Friday, April 29, 2011

Chapter 22

Do you hear me,
I'm talking to you
Across the water across the deep blue ocean
Under the open sky, oh my, baby I'm trying
Boy I hear you in my dreams
I feel your whisper across the sea
I keep you with me in my heart
You make it easier when life gets hard

I'm lucky I'm in love with my best friend
Lucky to have been where I have been
Lucky to be coming home again

They don't know how long it takes
Waiting for a love like this
Every time we say goodbye
I wish we had one more kiss
I'll wait for you I promise you, I will

I'm lucky I'm in love with my best friend
Lucky to have been where I have been
Lucky to be coming home again
Lucky we're in love every way
Lucky to have stayed where we have stayed
Lucky to be coming home someday

And so I'm sailing through the sea
To an island where we'll meet
You'll hear the music fill the air
I'll put a flower in your hair
Though the breezes through trees
Move so pretty you're all I see
As the world keeps spinning round
You hold me right here right now
~Lucky – Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat

February 10th, 2014

“…Happy Birthday to you!!” the song finished as I watched Maddie look around the kitchen at her family and friends.  Her eyes were a bright, sparkling blue and her smile was almost as big as her face.  She was the spitting image of her mother except the color of her hair was a darker blonde like mine was when I was her age.
“Can I blow out my candles now, Daddy?” she asked me.
“Of course you may! But you need to make sure you make a wish!” I whispered loudly to her as I leaned down over her shoulder.
Before I could tell her that she was supposed to keep her wish a secret she yelled out, “I want to be a firefighter like my mommy!” and that quick she blew out the candles that were sticking out of the fire truck cake she insisted on having.
She didn’t hear the sharp breath I heard my mom take in, all she heard was the air rushing out of her lungs and the laughter and clapping that came from the 10 party guests surrounding her.  “Grandpop Charlie!” she squealed.  “You are in charge of taking the candles out of my cake!  I don’t want Daddy to burn himself again.”
Everyone broke out in laughter as I looked down at my wrapped finger and shrugged as I smiled at my little girl.  I had a little accident when I went to light the candles on her cake.  Same smart ass remarks her mother used to make.

End of August, 2010…

For the first couple weeks I couldn’t get myself to even get out of bed.  My mom kept Maddie with her for a while because she was afraid to leave a little baby with a guy that couldn’t even seem to take care of himself.  The hockey season was quickly approaching and I hadn’t even lifted a finger to weight lift a pen.  I was out of shape and out of time.
Drew and Stacy stopped over often to check on me but they could only do so much.  The house was basically trashed because I refused to clean up after myself.  One morning I awoke to find Stacy and my mom cleaning the house from top to bottom with scowls on their faces as I walked down the steps in just my boxers, looking like a hung over mess.
“Would you look at yourself, Patrick Kaleta?!  My mom yelled dragging me towards a mirror that hung on the wall by the door.  “What happened to my son?!  You are not buried in the ground with Emma, you are still walking this earth and you have responsibilities that you need to take care of.  This,” she said the word harshly as she poked me in the chest, “Is your first priority and the little girl that has been living at my house for the past 6 weeks, screaming for her daddy is your 2nd priority!” she cried as tears of frustration poured down her face.  “You need help.  You need grief counseling.  Everyone deals with it differently and you obviously can’t do this by yourself.  You have to get your ass back in shape for your job and you need to become a father again.”
“I need my wife back,” I mumbled as I shuffled away from the ugly image and over to the fridge to grab a beer.  I don’t care if it’s only 10:30 in the morning.
“If you had your wife back and she saw you acting like this she would have kicked your ass out long ago,” my mother spit as she turned to go back cleaning up my mess.
The next day I was sitting on my dock, fishing and drinking some beer as I stared out over Lake Erie.
“Anything biting?” Charlie asked as he approached me from behind, effectively startling my solitude state.
“Meh, not much,” I said as I allowed my heart rate to slow.  “Did mom send you over to give me shit too?” I asked bitterly, completely tired of everyone telling me how I should get over the fact that my wife and soul mate was dead.
“She just told me that you looked like shit.  I can see she wasn’t lying…”
I just snorted, pulled my baseball hat lower to shield my eyes and attempted to take another sip of my beer.  As I lifted it to my lips, Charlie pulled the bottle out of my hands and placed an envelope in my hands.  “Here son, I should have given this to you weeks ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  However, I think you need this more than you need this skunky ass beer.  If you need anything, call me.  I’m going to pick up Maddie so your parents can get a break from her for the time being.”
I didn’t watch him leave, I just heard him walk back down the dock towards the house and drop the bottle into the recycling bin with a crash.  I sat and stared at the envelope in my hand, knowing right away whose tear smeared handwriting I was looking at on the front of it where it said my name.

Dear Patty,
If you are reading this, then the unthinkable has happened.  I’m so sorry to leave you behind to raise our darling baby girl, but I know you will do a great job.  Baby, I hope you realize how much you have meant in my life, not only this last year of being a couple, but as a best friend.  I will never be able to repay you for telling my father off after my graduation (yes, I heard it all) and I will never be able to apologize for making you wait so long for me.  I want you to know that I wanted to be with you long before I truly admitted it to myself, but I would never give up that night you held me in your arms for the first time and told me you loved me.
Now, I’m pretty sure you are not handling this in the most mature way possible.  If I know you as well as I think I do, I’m sure your mom has Maddie and our house is trashed because you somehow forgot to clean up after yourself after a year of me cleaning up for you.  Wake-up sunshine!  You have a very important job to do.  It is up to you to be a father and a mother to our Maddie.  She’s been your little girl since day one, and I expect you to take full responsibility of her.  I know it will be tough during the season, but everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. 
Go out on that ice and break some faces if you have to do something to make yourself feel better, but know that I will still be frowning about the whole fighting thing.
Patty, thank you for loving me.  Thank you for giving me the most beautiful daughter in the world.  Please share with her all of our memories and make sure she follows her dreams like we did.  Please tell her that her mommy loved her and didn’t want to leave her, but God had other plans and now she is watching over her in Heaven.
Please tell everyone that I love them and thank them for being there for you and Maddie.
I love you Patrick Kaleta.

