Letter to a Fireman’s Wife
By Brian Panowich
Before telling stories for a living paid my bills, I was a firefighter for nearly a decade. I can tell you without a doubt that despite the danger that accompanied that kind of work, that I absolutely loved it. I can also tell you exactly when that feeling changed.
It happened the day I met the girl. Not a girl, but the girl.
Up until I met my wife, I loved the 24hr-on/48hr-off schedule the firehouse offered. It was like waking up at the end of each shift to the start of a weekend. But it wasn’t the weekend. I’d get home just in time to kiss my wife goodbye as she left to pursue her own career. It got old—real quick. And the longer I was married, the more and more unbearable it became to be away from her and the family we’d started for twenty-four hours at a time—sometimes forty-eight depending on overtime. I missed birthdays, holidays, and all kinds of things I’d never get back. Then one day, underneath the full weight of it all, I wrote her a letter, on my phone no less, explaining just who she was to me—is to me still—and what exactly being away from her felt like now.
All these years later these words I typed on an iPhone sized keyboard are still just as relevant as they were the day I wrote them, so with Valentine’s Day being right around the corner, and my wedding anniversary coming up after that this March, I thought I’d give her that same letter properly—on paper—something to tear out, fold, and tuck away in one of the chapters of our life together. She deserves much more. But this is the best I can do.
Every third day I report to the firehouse to do what I do for my county with my brothers for 24 hours. I love this place. I love my county. I love my brothers. But if the truth be told, on every third day, THIS is what I really do…
I miss your face.
And your toes.
And your knees.
And whatever they call the other sides of your knees.
I miss your eyelashes and the way they fluttered against my shoulder the night before.
I miss your lips and the huff of warm breath I listened to this morning in between hitting the snooze button.
Just five more minutes. Please.
I miss your elbows, your hips, and that shallow space on your neck above your collarbone that could hold my attention for hours.
I miss your small hands and how they look so much smaller and softer when you hold them up against mine.
I miss your green eyes and the way they get greener as you grow tired, until by morning they practically glow.
I miss your deep belly laughs. Not the one you use in public, but the one that lets me know when you think something is ‘really’ funny. If I can get that sound out of you, I swear I stand a foot taller.
And those freckles...
My God, I love your freckles. They are my own private constellation. That light wash of sunspots across your shoulders is our future in code.
The Beatles wrote ‘Across The Universe’ about those freckles. I’m sure of it.
I miss you the most when we’re fussing, whether it’s important or trivial, because someday the firehouse alarm might go off and I may not make it home to you, and the thought of that makes everything we fuss about trivial—everything.
Because I need those freckles in my life.
I need you to lay your head on my chest at night, as badly as our son needs the hallway light on to sleep.
I need you to know that to me, you are the center of any crowded room.
That last line could have stopped at “I need you...” Because that really says it all.
I adore you.
And ‘adore’ is the perfect word.
It’s mean more than just ‘love’. Its definition includes ‘to respect’ and ‘to honor’.
So it’s fair to say that yes, I absolutely adore you.
And all of that—everything I just wrote—happens every third day before I even leave our driveway.
I’m a few hours into my shift now, and there’s work to be done. I’ll do it to best of my ability, but right this minute?
I mostly miss your face.
I’ll be home soon.
So have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and a happy Anniversary, too. But don’t worry, I don’t think for a second that this page lets me off the hook—chocolate, flowers, and dinner are to follow. I’m not completely crazy.