“There’s a little wild in you,” Steve used to say. I think he believed I needed the wild to come up fighting and scrapping amid this life that he led, as though this crazy ingredient was necessary to be the woman behind the warrior. He had a point. It takes a little wild to travel 10,000 miles away from home to marry the man I love in the middle of a monsoon surrounded by a Platoon of Navy SEALs armed with votive candles and a liquor-laced, a capella rendition of the “Wedding March”.
Steve’s passion for me was quiet and real, but his first love, the Brotherhood of the “Teams” could barely be contained. It vibrated just under his skin, hell bent on eruption, and flowed into every corner of our lives. I would learn soon enough that the stormy night in October 1978 was just the beginning of the torrential rhythm of our 31 year existence.
The truth is my marriage to Steve was not unlike locking myself in a cage with a hungry wolf. I did that once. Like my marriage, it was frightening and painful, joyous and loud and I knew I’d probably get eaten alive, but something – the slow dance and chance at survival – made it worth the risk. Wolves mate for life. I always kept this detail close to my heart, because to use the term “marriage” with wolves and warriors is fairly laughable. The union of Navy SEAL and the woman he weds is the igniting of a fire that burns white hot until it doesn’t anymore. In the wild the same premise holds true. Only a very few survive.
I did. And it had everything to do with Grace.
When I banged the cage open on this life, I was hell bent on my vision of a handsome prince and grand adventure as a 20 year old bride. I had no idea I would find instead an emotional rock fortress surrounding a driven man full of passion, honesty, pride and skill — with all the social grace of a troll. I suppose that might be a bit unfair. He did have an “on switch” used to charm world leaders and children, but he did not tolerate small talk or suffer idiots. Secretly, I found this endearing and useful.
And sure, it is always easy to rewrite history after the fact, but Steve really was one of the best of the best. Before real world news events and the current administration started leaking secrets about these men at work, Steve did his job as a Navy SEAL in complete silence. Most of them still do. He was trained and raised, so to speak, by the Frogmen of Vietnam and he did not sway for an instant from those lessons.
At first we lived as two young souls in a vacuum of subjects never to be discussed, which worked against every cell of the female in me. Women like details. We gather information, talk it through, report back in even more colorful detail and we like to be heard. Men could live their entire lives without sharing details. Steve listened well, but there had to be one of the following life sustaining events to look forward to shortly after his listening card was full: food, hard work, fun, sex, sleep. Shuffle as necessary and repeat. I was lucky to get complete sentences out of the man and even then, we talked around the obvious. That his job was dangerous, from training to deployments to war, was not up for discussion.
So we found other things to talk about and because we fancied ourselves madly in love, coming home to me was always his safe haven. I had his physical body, but after the initial welcome and the soft place to land, I continually had to clog and slog and pull my way through a thick dark muddy abyss with just a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the mental and emotional Steve might come home too.
For long moments after I gave birth to a child or brought a foster child home the murky fog would clear and this wonderful, weeping man who exhausted all of us with his playfulness and fierce love would appear like a long clear blast of cool air. Nothing was off limits when Steve had a child to entertain. His stories of adventure, replete with extraordinary detail, hands waving through the air and voice booming, could enchant children for hours.
Don’t think I didn’t ding him on this. I’d wait until all the kids were tucked in and asleep and say, “That was some detail there with bombs and booms, undersea exploits and cliff-hanging escapades. Do tell…”
With a huge grin, he’d ask for a sandwich or some such thing and say, “I made it up.”
I can’t stress this enough: Men like food, hard work, fun, sex, sleep. Repeat. Women like details.
Then he would leave on another deployment and I would hit face first into the wall of reality and the long hard climb back to unity. The man who left me was never the same man who walked through the door.
I truly believe I survived because I grew a spine of steel, reached deep and found an abundance of unconditional love, leaned heavily on impenetrable faith, rediscovered my fierce independence and matched Steve’s passion and resistance with my own fighting wild spirit. But perhaps it was simply Grace and to borrow Rumi’s words: Destined lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.
After 32 years of living on the edge of death and two more years working for a contractor, Steve fully retired. We owned a small ranch in North Carolina, a few horses and had a full on dream for a house full of grandchildren and the creation of a safe place for his Brothers to come to when they were done with their part in saving the world.
A few months later he finished a 16 mile bicycle ride and died of a massive heart attack at the tender age of 55. On that day two sheriff deputies arrived at my door and handed me a yellow sticky note with the acronym “D.O.A.” written in pencil.
Steve died as he lived, on his own terms with no fanfare or drama.
And my initial dreams of a fairy tale marriage? They never did come true. But something much larger than two people in love erupted into this world and I am forever grateful for such Grace.
I’ll carry on his dream in the very same way that I still get down on my knees every day and thank God that not one of us can live the way we want to because God does not let us get away with it.
We do not love on our own terms.
Be grateful in all ways for fierce love and wild abandon because at any moment the people we love can disappear just like this: You are here. Now you’re not.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Please visit www.lz-grace.com and https://www.facebook.com/LzGraceVeteransRetreat for more information about carrying out the dream. The time is now to grow a place of respite and renewal for our transitioning military warriors and their families.