Love Forever and Always,

Present Day (March 2011):

I came home and dropped my gear bag on the floor.  “Hey mom!” I called over to her.  “Is she sleeping?”
I heard my mom softly chuckle, “Would you expect anything different from her at this time of night?”
I smiled to myself and darted up the steps to Maddie’s room.  Her night-light illuminated her room and the glow-in the dark stars shown down from the ceiling.  I walked over to find my little girl in her Sabres pajama’s, sucking her thumb and sleeping peacefully.
This had become my routine when I would return home from the rink.  I’d say hi to whomever was babysitting her that night, which would usually be my mom, dad, Charlie, Stacy or Wagner, then I’d go up and say goodnight to Maddie.
We all had our good days and bad days, but life was moving along and I had “made things work out,” just like Emmy said they would.  Of course this wasn’t what life was supposed to be like, but I now learned that nothing is what we ever expect it to be.
Once I got back down stairs, I found mom out in the kitchen and my hot chocolate mug sitting on the counter waiting for me.  Mom sat the old familiar shoe box down in front of me as I took a sip of the warm liquid.  The hot chocolate was perfect for a cold winter night like this.  Plus, with everything that had happened over the last several months, I needed something as simple as the warm cocoa to remind me of how Emma always warmed my soul.
“Hot Chocolate is the best way to soothe the soul,” Emma would always say.
“I thought you might want to have this…I know you might not be ready to look at everything inside, but I think it’s important for you to keep for Maddie,” she said solemnly as she sat down across from me, picking up her own mug to her lips.
It was the shoe box that stored all the news articles that Emma or I had been in over the years.  It contained flowers from her prom bouquet and my boutonnière, a couple mix tapes and CD’s that contained our favorite songs from summers past, photographs of us from holidays, family vacations, prom and hockey games.  I even remembered that I had placed our plane tickets and ring boxes in it after we returned from Europe.
I looked up at mom and whispered, “Thank you.”  I took a deep breath before lifting the lid of the box.  As I opened the box the flood of memories came at me like a spring flood, washing away the hurt and promising new life.

The Obituary in the July 6th, 2010 Buffalo News…

Emma S. Kaleta, 25, Firefighter

Emma S. (Kasyk) Kaleta, 25, wife of Patrick Kaleta (Buffalo Sabres) of
Lake Shore Rd.
was tragically killed at a warehouse fire on
Ohio St.
on July 4th.  Emma was the first female ranking firefighter in the Buffalo City Fire Dept, a 4 year veteran of the department and was the 3rd generation of her family to be employed by the city.  She was killed in the line of duty, attempting to save a building worker during the time of the fire.  Her act of selflessness will always be recognized, making her a true hometown hero for the city of Buffalo.  She is survived by her husband, Patrick Kaleta (24) and daughter Madeline Rose (6 months).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapter 21

July 4th, 2010, 1500hrs

“Sssh!!!! Don’t you dare wake her up, Patrick Kaleta!” I whispered as I shut the door as he came bounding up the stairs with a big smile on his face.
“Oh damn!  I was going to give her something, but I will wait til mom and dad pick her up for the night,” he said, hanging his head as he brought the toy fire truck out from behind his back.
I took it from him and inspected the fun looking toy.  “This thing is awesome!!  It looks like you can even put the ladder up with a button!  All I had was an old metal thing that you couldn’t even put the ladder up on anymore because it was bent so bad from when it was my dad’s.”
“I know!  I remembered that thing, so when I found this, I knew I had to get her one,” he said proudly as we both walked back down the stairs to the living room.
“You spoil her,” I said, trying to hide my smile.
“So do you,” he said as he placed the fire truck on the kitchen counter and wrapped his arms low around my back, pulling me against him.  “And don’t you even start to deny it!” he mocked as I just looked up at the ceiling keeping my lips in a straight line like I had no clue what he was talking about.
“I’m surprised you haven’t bought her a pair of skates yet…”
“Believe me I tried, but the kid at the sporting goods store just looked at me like I was stupid when I mentioned that she couldn’t even crawl yet.”
I took his hat, turned it backwards and then gently smacked his forehead with the palm of my hand.  “You are a real trip, Patty.”
“Nah, just really in love with my two girls,” he said with a smirk as he kissed me square on the lips.  “Do you really have to work tonight?” he whined softly into my ear, causing me to shiver in his arms.
I wrapped my arms around him neck and answered him in the same manner, giving him goose bumps.  “Yes, Patrick, I must go to work tonight.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he growled as he slid his hands down lower and cupped my ass, pulling me against his erection that had now formed.
“No, I’m definitely glad I did that…” I said as I jumped up and wrapped my legs around his waist.  “Now, take me somewhere to make my 4th of July a good one!” I breathed once again into his ear.

