Sunday, November 4, 2012

What they didn't tell me...

I like being married to my husband for a myriad of reasons and of course there is plenty I can and do complain about, but this past week I really found myself with a bone to pick about what no one told me when I married a firefighter (at the time he was technically a "fireman" in his department, but since our marriage the department has thankfully done away with at least one piece of sexist language, much to my husband's chagrin). 

The things I like about this firefighter thing range from he stays in shape because he has to/ gets to workout while on duty, he's gone for days at a time so I have plenty of alone time, the money isn't bad, his co-workers are fun in tons of ways, and we get to spend a ton of quality time together because he can trade shifts and be off when I'm on breaks. Those parts are AWESOME, and that's just a little bit of the awesomeness involved with my husband's job. 

And, when we got married almost seven years ago, after dating for six years, lots of people told me lots of things to help prepare me for living with a firefighter. My mother-in-law (also married to a fire fighter) was helpful in pointing out ways to communicate about finances that have worked for she and my father-in-law. 

Significant others at the station (hardly anyone else was married at the time) commiserated about how tired those guys are when they arrive home and how driven they are to take part in extracurricular activities (and for purposes of clarification and relative full-disclosure I'm talking about activities that range from the bedroom, to the desert, to the river, to other countries, etc.) 

Family members also warned me of how firefighters tend to deal with the things they see by forming close relationships with their co-workers and making dark jokes. 

And yet, I was totally unprepared for a few important and specific aspects of being "on the job". 

Nobody told me that over time my husband would form almost familial relationships with people who partake in what I find to be unsavory (to put it lightly) activities... and I would have a choice to either turn a blind eye, or cause major drama for myself and others.

Nobody told me that my husband would be expected to keep certain matters to himself (i.e. not tell me). We've never told each other about every single thing that happens every single day, but I rarely realize how few details I typically hear about my husband's work day until I visit or sit around a campfire listening to all of the guys discuss work stories. 

These two we have been dealing with now for a number of years, so I have come to terms with most of it and we can work with/around the issues that arise with those expectations. 

Most recently, I have been trying to wrap my head around the notion of the gore my husband and his co-workers are subjected to on a sometimes daily basis while on duty. My husband works at a busy station (one of the busiest) and more than once he has ended up on the local news (which I no longer watch unless he's because of that factor). He has seen three people (on two different occasions) dragged under vehicles for multiple city blocks. He has seen a woman wandering the streets aimlessly after delivering her own child (and only the child). He has seen bodies dead for days, bloated, rotting. He has retrieved a body from a bath house hot tub, he has yelled at a teenaged, overdosed, heroin addict for wasting his life, he's been spit on, he's been charged at, he has seen countless humans at their absolute worst --and he has it easier than a lot of other first responders. 

But, nobody told me that stuff was going to happen. The most I heard was sleeping at the station is not like sleeping at home-- guess what, that was wrong too, he rarely has a full night's sleep. 

And now, we have a beautiful little girl that he comes home to on so many days and he's kind and gentle with her, and he's always happy to see us both. But, I keep on asking myself when all of this shit he sees is going to be too much-- I'd ask him, but that's not one of those things we are "supposed to" discuss regularly, so my timing must be calculated. 

The last time we spoke about it, we both questioned the similarity of what he sees versus what a soldier experiences while at war. Thankfully, we found a grim difference: soldiers have the displeasure of also doing some of the killing; but I believe a similar dehumanization of victims/enemies/patients occurs amongst these first responders and soldiers because if one were to empathize with every each individual, wouldn't that ultimately break any person? Or, does a breakage ultimately occur amongst one's closest relationships because everything is so fucked up?