The next day found Aaron nervously pacing the waiting room of the mental health clinic. What am I doing here? What if this shrink decides I’m too fucked up in the head to be a Firefighter? What will I do then? This is all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m about to lose Clark who was the best thing to ever happen to me. I can’t lose this too.
Aaron turned around and saw a petite woman standing in an open doorway. “That’s me, ma’am.” He replied respectfully, noticing the major’s insignia on the collar of her uniform.
“Please come with me.” She led him to a small office which, despite all the TV shows he’d seen, did not have a couch, just two comfortable-looking chairs with a small round table between them. The only thing consistent with his expectations was the box of Kleenex on the table. He looked around apprehensively, not knowing what he should do. “Please, have a seat, Sergeant. May I call you Aaron?”
“Yes, ma’am” He replied, swallowing nervously.
To Aaron’s surprise, instead of sitting behind her desk, she sat in the other chair opposite him with a steno pad. “Let me start out by saying that in this office, there is no rank. Please call me Andrea.”
“Yes ma’am…I mean Andrea.”
“Now, I understand that you are experiencing some difficulty in dealing with a recent aircraft fire in which one of the crew was killed. Am I correct?”
“Why don’t you tell me about it? Tell me about how you spent your day.”
“My entire day” Aaron asked apprehensively, remembering how he had woken up with Clark hard and inside him even though he was sound asleep. Naturally, Aaron being Aaron; took advantage of the situation and started out the morning by getting completely and thoroughly fucked by Clark after he woke him up and Clark realized the position they were in.
Noting the apprehension on his face, the therapist asked “what happened when you reported to the firehouse that morning?”
“I’m the training NCO for the firehouse so I pretty much spent most of the morning going over everyone’s training records making sure everything was up to snuff, then I worked on getting the newbies scheduled for some of their mandatory training classes that aren’t held at the firehouse. I went to lunch then came back and started to help polish the trucks and equipment for the air show this weekend.”
“Seems like a pretty routine morning.” She replied
“It was.” Except for starting out by getting my brains fucked out by my boyfriend. “The crash alarm from the tower sounded about thirteen-thirty hours. I dropped the rags, jumped into my gear and hopped on the truck.”
“Your station chief said that you were actually the first person ready to respond, which is an excellent way to lead by example. He also told me that your response time set a new record and was well below the minimum requirements; which is very commendable.”
“Yeah, well, try explaining that to the officer’s widow.”
“Actually, from what I understand, she sent a letter to your Commander thanking her for the quick response and all the efforts to save her husband. Know that she holds no ill-will towards any of you. She knows you all did everything you could.”
“It wasn’t good enough, though, was it? We weren’t able to save him.”
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything you could have done.”
“There had to have been something I could have done. I could have pushed or helped everyone get into their gear and get on the trucks, rather than just jumping onto the truck and into my assigned seat. There had to have been something I could have done faster or better.”
Aaron’s rising agitation was giving the therapist cause for much concern. Something else is going on here besides the aftermath of the tragedy. Hmmm….how should I approach this? She pondered. “The engine explosion is still being investigated. According to the aircraft maintenance logs, the only work done on the aircraft since its previous flight was routine refueling, liquid oxygen replenishment and the removal and reinstallation of the two ejection seats for routine inspection. There is also an investigation into why a wrench was left in the seat and why it wasn’t accounted for after the reinstallation of the rear seat.” She reached out and touched his arm. “Aaron, why do you insist on taking the blame for something that you had absolutely no control over? There was absolutely nothing you could have done to save that man’s life.”
“Please stop saying that. I wish people would stop telling me that.”
“That there’s nothing I could have done. If I wasn’t so incompetent and inept, I would have found a way!” He replied, channeling his father without realizing it. “That’s what a Firefighter is supposed to do. Save lives anyway he can. Something I failed to do.”
Bingo! Now we’re getting somewhere. “Aaron, you are neither inept nor incompetent. I’ve seen your performance reports. Nine’s all across the board on every one of them. If you really were incompetent or inept as you say you are, you’d have been lucky to get higher than a four, and you wouldn’t still be a Firefighter. I’ve been told it’s one of the most stressful career fields in the Air Force. From what I’ve read you’re a damned fine Firefighter and a damned fine NCO. Where are these feelings of inadequacy coming from?”
