By Michael Morse
The cable guy was finishing up after having spent a few hours in my house. It’s tough not to figure things out about a person when you are on the inside. When I spend a few minutes in a person’s home, I could write a book about them. I’d have to make a lot of it up, but you get the idea. The cable guy must have seen enough to figure things out.
“You’re the guy that writes those books,” he said as he packed his tools up.
“Yeah, I am.” I’m not ashamed of my writing but not always willing to expose myself to people who may or may not appreciate what I do. After publishing my first book, I found out that not everybody was thrilled with it.
“How’s that going for you?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said, not sure where this was going. It was okay. I’m proud of the books and articles. I don’t say much in person, but give me a keyboard and it’s hard to shut me up. Turns out I have a lot to say. If somebody asks me in person about “the job,” I’ll tell them it’s the greatest job in the world. But get me alone with my thoughts and the truth comes out.
“My father was a firefighter,” he said, and turned toward the stairs.
“Only he never talked about the job.”
I could tell that this was a man who didn’t talk much. I never know what to expect when somebody finds out “I’m the guy who writes those books.” Not everybody is a big fan. There is a culture of secrecy on the job.
What happens at work stays at work.
I tried that. It wasn’t working. Maybe the job caused me to drink like a fool, maybe I’m genetically predisposed to alcoholism, I really don’t know. I do know that after ten years on the job I had to stop drinking or it would have killed me. So I did. After a few years of sobriety I started writing. I haven’t stopped. I haven’t had a drink either. I traded one obsession for another; one was killing me, the other helps me to live.
“What’s he doing now?” I asked. He stopped halfway up the stairs and turned toward me, looking me in the eye for the first time.
“Nothing. Had a heart attack; been dead ten years now.”
“Don’t be. He was fifty-three. Should have talked about it.”
He shook my hand, turned, and walked away. I’m not sure if it was his eyes tearing up or mine.
Maybe it was both.
Michael Morse, a Providence (RI) Fire Department member for 22 years, writes about his experiences as a firefighter on Engine Co. 2, 7, and 9 and Ladder Co. 7 and 4, as well as his time on Rescue Co. 1 as a lieutenant and Rescue Co. 5, where he is currently captain. He lives with his wife Cheryl seven minutes from his station, which, fortunately for him, is “worlds away.”