She didn’t need to tell me twice.  If she was ready to go, then I was always ready to go.  Even after a year of marriage we were still fucking every chance we got and I didn’t think I’d ever tire of hearing the noises she made when we made love.
Even after all these years of friendship, I still find my breath catching when the light shines in her eyes just the right way, making them sparkle like the ocean.  People have a hard time believing that we’ve rarely had a huge argument.  I accustom that to the fact that after knowing each other so well, we know what makes the other person mad and are able to sense a mood change, cueing the other person to take a step back.
“Where are we going?” she giggled as I carried her downstairs to the “man cave.”
“The pool table,” I said straight-forth.
“What?!  You better get a towel or something because I do not want you freaking out if we stain the damn thing!” she squealed as I set her down on the table.
She was right, I would freak out because this thing was my baby.  So I went over the shelf by the patio doors and grabbed a towel.  As I walked back, I kicked off my flip-flops and began taking my shirt off, knocking off my baseball hat in the process.  Emma was already down to her bra and underwear, looking lustfully at me.  I laid the towel down next to her as I stepped between her thighs, wrapping my arm behind her and pulled her against my chest.  I undid her bra with the snap of my fingers and pulled it off of her, throwing it onto the floor next to me.  She left out a squeak of approval and threaded her fingers through my hair, pulling my lips to hers.
She kissed me with a searing passion that burned low in me.  I couldn’t seem to wrap my arms tight enough around her.  I needed to be one with this woman I could never seem to get enough of.  We were still tongue locked as I felt her push my waist back far enough so that she could untie my shorts and push them down over my hips and onto the floor.  She then broke the kiss and laid back onto the pool table, putting her feet on the rail and lifting her ass slightly so that I could take off her shorts.
“You look so vulnerable lying there,” I mused as I pulled off her shorts.
“Well then you better take advantage of me, Kaleta,” she taunted.
I quickly climbed up onto the table with her and dipped my head down between her thighs to taste her.  She was already hot and wet, leaving out a cry when my tongue delved into her delicious folds.  Her hands immediately laced themselves back into my hair; I was keeping my hair long enough just for her to be able to play with it during times like these.  I wrapped my arms around her thighs so that my hands could rest on her lower abdomen.  I used my face to get deep into her flesh, knowing that I had enough of a 5 o’clock shadow to drive her crazy.  I felt it chafe against her soft, smooth skin, causing her to purr out in pleasure.  I nipped gently at her clit, causing her to buck against me and telling me she was ready to shoot the moon. 
I peaked up over her mound to find her arched off the table, grabbing at her breasts.  It was such an intimate moment that I felt honored to be apart of it every time she came.  I went back to focusing on her and was soon rewarded with the rush of extra juices coating my tongue as I shoved it deep into her.  I loved the way she tasted and it was even more of a turn on when she wanted to kiss me right away after I had been down on her.
I crawled up; leaving behind a trail of kisses as I finally made it up to her mouth and kissed her deeply as she moaned out in happiness.  In her sedated state I pushed my thick length into her and lifted myself off of her so that I could enjoy the view of her moving below me on the pool table.  She wrapped her legs around me as I pulled her hips slightly off the table to get the angle I wanted.  I pumped into her and watched as her breasts bounced with the motion.
My cock felt every inch of her and the deeper I pushed the louder she cried out for more.  I tilted her a little more and pushed for her g-spot, knowing I hit it when her cries practically turned into screams of pleasure.  My dick got harder when I watched her start pinching her own nipples and began flicking her own tongue over her nipple.
“Fuck, baby, that is so god-damn hot…” I growled, knowing I was going to lose it very soon.
“Do you like that?” she asked in a sultry whine as she batted her eyes at me.
I couldn’t take it anymore and my answer ended up coming out in a long moan as I shot my load into her.  The act put her over the edge and I felt her squeezing everything out of me as she quivered on the table.
Once I caught my breath, I lowered her hips back down to the table.  “Jesus, where the fuck did that come from?  You were definitely a vixen right there!”
“Did you like it?”
“Did I like it?  Damn Emma, I could fuck you again right now, that was so incredibly hot.”
A sly smile crept across her face as she said, “I don’t want you to get bored with me, so I figured I’d add a lil role play into it for fun.”
I leaned down over top of her and kissed her hard.  In between kisses I growled, “Babe, I will never get bored with you.  Hell, you pull that shit more often and you’re going to have trouble leaving the bedroom ever again.”
“I like the sound of that,” she said as she pulled my lips back down to hers, willing me to kiss her senselessly once more.

March 2010, the night Emma stayed home from Patrick’s game so Charlie could visit her and baby Maddie…

“Charlie!” I squeaked as he picked me up and hugged me tightly.  The last time I saw him was when I was still in the hospital after giving birth to Maddie.
“Mmm, my Emma…it’s nice being able to hug you without that big belly of yours,” he chuckled as he sat me back down.
I looked down at my stomach and patted the remnants of my tummy.  “I’ve been working out with Patrick, so I’m hoping I’ll be completely back in shape by the time I come back in June.”
Charlie took my hands in his, catching my attention.  “Emma, you look beautiful, just like your mother,” he said with a sad smile.
“Like my mother?” I asked, surprised because no one had mentioned a thing about my mother since I was a little girl.  I knew Charlie had known her because he was the best man in their wedding, but he never said things about her.  This definitely got the wheels turning in my head.  “Charlie, do you know what ever happened to my mom?”
Again the sad smile crept across his face as he took my hand and led me into the kitchen, motioning to me to make some hot chocolate as he walked over to Maddie’s crib and picked her up.  She was cooed at him and smiled as soon as he had her in his arms.  I watched as she curled into his chest, like she often did with Patty and instantly fell asleep in his arms.  He carried her over to the kitchen island and sat down, staring at the precious little one in his arms.
“You don’t have to hold her if you don’t want to, she’ll be down for the count now.”
“No, I want to hold her, she is my granddaughter after all,” he said as quietly, not looking up at me, still staring at Maddie.
 I put a mug of steaming hot chocolate in front of him and sat down across from him, warming my hands on my own mug.  “Charlie, is there something you wanted to talk about?” I asked hesitantly.
He looked up at me with tears in his eyes.  “I’m so sorry, Emma.  I’m sorry I never did anything to stop him from hurting you…”
I looked at him confused but didn’t stop him because I honestly didn’t know what to say.
I listened to him take a deep breath and start in again.  “Your mother and I were best friends growing up, like you and Patrick, I guess you could say.  Your father and I became best friends in high school, and of course he took a liking to Renee as soon as I introduced them.  I was in love with Renee from the day I met her, but I was too young to realize it until they started dating.  Seeing them together made me recognize how much I wanted to be the man she loved.  Dean and I went through the fire academy together, a promise we had made to each other when we were still in high school, and after we graduated from the academy, he proposed to Renee.  I know Renee loved Dean, but one night after he left her sitting at the bar because they had an argument, I realized she was marrying him because she felt that she really had no other choice.  Renee was stubborn and didn’t want her daddy to say ‘I told you so…’ with Dean, so she went ahead and married him anyway.  A few months after the wedding Renee showed up on my doorstep with bruises on her cheeks and all over her body from where Dean had hit her.  I took her in and one thing led to another...” he said, fading off for a moment.
He took another deep breath and continued, “Dean and I worked a lot of opposite shifts that year and when he wasn’t home, Renee was with me.  We were madly in love with each other and were actually planning on how we could run away together, then one night Renee came to me in tears saying she was pregnant and positive it was mine because she hadn’t slept with Dean for a couple months…”
Without meaning to, I took in a sharp breath, quickly covering my mouth and glad I didn’t have a mouth full of hot chocolate because I would have surely spit it back out.
Charlie basically ignored me and kept going.  “Of course Dean never questioned it because he was too wrapped up in getting promotions at work.  I tried finding another job so that Renee and I could run away together, but I didn’t have many options and we were basically stuck.  You were born in the fall and Dean insisted I be named your Godfather.  If you put our baby pictures together, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart,” he added with a small smile directed towards sleeping Maddie.  “Renee’s parents were killed in a car accident several months after you were born and her heart was shattered.  She fell into a deep depression which wasn’t helped by Dean’s drunken, abusive tirades.  She came to me one night and said that she was leaving, that she couldn’t handle it anymore and told me to keep watch over you for her.  I begged and pleaded with her but she had better ideas.  She was found washed up on the shore of Lake Erie about a month later.  Your grandmother and Dean decided it best to just tell you that she ran away.  There was no way I could become a single parent, hell, I couldn’t even take care of myself some days.  I was relieved when I heard Dean would be moving in with your grandmother because I knew the old woman would take better care of you than I could,” he finished.  He then looked up at me with pleading eyes, “I’m sorry that he hurt you so much, Emma.  I don’t want you to call me dad, because I was never a father to you.  Dean did love you, in his own twisted way and he deserves the credit of being called your father.  I just want to make sure I don’t lose my chance with the 2nd baby girl to come into my life,” he said as he looked lovingly down at baby Maddie.
Wow.  I feel like I don’t know where to turn or what to say…
I took a sip of my hot chocolate, letting it sear my throat.  “I don’t know what to say, Charlie…”
“You don’t need to say anything.  Just please, don’t be mad at me,” he pleaded quietly.
I reached over and took his hand that was gripping the ceramic mug, “I could never be mad at you Charlie.  To tell you the truth, we wouldn’t be sitting here today like this if things would have been different.  I wouldn’t trade my life for the world,” I said as tears clouded my eye sight.
Charlie nodded his head slowly as a smile graced his face.  His blue eyes sparkled back at me and I knew right there that he had always been a father to me and that I had made him proud.
“You can tell Patrick,” he said, after finding his voice.  “I just think it should be between us though.  I don’t want things to change at work and stuff…”
“I completely agree,” I said, kind of relieved.  “However, you will be given the title of grandpop in this house.”
His smile got bigger as he nodded his head in agreement.  “Sounds good.  I love you Emma.”
“I love you too,” I said with a smile.  I then became serious and said, “So after all that, I need you to do a favor for me, Charlie,” I said seriously.
“Anything,” he said quietly, watching Maddie sleep.
I slid an envelope over to him and said, “If anything ever happens to me, I need you to give this to Patrick.”  I was proud of myself once I said the words.  I didn’t cry like I did when I was writing it.  I knew all the guys did this; it just wasn’t spoken of too often.  I knew I had to do it with Maddie here now, just incase something happened that I wouldn’t be able to tell her these things myself.
To my surprise, Charlie didn’t put up a fight.  He knew that our line of work was a dangerous choice and he knew that when your time is up, it’s up.

