked so hard to bring to the forefront is slowly slipping backwards and there is nothing you can do but shake your head and watch.

Coming home has always been the respite from the atrocities seen at work. A safe haven if you will where one can leave their heavy gruesome baggage at the door. But it seems I can no longer walk up, drop the bag and not worry about it for a few days.

It’s like 8 heads in a duffle bag (movie reference), you know at one point you held the bag but now it’s gone missing and no one needs to see what’s inside. So what do you do?

You panic.

Therefor in a constant state of panic I am! Oh I may look cool on the outside (or really angry and moody as has been brought to my attention) but inside a constant state of disarray exists! No longer am I able to complete a single task as my life spins out of control. Raising these kids mostly on my own, caring for my wife using the same skills acquired over many years at work, the line begins to blur between work and home. With that blur the demon heads are no longer at rest inside that bag on the porch. They come out at all times of the day or night. Some days they bark at my inner walls, clawing and screaming so loud I cannot turn them away and so, I bark back. For those who know me, who know me well, when I turn on something I do it in grand style. It is never pretty, it is mean spirited and hurtful. It is shameful to say the least. Then the bag disappears and more panic sets in as I must find it and keep it from anyone else. It can never be seen! EVER!

So here I am, still left wondering.

What is in store for our family? What is in store for their lives? How am I supposed to protect them from the boogeyman, that hidden danger or beast waiting just outside the door? What lays ahead for my life and how am I ever supposed to keep moving forward? I mean, I am moving forward aren’t I? I wake up every day and put my feet on the floor, pull up my big boy pants and move through the day just like everyone else. But where is the break? Where is the respite we have been told is coming? When does my wife get a break from her constant inner struggles which are also mine? When does she no longer feel pain? When does her body become strong again and she no longer needs to live on a regiment of medications that leave her weak and sick? When do we see the pot at the end of the rainbow? Hell I would even be happy to just see the fucking rainbow!! Why has my life been hit so hard, and why does it continue to get hit time and again? What the fuck did I do to deserve this and if it’s a Karma thing and it’s me, why is my family paying the price, over and over and fucking over again!! Can we please get a break? Can we please just have our lives back????

I am angry, angry as hell and I feel as though I can no longer hide it! People tell me I need to take time for me, hell I tell others to never lose who they are and work hard at taking time for themselves to keep that spirit alive! But lately taking time for me feels like being trapped in a buildings revolving door and I can’t get out! Spinning so fast I can only feel a moment of either freedom or pain, never able to fully step from within the confines of the door to one side or the other.

I worry so much about my children and all they have been through, I am in constant worry for my family and all they feel as we still make our way slowly down this forsaken path of a leukemia nightmare. I worry for our ranch and this life we built as I find struggles in maintaining its future for our family. I worry for my job as my passion has waned through this continued personal battle. I worry for myself as I push it all down deeper inside.

Please don’t tell me God doesn’t give me anything I cannot handle. That is a twisting of the actual verse Corinthians 10:13 referencing sin, and sinful choices. That although sin is irresistible, the lord will always give us an escape from such temptation.

So what is the end game? There has to be an end game right?

Is the end game hidden within 2 Corinthians 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

If that’s the case then my wife is saint!!

But the question remains, why must our family continue to struggle? Haven’t we all had enough?

Why do I lay my head down at night and have mild panic attacks because my insides feel tormented. My mind never shuts down and I feel as though the other shoe has yet to fall. Why must I live in this constant fear? I don’t want the other shoe to fall, it cannot fall!

“Deep breath”

Thanks for taking a moment to read this and witness me losing my mind.

I have stored that up for a long time now. I just needed to get it all out. I know the answers will come when they come and there is nothing I can do about it. I know there are others who feel the very same way I do, and I hope if you are reading this you know its ok.

It’s ok to ask why, its ok to feel inadequate, its ok to feel as though you may be failing, It’s ok to struggle and its even ok to carry the extra load.

You know what’s not ok?

Keeping 8 heads in a duffle bag on your porch.

Yeah that’s never ok…..

You can never forget you!

Today I went fishing.

There are three things in this world that I love participating in more than anything else.

  1. Riding/working horses
  2. Fishing
  3. Riding a motorcycle (any motorcycle)

Peaceful water cracking against the hull, birds of every variety flying overhead, some even landing near our boat. Seals breaking the surface to say hello and cattle off in the distance grazing quietly. Sitting silently with two lines in the water my eyes dart back and forth between the fish finder as I monitor the water temperature and the picturesque surroundings on what had to be one of the most perfect mild temperature, no wind kind of days. The only thing that would have made it even better? A bigger boat so I could duck inside and take a nap! Ha!!! Old guy perfection right there baby!!!

