Excerpt from: Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. ~Lamott
At your ‘Celebration of Life’ I sit in the front pew a hand-reach away from the flag-draped casket with your still body inside. I try to concentrate on our daughter, poised and elegant as she delivers her Daddy’s eulogy. Every once in a while I see you behind her, your hands on her shoulders, but the vision fades each time I blink. Damn the Xanax or whatever they gave me to handle the day. I don’t need “endure death candy” to survive. I need you not to be dead.
Yesterday, a crowd gathered outside our closet. I was inside turning circles, touching your suit jackets and flannel shirts and casually said, “I need you to choose the dress, dammit.” I am positive I heard you say, “The red one,” but when I plucked it from the hanger and turned around there was a collective gasp from my Southern friends. They passed tissues, warned me away from creating a scandal, shook their heads and insisted on black.
I wish now I had worn the red dress. I try to stay present in Sheri’s words, but all I can think of is you alone in that box and your absolute hatred of being bound up in choker dress whites and trapped. I want more than anything to stand up, pry open the lid and unbutton the uniform so you can at least relax a bit while we do this thing – this pomp and circumstance – this telling of stories about your life that I so desperately need to hear.
When Carl stands at the podium so overcome with emotion he can barely speak, I consider calling the entire thing off. Everyone can go home. This isn’t real. My vision blurs and my mind starts to skip. I know I appear properly present: shoulders back, chin up, hands folded in my lap. But when my knees begin to shake, and I cross my left ankle over my right and force myself to sit with a rigid back, I hear you laugh at my finishing school maneuvers. I’ll never know now why these idiosyncrasies entertained you so.
And just like that, something inside me shifts very subtly, so that all the empty spaces in my heart fill with memories, like water flows — into crevices so precious there are no words big enough to describe where I’ve gone.
I am standing alone in the dark on a country road next to my broken down Datsun B-210 waiting for you to save me.
You pull over in your roommate’s Corvette, jump out of the car like it’s on fire, open the passenger door and yell, “Get in,” which, of course, prompts me to say, “Go to hell.” I am so relieved you’ve found me I want to cry. But I can’t give in and we stare at each other for a long moment through the dark before I grab my things, saunter to the car and slide into the leather seat. Warm and grateful, I sit silently while you drive and lecture me about my stubborn ways: singing back-up for an idiot Elvis impersonator even after you told me he was bad news, driving my derelict car on deserted country roads, wearing high heels.
“It’s three in the morning, you’re broken down on a deserted road and you have no protection and no shoes to walk in and you’re miles – forty miles – from home. Jesus, you drive me crazy!”
I think: pot calling the kettle and I’m not giving up the heels, so I remain quiet until the silence between us becomes too loud.
“How did you find me?”
You glance at me, downshift around a curve and sigh so loudly your breath fills the car, “I will always find you. You’re in my blood.”
I fell in love with you that exact moment. I might have known it before then, felt it swimming around in my head and heart, but it was right then that I knew.
We drive for over an hour, up and down hills, through canyons and around crazy curves until you stop at a country store to buy me coffee, yourself a Pepsi and donuts smothered with powdered sugar and wrapped so tightly in cellophane that it takes ten minutes and your knife to rip open the package. High on caffeine, covered in sugar, we make it to the top of Palomar Mountain before the sun rises. The dawn is quiet and smooth and we are alone in the world. It is a perfect moment and I let you talk me into making love on the picnic table in the cool breeze under a giant oak.
Tim is talking now, telling a story about how you taught this young officer from the Naval Academy to always “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” There is an easy cadence to his words. I can just barely hear his voice through the chatter of waking birds. I think – just now – being folded in your arms as the sunlight peaks through the oak leaves above our heads is the right thing to do.
Like a dance movement, you are up and dressed before I even notice the crunch of tires on gravel. You wrap me in the poncho-liner; pull me up, brush a kiss against my lips and whisper, “Smile,” just as a Ranger’s truck pulls in. I do, but only because I’m a little awe struck at how easily you approach the driver’s open window, lean in and chat, like you own the surroundings. When the Ranger tips his hat at me and says, “Morning Ma’am,” I manage a dignified smile. I’m quite sure he notices that even my bare feet are blushing and I look away first, stare at the tree and imagine what the inside of a jail cell looks like.
Your grin and swagger as the truck pulls away annoys me. I feel as though I’m the object of a little “outdoor fun” discussion between two men, and my absolute relief at not being arrested blooms into anger. I am not easy and this was not a joke. I bolt off the table, cuss at the gravel digging into my skin and find you standing in my way, legs slightly apart, arms folded.
I glare at you.
I am absolutely sure I see tears in your eyes when you say, “I told him you were the mother of my unborn children.”
Dear God, you take my breath away.
I wonder now if that oak tree still delights in our presence.
You are incorrigible. On this day and in this moment, making me relive this memory in such detail that I have to grab the seat of the pew and laugh out loud, which instantly wakes me into the present moment. Carl has stopped speaking and stares at me, concerned.
Perfect. The room is silent. I can feel two hundred eyes on the back of my head. For a moment I imagine the local Sheriff is going to stand up and arrest me for indecent behavior at a funeral. It matters not that I’ve appropriately worn black and I’m the widow. I feel exposed; scandalous. I hear your distant laughter and I bite my lip to keep from laughing with you. I manage a weak, “I’m fine.”
If they only knew.
Carl nods and begins to talk again about you as only Brothers can; calling you out for being a supreme pain in the ass and at the same time praising your life word after word. So many of your Brothers are here and they each take a turn to tell their story of you – this larger than life man. They don’t know the half of it. I hear stories you never told me and remnants of those you did. Carl stands again, chokes back tears, and asks you to prepare the final Platoon in Heaven and wait there until he arrives.
He steps down and tenderly presents me with the small flag. He climbed to the top of a building in Jordan with that flag – thrust it to and fro – and folded it himself.
This is more than I can bear and you know it and pull me away.
While taps play you dance with me on the roof of our home in Gaeta and between sips of champagne convince me that you alone arranged a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.
Mag’s had your draped flag flown over BUD/S and as they take it from you, I whisper, please be careful. I’m not sure they hear me because I’m dancing in mud and watching your eyes and trying to be very, very quiet in our secret place. They fold it, one exact movement after another and when they hand it to Carl, I ask you to wait… just for a moment or an eternity.
He steps close to me, leans in and says, “You should have worn the red dress,” and I know this to be true.
I hold your folded flags tightly against me and allow my soul to stay wrapped in your arms on the top of a distant mountain years and distance away, while I take one step and then another. The aisle is long – miles long – and it is dark and I am broken and I need to find my own way. It occurs to me then that I have such a long way to go before I am home again with you. I stop, look down at my pretty black high heels, step out of them and leave them right there on the chapel floor.
Scandalous, I know.
You were always right about the heels.
I thought I wouldn’t live through it. But I did. I learned to love the places you left behind for me. ~LBukowski
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013, December. All rights reserved.