July 4th, 2010, 2100hrs

I had my patient all splinted and ready for movement and I was proud of my efforts as I looked down and surveyed my handy-work.  I glanced at my watch and noticed it had been a little longer than I realized so I decided to call out on my radio and find out what was taking the new crew so long to get in here.
“Lieutenant 21 to Collapse Interior…”
No answer.
“Lieutenant 21 to Collapse Interior…”
Again, no answer.  At that, I heard a big crash and felt an influx of heat coming through the door of the stairwell.  I quickly put my SCBA back on and looked out the little window in the door to find that my route was now completely gone and fear completely over took me…

July 5th, 2010, 0050hrs

“Charlie, where is Emma?” I asked as I felt my throat constrict.
“She’s been in the stairwell with a patient since her and Wagner accessed it to rescue the victims,” he said in an eery calm voice.
“Have you heard anything from them?” I cried, as I felt myself having an outer body experience, praying that my worst nightmares were not coming true.  As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I looked over and saw a blackened hand and a tear stained face staring back at me.  “Wagner, where the hell is my wife?!”  I roared.
“She insisted on staying back and packaging the patient for transport while I took the other 3 back to our egress route…I didn’t want to leave her alone but we were both running low on air and she insisted I go and get the other crew to come back and get her.  Radio communications were poor so I don’t think she heard the evacuation orders.  I tried running back but instead the building began collapsing.  Patterson and the other crew helped pull me and the victims out but there was no way we were going to get back to Emma.  I’m so sorry Patrick…” he wailed as he collapsed to the ground with me.

July 5th, 2010, 0930hrs

I felt empty, numb and I was barely able to breathe.  The smell of the burnt debris made my stomach twist in a way that I thought I was going to throw up with every breath.  Every now and then I would look up, thinking I heard Emma’s voice over the radio or talking to someone on the fire scene.  I could have sworn I heard her call my name a time or two.  I know I smelled her scent a time or two when the wind blew in a different direction.  I had found a hair of hers caught on my shirt from when she did laundry and I just held it in my hand, wishing I could run my hands through the full thickness of her hair.
“Patrick, you need to come home now…” my mom said as I sat on the back of the fire engine, waiting for my wife to come out of the building.
“No mom, I’m not leaving until they find her.”
“Charlie said they have to get the heavy equipment in and that it could be until afternoon until they get to her.  You need to come home and get some rest, you have a daughter that needs you,” she said firmly.
“I have a wife that would want me to be waiting for her…” I mumbled.
“You have a wife that would want you to be a father to her child.  Please Patrick, go home,” Charlie said as he walked over to where I was sitting.
I nodded, knowing Charlie and my mom was right, but I just didn’t want to be at my house right now.  I didn’t think I could stand walking into the home that we lived and loved in.  I felt like my world was ending and I had no way of getting away from it.
Emma, I love you.  Please, give me the strength to be the man you made me into.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Public Service Announcement

...I love all your comments!! Thank you soo much!!

I just wanted to drop a little note to say that since this story is winding down (2 more chapters to be exact) and I have a bunch saved in my arsenal, I began posting a new one.

Check out It's a story about a few of the Yotes players (Mainly Biz and Pyatt) and it will hopefully give ya'll a little laughter which from the comments, I'm thinking you might need. :o)  Enjoy!!