So why is this so important and why would you the reader care?

The other day while speaking to someone the topic arose as it usually does in regards to personal, family oriented, doctor/cancer related struggles that life had become unmanageable. We all have struggles in our lives, some more serious than others and even that severity can be tempered through one’s own personal perception.

We commiserated over many of the same issues in regards to holding things together when all seems lost or hopelessness abounds and as I switched from a willing partner in the gripe arena to sound listener I could not help but forward some very sage advice after asking if any advice offered would be received. (I mean I DO have a little experience in this arena) Thankfully the answer was yes.

I reminded this person that as life is crashing around and people are no longer meeting your expectations you may need a break. As the hill gets harder to climb and you find yourself crying more than laughing your brain is saying enough. When the only thing you care about is the immediate and everything else can just go to hell it is time for an intervention. So what must this person do to quench the fires as it were? You must remember exactly who you are, don’t ever forget WHO YOU ARE! It is time for you to do something for you!

Take time to find that one thing (or three) that reminds you that you are you! I guarantee that stress combined with an overachiever mentality and over time you will forget who you are! Overwhelmed by the many tasks that lay before you on a daily basis you eventually end up putting little old tired you in the closet while hiding behind this public persona superhero cape! It really beats you up no matter what, but if you’re the type that’s not a quitter in any way, shape or form the weight upon you is enormous! So do what you have to do, but find that thing that makes you, you!

You were somebody before you got married! You were hopefully somebody you even liked and enjoyed hanging out with before life came crashing down! I know in the beginning you are going to feel guilty, but tough shit!!! In time that guilt fades, you begin to balance back out and when the world is spinning out of control you have the fortitude to handle it!

For me it was an accidental stop at a local eatery in town for breakfast on one of those “spinning out of control” days. I felt guilty walking through the door, I felt guilty spending money on myself for breakfast, I felt guilty because I needed to leave for Stanford, and after I sat down, alone, I felt guilty that my wife wasn’t with me, and that I was eating out without her!

But you know what else happened?

I felt better after the first cup of coffee that I didn’t have to make. The waitress was kind and could see I needed to be alone. I turned off my phone and watched the news in the bar next to my booth. I ordered what I wanted (yeah cholesterol be damned) and ate it slowly, with a smile. It was 40 minutes out of what turned into a nightmarishly insane day and it was worth all 2,400 seconds. I walked out, sat in my car and realized I had forgotten who I was.

After that day I made a point to remember to ride a horse, go fishing with or without kids, and ride a motorcycle.

You see without knowing who I was, how on earth could I be anything to anyone else? I could try, but instead of success I was merely adding more to an overflowing plate. If I spend time at any one of those three things, from a few hours to a day or two, there is nothing I cannot handle when I come back. I know who I am, my feet are firmly on the ground and I have said; its ok to give myself a timeout now let’s tackle the world.

So today a fishing trip turned into a recollection which turned into a blog post which turned into me being able to put my head down tonight, get a good night’s sleep so that tomorrow I can wake up, smile, put my feet on the floor and tell the world it’s ok, you can throw what you want at me again.

I’m ready.

On a side note, you don’t have to be struggling mentally, physically or living through some personal hell to remember to take care of yourself. Life is hard, and for some reason we make it harder for ourselves by forgetting the only person who can help us navigate our very short time on this earth.

That person is you! Make the change, then when the hard times do come you are miles ahead of where I was in November of 2013 when our world came crashing down.

~Betty~

An Incredible Journey

I am on an incredible journey and I don’t know why.

Why was I chosen to walk this path filled with so many unexpected surprises? Why do I struggle with the same challenges day after day, feeling as if there is no reprieve? Why I am even allowed a new morning when others for who I look up to, revere or admire are facing their last days or have simply vanished, passing from their earthly constraints.

Every day I awaken, place my feet firmly upon the floor and stand up. I then make a conscious decision. Do I carry on, or give up? Do I meet the day’s challenges or pull the sheets over my head and cry foul? Do I continue to regress emotionally or do I say fuck this, square up my shoulders then throw a middle finger towards an overwhelming temptation to just quit?

Lately it has definitely been the latter. I’ve been putting on a good face while struggling to get out of bed then smiling the smile, telling the same old jokes, letting the actions or words of some bring me down and basically feeling as though I should be giving up. I am not happy, not happy in one little bit.