Aaron looked at her, startled. While he wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, he most certainly never anticipated THAT question. “What do you mean, ‘feelings of inadequacy’?” he asked, puzzled.
“You say that you are, to use your own words, incompetent and inept. You don’t come across as an individual with self-esteem issues. How would you describe yourself in general?”
Aaron was silent for a few moments, his brow furled in thought. “Well, I’m a pretty good guy, in good physical condition and pretty decent looking. I like to think I have a good personality and I’m engaged to a woman who’s beautiful inside and out. Why do you ask?”
“I’m trying to find out why you feel the way that you do.”
“The way that I feel?” Aaron asked, not understanding why she would say that.
“You keep saying that you’re incompetent and inept, despite all evidence to the contrary. I’m trying to figure out where that’s coming from, because it most certainly is not true.”
Aaron closed his eyes and sat for a few minutes before a tear slowly slid down his face from his left eye, followed shortly by a tear from his right eye. “My father” He whispered just as the dam holding back the tears broke. After a few moments of intense crying he managed to pull himself back together. “I’m sorry to break down like that.” He apologized as he accepted the tissues that Andrea handed him.
“No need to apologize. It’s good to get your emotions out. It makes them easier to deal with. Let’s talk about your father for a minute. What does he have to do with what you’re going through?” Slowly Aaron relaxed and told her the story about his aunt and uncle dying in a fire and how his father blamed the fire department. He even went on to state that his father used his position as state senator to try and get all funding for all fire departments cancelled because of their ‘incompetence and ineptitude’. Now I know where the incompetence and ineptitude comes from. Now how do I get him to see that it simply isn’t true? Andrea pondered. “Aaron” she began gently, knowing that what she was about to ask could trigger another emotional outburst. “I’m very sorry for you and your family’s loss. Is there any way the fire department could have prevented their deaths?”
“If the county nine-one-one dispatcher hadn’t fucked up and failed to assign an engine or a pumper to the firehouse to cover while all of the equipment and personnel had been dispatched to fight a structure fire they’d probably still be alive today.” He winced as he realized he’d used the f-word. “I’m sorry ma’am for using the f-word. It just slipped out.”
She gave him a warming smile. “It’s okay Aaron. I totally understand. I’ve heard worse. Let me ask you this. If there had been trucks and Firefighters at the station, would they have been able to save your aunt and uncle?”
“No. There wasn’t enough time. There was a gas leak where the connection to the stove was, and when my aunt turned on one of the burners to heat up some water, there was an explosion. The house was completely engulfed in a matter of minutes.”
“So even if Firefighters responded immediately, they would not have been able to save them?”
“No.” He replied quietly, blinking back the tears.
There we have it, associative memory. I bet nobody ever helped him deal with their deaths. “Were you close to them?”
“Would you like some water?”
“I’ll be right back.” Andrea left to get Aaron a bottle of water and checked with the registration desk to see when she had her next appointment. She didn’t have another patient appointment for two hours. Good. If he’s willing to stay longer, perhaps I can help him deal with their deaths. She went back into the room and handed him the water which he accepted gratefully. “Let’s talk about them for a moment. How long ago did they die?”
“Twelve years ago. I was ten at the time.”
“Did anyone talk with you about it?”
“Yeah, they sent me to a child psychologist who helped me deal with their deaths.”
“Good. I’m glad you were able to talk to someone about it when it happened. How do you feel about it now?”
“It’s the main reason why I became a Firefighter, to make sure something like that never happens again.”
“Did you join the fire department back home?”
“No. My father refused to allow me anywhere near the firehouse. Even when my eighth grade class when on a field trip to the firehouse during fire prevention week, I was not allowed to go with them.”
“But once you turned eighteen you would not have needed his consent.”
“He was very adamant that as long as I was living under his roof, it was forbidden.”
“Aaron, do you realize that when you refer to yourself as incompetent and inept that you are simply talking your father’s attitudes towards Firefighters in general and projecting them onto yourself?”
“Well, that’s exactly what you are doing. Basically you’re taking the blame for something you had no control over because your father blamed people in your past for a similar situation that they had no control over.”
“I see your point, but I still feel responsible for that man’s death.”