Chapter 20

February 10th, 2010

“I reeeeeaaallllyyy neeeeeeed my paaaaaiiiinn meds now!!” I yelled through my teeth as another contraction ripped through me.  My water finally broke as they were getting me out of the H2 and into a wheel chair.  Turns out I was 5cm dilated and my contractions were coming along faster and faster.
“Oh, Darling, you won’t need pain meds because the babe’s gonna be here really shortly,” the nurse with the thick southern accent said from underneath the blanket that was covering my knees.
“No pain meds?!” I squeaked.  “You’ve got to at least be able to give me something to take the fucking edge off?!”  I looked over at Patrick with pleading eyes, hoping he’d go to bat for me, but he just shrugged his shoulders and wiped the sweat off my forehead for the 100th time.  “You people suck,” I said plain and simple.  Of course right after that another contraction throttled through, feeling like it was splitting my hoo-hoo down to my ass-hole.
“One more push, Mrs. Kaleta!”
“I don’t want to!” I yelled, but I found that I really had no choice and next thing I knew there was a blood curdling cry echoing off the bare walls of the hospital room.  I think I passed out for a minute because everything seemed to get fuzzy for a bit until I felt Patrick squeezing my hand really hard and whispering in my ear to open my eyes.  I opened my eyes to find a bright red baby, screaming angrily as the southern nurse held it up in front of me.
“It’s a girl!!” Patrick whispered excitedly into my ear.
I turned towards him and said, “You win, this time,” and kissed him hard on the lips. 
I felt his lips curl upwards before he pulled back and said, “Madelyn Rose Kaleta, Maddie for short.”
I whispered the name through my lips as they laid little Maddie in my arms and nodded with approval as I kissed her softly on the forehead.

July 4th, 2010, 2030hrs.

“Jesus!  What the hell was that?” Drew yelled as he pointed over towards the city.  A group of us were out partying on the boat while watching the fireworks.  My mom had taken Maddie for the night so I could have a fun evening out with Drew, Stacy, Miller and his new model girlfriend, Roy and his girl and Nate Gerbe.  I was bummed that Emmy had to work, but I planned on having a good time on the holiday either way.
I looked over and saw the remnants of what seemed to be an explosion.  There had been fireworks coming from that same vicinity, so I wondered out loud if that had anything to do with it.  “Do you think something happened with those fireworks they had been setting off there?”
“Good possibility,” Miller said as he walked over to me and Drew.
It wasn’t long afterwards that the area around the explosion began to glow bright orange and I could hear the distinct sound of the cue (fire truck siren).  “I guess Emmy’s gonna be busy tonight,” I mumbled.

March 2010

“Patrick Kaleta returns to the ice after a foot injury that seemed to plague him for several weeks…”

“Come to the game tonight…” I whined into her ear softly as we lay in bed, attempting to take my pre-game nap.  Maddie was great at sleeping through the night but getting her to nap during the day could sometimes be a challenge.  Today it seemed the she was cooperating, so far.
“Your mom and dad are going to the game so who is going to watch Maddie?” she mumbled into the pillow.
“I’m sure we can find a babysitter…”
“It’s too late for that, Patty.  Besides, Charlie is coming over to visit tonight and you should probably go out with the guys after the game anyway, since it’s the first game you are back for.”
“But I don’t want to hang out with the guys; I want to be with youuuuuu…” I whined again as I pulled her back against me, cuddling closer to her.
She left out a sigh and murmured, “Go to sleep while you still can, love.”
I kissed her hair and squeezed her once more for good measure as we fell asleep.
It was tough getting back into the hockey schedule after having a month off and with the new addition to the family, but it was an exciting time.  We were leading our division and it was a given that we would be heading to the playoffs.  Emma proved to be an awesome mother so far and was a saint at making sure I got my rest, even with a newborn in the house.  I’m not quite sure how she managed everything, but I guess it all comes down to that mother instinct.
Maddie became a full-blown Sabres fan as soon as she came home.  Her first Kaleta jersey was given to her by Drew and Stacy, along with a Stafford one.  Drew said it was for the times that the other jersey might be in the laundry from getting spit-up on.
Of course the one night Emma had to drive up to the rink because I forgot something for the game.  I was already in my uniform and our media guy caught us and made us pose for our first family hockey picture that they showed during intermission and then posted it on the website.
I still found it strange to be a father at 24, but at the end of the day it all felt right.  I enjoyed being a family man; it gave me something else to focus on besides hockey.

