When you're a firefighter, as with any job that keeps you on the move and on the road, there are things you lose. Usually this happens when you aren't paying attention, gradually piece by piece until one day you wake up and realize that something precious is gone or has changed so much you don't recognize it. Things like relationships, if they aren't strong enough. Plans you once had, to travel, have kids, to climb Mt. Everest one day. Your young, resilient body: just ask someone who's been a hotshot or smokejumper for years. Something always hurts. They learn to live with it.
When I look back across the years I've fought fire, I see a trail of lost friends. It's mostly my doing; my incessant, restless urge to move on after a few years. If they are also firefighters, eventually we run across each other in a fire camp or on the line somewhere. We reminisce a little before walking on. Remember when we had to run through the fire, and the helicopter came just in time, we say, or, Whatever happened to G? She was so funny. But the ones who didn't fight fire, or who quit after a few seasons, were harder to hold on to. They went back to school, got real jobs, got married. Their lives seemed so different after awhile.
I haven't seen my friends J, D and M since May. It's now August and it's been a busy summer of fire and flight. It would have been easy to just go home; after all, I have to leave early for another fire in the morning. But they had been there for me during a difficult winter. So I put on a dress and drive over. My sweet friends give me cookies and wine and tell me stories about their summer adventures. "I'm happy now," I say. And I am. I've let too many things go, but not this: sitting with good friends in the soft summer twilight, laughing and talking. This, I need to keep.