Dear lost firefighter friends,
Of course you haven't really vanished. You're out there somewhere, living your life. It's just that I've lost you.
I met you in many different places. On a crew, where we used to run together on routes we gave silly names to make it seem more fun. On a fire assignment, where we were paired up to work with a helicopter with starter generator problems. At a helispot for a fire lookout project.
We might have eaten lunch together. I gave you my extra sandwich and you handed over your Snickers bar. We talked about books, or politics, or how red the sunset was that night. One woman was named after a star, and she told me the story about it as we both brushed our long hair, sitting up in our sleeping bags. A man talked with me about climbing Mt. Everest while we waited for our helicopters to return to an airstrip in Alaska. A group of us on a fire assignment drove a truck we named Barney, which soon became Club Barney when we found techno dance music on the radio. I ran through fire with some of you. I liked some of you a lot. I even loved one or two of you.
I thought we would know each other forever. But now I don't even remember some of your names. If a few of you passed me on the street, we'd probably keep on walking. There have been so many years, so many fires. The addresses and phone numbers we exchanged have long ago passed to others. After all, this is a gypsy kind of life and we are a vagabond tribe, crossing the map in search of the next fire, the next season.
Sometimes I'm surprised, like on a fire in Minnesota this year where a man standing next to me at morning briefing greeted me enthusiastically. "Hi! We were on a helicopter together in Taos twelve years ago!" he exclaimed. And there are a few fellow wanderers who have kept in touch no matter where they end up. My pilot friend BB who I haven't seen in 10 years resurfaces out of the blue every so often with a phone call. I'm an honorary auntie to my sweet friend L's kids, even though we haven't lived in the same town in a decade. Something other than fire binds us together.
As for the rest of you, I still think of you walking the fireline towards me. That long ago fire still burns. The smoke parts just enough for me to recognize you, and we both smile a little as we pass. Hello, my fire friend. It's been a long time. I miss you.