July 4th, 2010, 20:35

Additional from dispatch stated apparently someone had been setting off fireworks on the warehouse roof and somehow one did not ignite properly, exploding on the roof of the building.  The roof quickly gave way and the heavy fire load of boxes and paper quickly took off.  There were reports of cleaning staff in the building including 4-5 people who were working in the offices that were located on the basement floor.
“Why the fuck are there people working on the holiday?!” Wagner yelled up towards the front of the truck, so that I could hear him.
“Why the fuck are we working?” I yelled back with a laugh.
“True, true,” I heard him say over the blaring cue.
We arrived on scene to find a warehouse that took up basically the whole block, with heavy fire pouring from it.  It used to be a 3 story building but at the moment it was 2 floors and with the heavy fire, we knew it wouldn’t be long until it was ground level.
The chief greeted me as soon as I opened the door of the truck.  “Kaleta, we definitely have 4 people trapped in the basement.  One of them called out on a cell phone from the stairwell and said they are unable to get out.  There is one with possible life threatening injuries.  I need your crew to get into the B side of the building and begin tunneling your way through to the stairwell.  This is going to be really dangerous because I don’t think we have a lot of time until the rest of this building goes down.”
I turned to find Wagner and Patterson gathering their wall breaching tools and first aid stuff to get the injured guy out.  “You guys catch all that?” I yelled to them.
“Yup, we’re waiting on you, sweet cheeks,” Wagner spouted as I finished tightening my SCBA straps and the straps to my rope harness for the simple fact that if we found a hole in the floor, we might have an easier time just going to the basement through the floor. 
Patterson looked like he was going to be sick, so I just smiled at him and said, “Buddy, just think about what they taught you in training, we’ll be fine,” I said with a smile and pointed the direction we needed to be heading.
We found an outside stairwell exit but we had to cut through the door to get in since it was an “exit only” door.  I could actually hear the building groan as the aerial trucks poured water onto the raging flames.  This really isn’t a good sign and I’m not quite sure if we’re going to get to these people.  I sure hope we have the correct stairwell.
Once we got in, I found immediately that the stairwell was blocked, just like the victims said, and that we definitely needed to search for another access route.  We hooked up our search ropes to the door, in case we needed to find out quickest route out if things went wrong, and began searching for another direction.  About 100ft in I found a hole in the floor where a machine or something had fallen through from one of the upper floors, during the explosion.  I held up my hand and got Wagner and Patterson to huddle around.
“Okay guys, I think our best bet is to go down through this hole and look for that stairwell they are in.  We can set up a rigging system here and have a couple more guys come in here to hoist people out of the basement and get these people on SCBA’s because it’s too smokey in here,” I yelled through my SCBA mask.  The both nodded that they understood me.  I then yelled, “Okay, Patterson, start setting up the rigging system and I’ll radio for more help for you.  Wagner and I will repel down to the basement here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Patterson said as he turned and got to work, helping Wagner and I get set up for repelling.  I radioed out to command and told them of our plans and next thing I knew Wagner and I were on the ground floor helping each other unhook from our ropes and start a new search rope so that we could find our way back to the spot.  The gear was heavy, but I didn’t notice it much with all the adrenaline that was rushing through my veins.  I knew we didn’t have a lot of time and I observed that my air cylinder was already down to almost half.  Not Good.
I pointed to my air pressure gage as I grabbed Wagner.  He looked down and showed me his which was about the same.  We both shrugged shoulders and moved forward.  Soon we came to what looked to be office cubicles.  I knew we had to be getting closer and my heart began beating faster in anticipation.  I felt Wagner tug on my gear, catching my attention.  I turned and found him pointing at a red steel door with a small window in it; above it was an exit sign.  I left out a big sigh and headed towards the door.
We pulled some debris away from the door and opened it to find the 4 co-workers huddled together looking deathly afraid.  3 of them looked healthy enough to walk with just some abrasions on their faces.  The 4th was a man who looked to have at least broken leg with a possible head injury and in obvious need of first aid.  I called for the stokes basket (A/N: a basket that is used to carry patients that can be hoisted with ropes if patient is properly secured into it) and additional man power.
“Wagner, get these people back to Patterson.  Tell them to cover their mouths with their clothing and breath as shallow as possible.”
“You need to come along too, Emma.  I’m not fucking leaving you here.  You are too low on air and we can get the next team down here to get him out,” he yelled back at me.
“I’m fine; I will start doing some first aid.  Just tell them to bring another cylinder with them.  They will be waiting for you, so it won’t take too long now that we have the safety line strung.  Please, just go,” I said as I turned away and began finding things to splint the patient’s leg.
I heard Wagner gather the other 3 victims and give them instructions.  I felt him tap on my helmet to let me know he was going and away they went.  I then heard him call on the radio for the extra crew to start climbing down because he was leaving me in the room.  More radio transmissions were going on, but the signal was weak because of the building construction, so I took off my SCBA and began talking to my patient.  With the door closed, the smoke stayed at bay and I figured I should probably conserve my air for as long as possible.
Unfortunately for my patient, he was in fairly bad shape.  He was floating in and out of consciousness and I didn’t think he was going to last much longer without higher medical care.  However, I just kept myself focused on splint his leg and getting him ready for transport because I knew we didn’t have much more time to get out of the building.
Being in the enclosed room, I never heard the evacuation command from the chief.  I never heard the air horns signaling to evacuate.  I never knew how much time I didn’t have to get out of the building.

July 5th, 2010, 0045hrs.

After we got off the lake, we headed out to the Morrisey’s Irish Pub for some dancing and beer.  I wasn’t really in the mood to do this without Emmy, but I also had nothing better to do for the night since Maddie was still at my parents.
“Excuse me, hottie.  I was wondering if you’d like to dance with me?” a brunette breathed into my ear as I stood at the bar with Drew.
I just held up my left hand and didn’t even look her way.  I guess being married means nothing to some of these people because I felt her fingers on the back of my neck, working their way up into my hair.  I jerked away from her grasp and said, “Look lady, this ring means something to me, so please, keep your hands to yourself.”  At first she pouted out her lips but after I kept the glaring stare focused on her, she got the hint.
I turned back to the bar as Drew just left out a laugh.  “Shut the fuck up,” I grumbled.  “This is exactly why I don’t come here without my wife.”
“I can understand that one…sorry, Derek was all gun-ho about this.  If you want to go home, I’m cool with that.”
I looked around and saw Stacy was sitting over at the table playing with the straw in her drink as the rest of the crew was out on the dance floor.  “I guess it seems that Stacy isn’t having much fun either without Emma,” I mused.
“That’s why I’m saying we’ll be game to head out,” he said with a smirk.
We said goodbye to the rest of the crew and walked down the street to where Drew was parked.
“Wow, you can still see that building burning.  Do you think Emma is there?”  Stacy asked worriedly.
“Yeah, most likely she is.  Especially since it doesn’t seem far from her station and because of how large it is.  Do we want to walk the couple blocks and see what’s going on?”
“Sure!” Stacy said excitedly as she grabbed hands with me and Drew, walking towards the glow.
It was utter chaos when we arrived on the fire scene.  Instantly I felt all wrong about coming down here, but something in my mind told me I needed to be here.  We walked up to the yellow tape and saw a bunch of the guys in rehab, including some of the guys from Emma’s station.  I waved over at Patterson, but as soon as he looked at me he got up and walked in the opposite direction.
Wonder what that was all about.  It certainly looked like an explosion had happened because the building was all crumbled in on itself.  The flames were all but extinguished, now the sky was lit up by the bright lights of the fire scene and some construction lights that had been brought in to help.  I was disappointed that I didn’t see Emma with the rest of her crew, but I didn’t want to bother anyone because they all looked really tired and bummed out.  After standing for a bit I motioned to Drew and Stacy to leave.  We were turning to walk back to their SUV when I heard Charlie yelling my name.
“Kaleta!” he yelled, loud enough that I could actually hear him over the roar of the engines.
“Oh, hey Charlie!” I waved and smiled as I turned back around and began walking back towards the fire scene.
Instead of his face lighting up with a smile like it normally would, I noticed he looked sullen and very upset about something.  Immediately I put my hand down and ran over to him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chapter 19

