When the instructor yelled these words it meant we had 2 minutes to get from the classroom over to the fire bay, in our gear and breathing from our air tanks.
If you didn’t make it, you would be punished with push ups or burpees while wearing your gear in the 110 degree sun.
I usually made it, but not always.
This was good for me. I needed a lesson in humility, and I needed it badly.
See, I had a world of respect for the majority of our instructors. For the most part they were hard working bad asses who wanted nothing more than to help us and force us to grow.
I didn’t have that same respect for all of our instructors though. A couple of them couldn’t do the things they asked us to do, they seemed to be power tripping and enjoying their ability to make us jump on command.
At least that’s how I saw it.
When these instructors would have us do burpees in 50 lbs of gear, I resented them.
“He couldn’t even do this.” I thought.
Boy, did I need this.
See, at that point in time, he was my superior, and I had always had an issue with authority if I didn’t have the utmost respect for them.
This was evident in any job I worked. This experience taught me to accept what is and just get the job done. Put my pride aside and do what I need to do for the good of the team, or unit.
Fire school was chalk full of lessons like this.
Through rigid discipline, hard work and ass kicking drills, I changed a lot during fire school.
One of my favorite lessons I learned was to move with a purpose.
To move with a purpose means that every move you make has conviction, speed and reason behind it.
You walk with a purpose, unpack hose with a purpose, and climb stairs with a purpose.
It doesn’t matter how tired you get, how you feel, how hot it is, or any other reason you come up with for dragging your butt.
You move with a purpose, or you face the consequence. The consequence usually being more push ups or more burpees.
Outside fire school, out on the town of College Station, Texas, I learned a totally different set of lessons.
One of them being that I still used alcohol as a way of escaping my thoughts, and taking a break from reality.
F and I were on a first name basis with the staff at the liquor store.
Since alcohol is half the price in Texas when compared to Canada, we opted for a 60 oz jug of Grey Goose Vodka every weekend.
Eventually the store gave us a set of Grey Goose Glasses and stir sticks for free. I thought it was awesome. Looking back I see that it was a red flag.
We would take our big bottle to the public pool every Friday afternoon and meet about half the guys from our class.
Despite the fact I was drinking entirely too much, these were some of the best times of my life. While the copious amounts of alcohol help, the comradery is really what made this feel so amazing.
It was me, 20 friends that I don’t talk to anymore and anyone else who decided to join our party drinking vodka, smoking cigars and eating BBQ.
I couldn’t imagine life being any better than that.
While I was making massive strides in my evolution through the rigors of fire academy, I was still a mental and emotional mess.
On top of using alcohol to escape reality, and partying as an excuse to never be alone with my thoughts, I was also still very insecure.
When a man is insecure, he seeks validation else where.
While I was in a relationship with someone back home, albeit a rocky one, I was still soaking up as much attention from females as I could.
My girlfriend was a great girl, but I knew we weren’t going to make it. That doesn’t give me an excuse to be a piece of shit, but I decided to be anyway.
Aside from crashing my car, this behavior is among my most shameful. Mainly because it’s rooted in such insecurity and weakness, and affects other people so negatively.
After drinking about 40 oz of vodka at the pool, about half of us would hit the bars where I would continue to drink my new favorite drink, volda/ cranberry/ redbull.
This is also where I would seek to have my basic need for validation met in the form of attention from girls.
My objective was to get phone numbers, get attention, and generally make people like me.
Now, I know I’m painting this experience in a really bad light. That’s because my actions were rooted in a dark place. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is still the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
While that’s an emotional place I never want to go back to, the amount of fun you can have with a bottle of liquor and a gang of like minded guys is undeniable.
Deep down I was aware of my reasons for my behavior. I refused to acknowledge it, and that’s dangerous. However, the paint was starting to crack and I began to question if this is really what I’m about.
While I was growing and evolving professionally through the hard lessons of fire school, I was becoming receptive to emotional growth as well.
When I take a step back and look at how my life has unfolded so far, it’s beyond question that something is working, and working mysteriously.
As fate would have it, my need for validation would lead to one of the most pivotal and life changing moments of my life.
F and I couldn’t get into any bars that night. He was wearing a basketball jersey and sandals, which were against dress code in even the most laid back college bars.
As we walked up and down the bar district deciding what to do, we walked past a pair of girls sitting at a picnic table and drinking water.
We kept walking. F suggested we just go home. I didn’t want to, so I suggested we take one more walk down the street. I had a plan that F didn’t know about yet.
As we approached the picnic table, without warning to anyone, I sat down across from the two girls.
“ Hey, I’m Mitch….”
To Be Continued...
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