She made a couple of notes. “I’m sorry but I have another appointment in a few minutes. I’m going to set up a time for you to meet with the investigating officer so that he can explain the findings so far and you will see that there’s absolutely nothing you could have done to prevent anything that happened that day. It was the maintenance crews that were at fault, not the fire department. I’m also going to give you a little homework assignment. Come by tomorrow after you get off duty and pick up a letter to be delivered to the Las Vegas Fire Department Battalion headquarters and give it to the Commander there.”
“You are to call me Andrea in this office, Sergeant Suarez. Is that clear?” she ordered.
“Yes ma’am – I mean Andrea. It’s just hard to get used to calling an officer by her first name.”
“I can understand. I’ve found that it’s easier for people, especially enlisted, to open up to me if we’re on a first name basis.” She stood up and extended her hand. Aaron was on his feet immediately and shook her hand. “I’ve enjoyed talking with you, Aaron, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Andrea.”
As soon as he left, she went to her computer and typed a quick letter then made a phone call. “This is Major Andrea Peretti calling for the Commander. Is he available? Sure, I’ll hold.”
“Andrea? This is a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”
“Hi, Dad; I need a favor. Can you compile a list of fire fatalities and how many could have been prevented had the Firefighters gotten to the scene on time?”
“May I ask why you need this information?”
“I have a patient who was on duty at the time of a recent crash fatality and is having difficulty dealing with it.”
“So what does our statistics have to do with it?”
“Now dad, you know I can’t discuss anything with you. It’s confidential.” She admonished her father. “I have a formal request for the information and I’m going to be sending a Sergeant Aaron Suarez over tomorrow afternoon to pick it up.”
“Okay. It won’t take but a couple of hours to pull the information out of the computer. I’ll have it ready by fourteen hundred.”
“Thanks Dad. I love you.”
“Love you too, sweetheart.”
She hung up and took the letter to the hospital Commander. ‘What’s this?” He asked her.
“It’s a request for information. I need it to help a patient of mine. I’ve already talked with the battalion Commander and he’s getting the information together for me. This is just a formality to cover all the bases.”
“Okay.” He scrawled his signature on the letter. “Here you go.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The next day Aaron picked up the letter and, after calling to get directions, delivered it to the battalion Commander. He handed Aaron a large, thin manila envelope. “Here you go, Sergeant. Please deliver this for me.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, Commander.” He took the envelope without glancing at it for he assumed that it was for the Major and headed out to his car. He realized then that he wasn’t given instructions as to when the envelope was to be delivered. Do I drop it off now or tomorrow? He drove back to the base and realized after looking at his watch that it was too late to drop it off, that he’s have to drop it off in the morning. He glanced down at the envelope and noticed that it had “Sergeant Aaron Suarez’s eyes only. Open immediately” written on it. He pulled into the nearest parking lot, shut his car off and opened the envelope. He was surprised as he read over the computer printout to learn that out of the three-hundred and fifty-seven fire-related deaths, only one could have been prevented, had the fire department arrived on the scene. Attached to the report was a transcript of the nine-one-one call that reported the fire at four-fifty-six West Lake Mead Boulevard when in fact the fire was actually at four-fifty-six East Lake Mead Boulevard. When he looked at the sheet with the nine-one-one transcript he noticed something on the back of the computer report. It showed statistics on how almost one-million lives had been saved due to the timely response of the fire department. He shrugged, put the papers back in the envelope and headed home.
The next day he was back in Andrea’s office with the paperwork in hand. “I see you brought the reports with you. Did it help you to realize that you are an outstanding Firefighter and what happened was beyond anything you could have done?” In response Aaron simply shrugged his shoulders. His beloved Clark was leaving for Germany in two weeks and this was the last place he wanted to be. Okay, what’s going on here? He should be relieved, not seeming to want to be anywhere else but here. She thought as her sharp eyes noticed his fidgetiness. “Is there something else bothering you, Aaron?”
Do I tell her about Clark or not? If I tell her, she’ll know that I’m gay and she’d have to report me. She might even have to report Clark. But then again, she’s bound by oath to keep everything confidential, so she’d be breaking the law by turning me in. But then again, if I kept my relationship with Clark out of it, I could get kicked out and then I’d be able to follow him to Germany. If I did that, though, they could court-martial me, give me a bad conduct discharge and send me to Leavenworth for lying on my enlistment contract. That would fuck me over good for the rest of my life. Okay, I have no choice. I have to do this.
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