The darkness has crept in and I haven’t seen any light for quite some time. Between the duties of caregiver to my wife, caregiver to the public and struggling to remain a vigilant father while my children struggle with their own feelings for which they have no knowledge or control over in regards to our current situation. I have slowly faded away. Not all at once, but little bits at a time.

It feels like constant darkness in my head, every moment of every day and there has been nothing I can do about it.

So you begin to ask; if there is so much darkness why do you proclaim this an incredible journey?

Because like it or not, hate it or love it, detest its existence or clamor for more, it is an incredible journey!

As human beings it is our job to grow and share. It is not a right, you are not rightfully given another day on this earth. You have no right to prosperity and wealth, you have no right to a job, a house, a marriage, a life of any kind. You have to earn it!! Then grow and share through the process!

That’s right, I know this may come as a shocker to some, but your life is earned. What you have accomplished by the time your final day comes (and it comes for us all) is 100% purely up to you!

My grandmother came to me in a dream last night. (Don’t get all; holy shit he’s gone off the deep end) Although I know dreams are a conglomeration of memories, subconscious thoughts, neural transmissions and blah, blah, blah. It was exactly what I needed at just the right time.

My grandmother on my mother’s side was a very interesting woman. She graduated from Stanford during a time when women were considered less than men. She dated a few notable individuals of the time. She made her own way through life when in her forties her husband, my grandfather died of a heart attack. She had a very successful career in finance when women were considered nothing more than secretaries and used her skills to set an example. She traveled the world going where she wanted when she wanted with nothing holding her back!

As a child I vaguely remember her stories about life, travel and the many lessons she put before me. Whenever we visited she used buttons to teach us about money, plants in her greenhouse to teach us about life, books to teach us about literature and conversation to teach us about the human equation. I woke up this morning wishing I was 8 again so I could hug her and listen more intently.

She wrote a book about her life. I have it on a shelf. I have read twice and when I awoke this morning it dawned on me that I may need to read it again. I need that emotional connection, to relearn what it means to be me, throwing caution to the wind, standing up for and protecting my ethics, beliefs and way of life no matter what anyone else says because my life is mine. To help stay on track, for in my heart I still believe that we all learn from one another’s triumphs and mistakes. During this crazy time where our socializations seems to only focus on a small device that spews nothing more than negativity an hate tearing the very fabric of this country. Maybe one small voice, writing about his struggles in an obscure seldom read blog could remind us there is a positive, no matter the circumstances and that choice would mine to make. No one could take it away.

My current situation has a myriad of balls all up in the air, a juggler’s nightmare as gravity brings them towards me at a dizzying pace! It constantly comes up in conversation when people say; I don’t know how you do it, in regards to the struggle associated with raising four children, working as a firefighter while caring for my wife with stage four Graf vs Host disease. Watching as she withers away, gets strong then withers away again. Is frustrated with the fact she is going blind yet bravely and with great fortitude works her way through daily activities for which she refuses to give up on. She is strong, brave and amazing.

It (the how do you do it comment) is a simple enough statement, it is never meant with any disingenuous undertone, and my response is usually almost always; it is what it is. I say that as to not offend anyone or hurt their feelings. But my real thought is; how could I not! This is my life, my family, my wife, what the hell else am I supposed to do?

I realize we live in a decaying society where it is easier to point a finger, post it on Facebook, complain publicly, give up and run away than it is to stay behind and fight for the ones you love! Fight for the life and family you have created! To me that is a sad moniker of what our lives in this country have boiled down too. If the going gets tough-make a spectacle then QUIT!

There are those that wonder why I write so openly about my personal life and if it affects anyone close to me.

Yes it does affect those close to me, but I have always felt deep inside it was my obligation to share everything. Why? Because I have yet to see one writing that adequately covers or assists the multitude of struggles and emotions I am feeling. Everything ever written in regards to being the spouse of a Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant survivor is generic! Nothing even remotely touches the many facets of life this horrible disease along with recovery post-transplant throws in your face. It is all glossed over as to not scare you. Well guess fucking what? Life is a scary thing, now throw in all the new challenges associated with a wife whose body is trying to kill her and well you better sack up and learn from someone who has walked the path! Stay firmly away from those who wallow in a dream world where after treatment life just carries on as if nothing ever happened!!! Which is where I think I come in, for those who want the truth and seek it through my writings.

So then I wonder do people think my attitude comes naturally. My ability to cope? To understand and carry on?

Because it takes work, patience and the ability to listen, not pass judgement when you can and keep an open mind. It takes and incredible amount of faith and that faith is tested, over and over and over again! This journey I am on reinforces all those things on a daily basis!

