Oddly enough, The Man and I had our first “academy era” fight during the week that he had “Mask Appreciation Day.”

The loneliness has been taking its toll on me. It’s always quiet reading, talks of new- or old-law building codes, practicing knots, or telling stories of what so-and-so did or didn’t do. This past Sunday, we had our first real day alone together, and it seemed as though he couldn’t set aside for me more than the time it took to ride from Astoria, Queens, to Red Hook, Brooklyn. We hadn’t done the ride (for key lime pie) in about a year, so I was really excited about it. When we got there, though, he had to check in with his squad friends on group chat.

What did probationary firefighters in the academy do before smart phones?

Chances are, they studied, called each other with questions, then set it all aside to spend time with their partners and families.

Mask Appreciation Day is significant is because it’s the first time the probies are introduced to smoke and fire, to basically show them that their bodies can withstand a certain level of smoke and heat that they previously may not have been able to imagine.

With so much going on around them, the probies have to be able to focus their attention, recall facts, and recite tunes that they’ve known for perhaps decades before they knew they were going to be firemen.

The academy, this new career, all of it is the whirlwind of smoke and heat around The Man and I. This is a new chapter for us, one with which neither of us is remotely familiar, nor is it something that we know definitively that we can survive as a team. However, just like that smokey room that he faced, the temperatures and blinding distractions can’t kill us unless we panic and let it.

The tunes, facts, and memories are the relationship that we built prior to him becoming a sworn brother of the department. I loved The Man before he was a firefighter, and he loved me before I became the keeper of his safe haven. He and I created memories before the lessons and memorization came into play. I hope that he learns to focus his attention despite the excitement of new friends and experiences. Our relationship is still a living thing that needs attention and nurturing.

New chapters mean adjusting.

Long-term relationships mean evolving.

Most often, periods of adjustment and evolution do not happen seamlessly and without resistance or hurdles. While he needs to remember me and the girl he has loved for years, I need to remember that there is a huge demand with which I need to share the spotlight.