December 12th, 2009

“Wow!  What a place you got here, Emma!” Patterson gawked as Wagner pushed him through the door, into the foyer.  I just rolled my eyes and shut the door behind them.
“Sorry, the probie needed something to do since his girlfriend dumped him,” Wagner said apologetically as he shrugged off his coat and handed it to me.
I snorted, “You’re not gay, Patterson?”
“What?!  Fuck, no.  I’m just metro!” he exclaimed.  He held up his hands and said, “Believe me babe, I love chicks.  No doubt about it.”
Wagner and I were both laughing at the poor kid who had just joined our station over the summer.  He was a really nice, very energetic and a good dresser.  Because of the good dresser part, we picked on him pretty hard.  Thank heaven the kid was a good sport and was turning into being a damn good firefighter and friend.
Once I stopped laughing I throw my arm around Wagner’s shoulders and said, “Well if that’s the case, then maybe you can get Wagner here in some decent looking clothing so he can pick up a nice chick.”
Wagner stopped laughing and glared at me.  “Don’t even start with me, Emma.  I am not the marrying type, and you know that.”
I walked over and put my arm around him, pushing him and Patterson near the kitchen so they’d eat the pizza that was just delivered as I said, “I know, Wagner.  However, I think if the right girl walked up to you and told you to roll over, you’d do it.”
We ate our pizza and then went to work on painting the rest of the nursery.  We were painting a scene from the Peanuts cartoons that I had drawn life-size onto the wall.  I was working on Snoopy’s doghouse, Patterson was painting the sky blue background and grass on the far wall and a surprisingly artistic Wagner was working on the ice pond hockey scene I had drawn.  It was an in-depth scene that had a lot of the characters to be painted, but he was doing an awesome job. 
I had the radio tuned into the game on 550am since the boys were in NYC, playing the Rangers.
“So I guess they are in the middle of a road trip?” Patterson asked as he carried a bucket of sky blue paint over to the wall he was working on.
“Yup, they head to Montreal for the 14th and then to Ottawa for the 16th and then they’ll be home,” I said with a grimace, already missing Patty.
“Good!  By then we should have the whole nursery finished!” Patterson said cheerfully.
“Myers and Vanek head for the net, wait, Vanek passes to Roy…for the shot…gooooaaaaallll!!!”
I proceeded to bounce up and down happily with my paint brush as I splattered the red doghouse paint across the front of my shirt.  “Yay!!”
“You are going to have more paint on you and the baby than you will the wall if they keep scoring tonight,” Wagner joked as he turned to watch my little celebration.  “Thank goodness you aren’t wearing your jersey, or you’d have paint all over that old ratty thing.  However, it might be better for it because it’s pretty rough looking…”
I walked over to him, holding the red paint brush out at him, threatening to swipe it across his neck.  “Don’t ever make a bad remark about that jersey,” I growled, trying to keep a straight face.  “I’ve worn that since Patty suited up for his 2nd game as a Sabre.  It was his very first jersey he wore in his very first NHL game.”
“No way!” Patterson said, surprised.
Wagner ignored the paint brush and looked over at the probie.  “Yes way.  She ain’t yanking your chain kid.  She’s very protective over the jersey, that’s why I like to pick on her about it.” As he said the last part he turned back towards me, grabbed my wrist and lowered my weapon.  He then turned me back to facing the wall I had been painting and patted me on the ass so that I would go back to it without argument.
During our little spat the Ranger’s had scored twice on Ryan, two minutes later my hubby scored to tie the game back up.  This time I put my paint brush down onto the tray and ran into the bedroom to watch the replay.  The guys followed me and we jumped and clapped together as we watched the highlight.  I could even feel the baby jumping around with me, like she (yes, Patty got me calling it a she) knew it was her daddy scoring.
We went back to painting until I heard Rick Jeanneret (the play-by-play announcer of the Sabres) start going crazy on a possible short-handed break away.  I ran back into the bedroom as Patty scored a shortie to put the team ahead in the game.  I squeaked and squawked as I watched Patty do his pathetic “starting the lawn mower,” celebration as he skated around the ice to be congratulated by his team.
“You are going to put yourself in pre-mature labor if you keep acting like that, Emma Kaleta!” Sandy laughed, effectively scaring the shit out of me because none of us had heard her walk into the house.
“Holy shit, Sandy!” I squealed.  “When did you get here?”
“Just in time to hear you bouncing around up here like a bunch of kids,” she said with a smile as she came over to do the customary patting of my belly and giving me a hug and kiss.  “I see my boy just got himself a short-handed goal?”
“Yup, yup!” I said with a proud smile.  “So whatchya doing here?”
“Figured I’d come over and check on you and see what kind of painting needed to be done…”
I threw my arms back around her and said, “Thank you so much.  I want to get it done before Patty gets home at the end of the week…”
“Just so you know, it was like pulling teeth to get her to let us come over here!” Wagner called out from the nursery.
“I believe it!” Sandy yelled back as we walked back into the nursery, together.  “She’s been a stubborn ass, but that is nothing new,” she joked as she pulled me close to her again.
Sandy had been the mother I never had and I was glad that she was now, for all intensive purposes, officially my mom.
We were all still painting when the house phone rang.  I placed the portable between my ear and shoulder so that I could still paint and answered, “Congratulation’s Patty on your game winner, baby!!!  Second Star tonight!!  You are awesome!”
“Whooot!” he yelled back into the phone at me, obviously still excited about the great game he played tonight.  “Why can’t I do that shit when I’m home and you are in the stands?”
“I’m obviously bad luck…”
“That is not true.”
I just giggled as I pictured him furrowing his brow and tightening his already chiseled jaw as he scolded me.  Patrick absolutely hated when I missed his home games and hated it even more when I would make remarks about being a bad luck charm if he played poorly or the team lost.
“Good job on keeping yourself outta the penalty box!” I exclaimed, changing the subject.
“I thought I might have to go after Avery at one point, but I didn’t let him goad me on too much…So what are you up to?”
“Painting the baby’s room.”
“By yourself?!” he grunted into the phone.
“Nope.  Wagner, Patterson and mom are over helping me.”
“Seriously?  You honestly have help?”
I put down my paint brush and hit the speaker phone button as I said, “Everyone say hello to Patty because he doesn’t believe that I’m letting people help me.”
“Hey Patrick!” Everyone said in unison.
“Holy shit.  Hey guys.  Thank you for putting up with my stubborn wife and helping with the nursery.”
Everyone just laughed as I took him off speaker phone.  “I’m going to make you pay for the stubborn wife comment, Kaleta.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said as I could hear him smiling through the phone.  “Well, we are getting on the bus to head to Montreal, so I’m going to let you go.  Text me when you go to bed and I’ll call you if I’m not in Canada yet.”
“Alrighty.  Patrick?”
“Yeah, Emmy?”
“I love you and I miss you already.”
“Mmm…I love and miss you too Baby Mama.  Behave yourself and let people help you.  I mean it, Emma.”
“Yes, Patty.”
“Love you bye.”
“Love you bye.”