So then my mind digs deeper into that simple question of “how do I do it” and I wonder some more. Do people believe that being a firefighter comes naturally? That we are all born with some obscure kryptonite type gene that predisposes us to the atrocities of the human condition? You see, firefighting, that is the easy part! It always has been and always will be. You still need to understand basic chemistry and have a few years’ experience using those skills to know exactly when and where placing the right amount of water at the right time will put out the fire while saving lives and property. This professions education is real, the long hours studying and keeping those skills are mind numbing. As a firefighter you need to become proficient at a little bit of everything. Building construction, demolition expert, code compliance, hazardous materials, chemist, investigator, auto mechanic, auto technician, computer genius, locksmith, heating and air technician, heavy equipment operator, financial advisor, ER doctor, supervisor, pastor, councilor and truck driver. If you added up the salaries of all those things each member would be worth over a million a year and we can go into the private section with our degrees and make three times what we struggle to earn in our jobs, but that’s not why we do it. It is an overwhelming need to help people. But as if that load of constant learning wasn’t enough, and as I said, fighting fires using all that education is in fact the easy part, you know what the real struggle is? The thing that keeps us up at night, the thing that not one mother fucker prepares you for that haunts your very soul when you lay your head down on that pillow?

It is the endless onslaught of death that we must deal with on a regular basis. Dancing in our heads like ghosts from Christmas past. Dealing with them any way we can, through counseling, good friends and time away from the big green fire engines. It is also coming back the station and reading in the local paper that our city council doesn’t support us in the least. Or we are attacked by the public because we go as an engine company to the store to purchase our supplies which we pay for from our own pockets or that our retirement is some magical golden egg that is draining the state’s coffers when we pay an ungodly amount of money per month out of our own pockets to fund it. Its understanding and coming to terms with the fact we are not funded in social security therefore we only receive from social security what we put in prior to joining the fire department. But hey none of that matters as we lay our heads down at night, trying to erase all those horrible images while also knowing we are unsupported you know why? Because most of us won’t live past 60! It is a statistical fact we will all contract some form of cancer from all the chemicals and carcinogens we have absorbed or inhaled throughout the years! But no worries we’ll just keep pushing it all down deep inside so it doesn’t show when we get home! That way our families and spouses won’t see or feel our pain, so they can have that great husband or father home for few days all happy and cheery like normal families!! Right? Right?

Why do we do it? Why do we keep coming back for more? Because we wish nothing more than to make that one save, that one moment in life where a positive impact on another human beings life has been made. So despite being treated like shit by our public officials, living with our deepest emotions, we can rest easy knowing another is alive, enjoying their family because of the sacrifices we willingly made. Fulfilling our own prophecy through hard work and dedication. Bringing life full circle.

This journey has allowed me to witness my wife fight for her life while I hold her hand, struggle as she struggles and rejoice as she rejoices. We don’t always agree on the topic of rejoicing but through this journey I have learned the importance of shutting my mouth while allowing my spouse to find the joy she needs over little accomplishments. I have learned to keep my mouth shut as she sheds tears, relinquishing my need to fix things. For there is nothing I can fix and only a shoulder to cry upon or an ear to yell into is needed at that moment in time. I have found understanding I never knew I had as unwarranted venom flows from her mouth one minute and angel’s wings sprout lifting her high over her pain another. I hug her when she needs to be hugged and leave her be when she wants nothing more than her headphones and a television show she has seen 100 times so she can listen to it as her eyes will no longer allow her to watch.

This journey has taken a toll on my life and although as of late I have been angry over its direction, angry at the life we now lead, angry at myself for being so very fucking angry inside!! ALL THE DAMN TIME!! It is still my journey, I am writing (quite literally) my own story. It is up to me how it ends.

At the end of the day, when my time has come, I want my children to look back and not remember the struggle. But remember their father handled it all, with strength, grace, positivity, faith and a plan. Ok let’s face it a few good old fashioned Irish/Italian hot headed fuck you fest temper tantrums as well. Then I want them to be able to go to a bookshelf, pull out a well written book, open the pages and read the story of my life, their lives, and the lives of those who loved them unconditionally. I want them to ride along in this journey page by page and remember the way I remember my grandmother.

Does labeling this shit storm we live in a fantastic journey mean I will become more positive? No, it means I know who I am and what I need to do.

Will my mood cease to be down and at times dark? No, I am human and with that naturally comes forms of negativity. It is life.

The blog has been dark as of late because I have been struggling with so many emotions tearing me up inside. I am sorry I haven’t been able to share for those who reach out to me on a regular basis. Time to light it up again, hit that keyboards and continue along with this fantastic journey.

God help me…