April 26th, 2010

“Well that sucks ass,” I said as I climbed into the taxi with Emma as we left the TD Garden to head to the airport.  We were officially out of the playoffs after taking it to 7 games.  We finished first in our division and now we were the first out of the playoffs.  Summer had officially arrived earlier than expected for a team that worked so hard this year.  I felt even worse knowing that all of Buffalo was going to be just as disappointed.
“I was so proud of you when you scored that goal tonight, babe.  You guys tried your best against the pieces of shit,” she said as she placed a kiss on my cheek and squeezed me tightly.  This wasn’t the first time Emma had been through the let down of the playoffs and most definitely wouldn’t be the last time.  I knew secretly she was happy that the season was over so that we could finally be a family without the crazy hockey schedule.  This year’s compressed schedule was complete hell and truthfully, I was ready to start my summer with my new family.

February 10th, 2010

“You know, Drew is right, it is pretty damn handy that you happened to get hurt right around the due date of our baby,” she said as I attempted to help her climb out of the bathtub, but not having a ton of luck because I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot without shooting pain.
Her belly was huge!  Even though I’d never actually say that out loud.  If I hadn’t seen the ultra sound, I wouldn’t believe that there was only one baby inside the belly of Emma’s.
Throughout the pregnancy, Emma was very much into exercising and keeping herself as trim as possible.  From the back you couldn’t even tell she was pregnant, but when she turned you would be shocked to find the large stomach she was carrying around. 
She refused to buy much maternity clothing unless it was for nice occasions, so around the house she took to wearing my hockey sweaters with gym shorts because she was constantly hot.  I loved watching her walk around in my old jerseys and enjoyed figuring out if she actually had shorts underneath them on the days she wore the real short shorts.
She had stopped working a week before Christmas mainly because it was getting hard for her to climb up into the driver seat of the truck and she was very uncomfortable being on her feet for long periods of time.  She was supposed to stop working by the New Year, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but I knew she was still somewhat disappointed about it.
It was nice having her home all the time and we enjoyed our time together by finishing up decorating odds and ends around the house and just spending more time together.
She was able to come to all the home games and even traveled to a couple of the away games that were in the northeast, including Pittsburgh, Long Island, Toronto and Philly.  It made my night every time I stepped onto the ice and could look up and find her smiling back at me.  Her belly had become the talk of HSBC arena and she frequently had people stopping her asking her how the baby was.  They even had a pool going in which we raised $100,000 that we insisted go to my charity to help kids buy hockey gear.
In the beginning of February, during a game with the Penguins, I suffered a bruised foot and now I’ve been hobbling around the house on crutches, which didn’t make it easy for me to help my very pregnant wife, plus I was chomping on the bit to get back on the ice, even though we were going into the Olympic break shortly.
I grabbed her fluffy robe off the door and wrapped it around her, gently squeezing her and pressing my lips to the soft skin of her neck.
I breathed her fresh soap scent in and exhaled, “Mmmm…baby you smell so good.”
“I don’t feel so good right now,” she chewed through her teeth.
“Something wrong?”
“I dunno, I just haven’t been able to get comfortable all day,” she said as she threw her wet hair up into a towel.
“Do you think we are getting close to meeting our little one?” I asked as I rubbed her belly that felt hard as a rock right now.
She took in a deep breath and pinched her eyes shut like she was willing pain to pass.
“Emma, are you having contractions?”
I looked over at the clock and noted the time 3:45pm and then helped her over to our bed, willing her to sit for a bit.  She didn’t put up a fight and I climbed up next to her so that she could lean into me as I wrapped my arm around her.
“Just try closing your eyes and get some rest, babe,” I said quietly as I turned the NHL Network to see what was going on around the league.  About 15 minutes later I felt her tense up again and once more 12 minutes later.  “Emma, I’m calling the doctor.”
“No, I’m fine.  My water didn’t break…”
“They said in that book you gave me to read that it won’t always break on its own.”
She took a deep breath and blew it out, “Fine,” she grumbled, handing me the cell phone with the doctor’s number already keyed up.

4th of July, 2010, 2018hrs.

“The city is rockin’ tonight!” Wagner commented as we sat on the flat roof of the firehouse, over looking the city and the fireworks they were setting off on the barges in the lake.
“And of course we have to be working…” I mumbled as I rocked back on my chair, taking another sip of my coke.
“See, that’s what I don’t understand.  You don’t have to be working Emma.  You could quit this job and be a stay at home mom.  I know I would do that if my husband was a professional hockey player.”
A smile came across my face before answering because he was not the first one to make the same remarks.  “I’ve loved this for so long that I can’t even think about giving it up.  Sure, I’d love to be a stay at home mom for Maddie, but I can’t imagine not doing this.  Especially since you guys are just as much family as Patrick’s family is to me.  Besides, it’s not about the money.  Hell over half my paycheck goes to the Fallen Firefighter’s Fund the rest is paying off the house so that we don’t have that debt hanging over our head if Patty would get traded or something.  Further, you never know if, God forbid, he would become injured and never able to play again.”
Wagner left out a small chuckle of agreement.  “You know Kaleta?  You are one amazing woman.”
“Nah, just one stubborn woman,” I said with a smile and glance towards him.
Our thoughts were shattered when the pagers on our belts began vibrating and tone poured out of them.
“Ladder 21, Rescue 2, Engine 20, Heavy Collapse Unit, due to respond to
5621 Ohio St.
for structure fire with possible building collapse.”
“Guess it’s our turn to join into the party,” I said with a snort as we ran down the stairwell to the first floor.
“Kaleta!  You’re officer on the collapse truck!” Charlie called over to me.  “Wagner, Patterson, you’re on the truck with her!”
I was jogging over to the truck as Wagner came up along beside me, grabbed my hand and kissed it like he often did when we knew we were going to be partners for a job.  “It will be my pleasure, my lady.”
I rolled my eyes as he pulled the door open for me to climb in the front officer’s seat.  I climbed up and buckled in as we pulled out onto the street with our lights reflecting off the neighboring buildings and the cue blaring to announce our presence.  I picked up the radio to go responding with dispatch, not knowing quite yet that what we would encounter would change lives forever.