Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love
“You have the power to heal yourself, and you need to know that. We think so often that we are helpless, but we’re not. We always have the power of our minds. Use your power.” ~Hay
I close my eyes at the exact moment the wheels of the plane leave the runway and let the tremendous roar and rush of power hold me against the seat. One long moment of intense anticipation that feels like us. I like it here, suspended and helpless.
It feels like our last Sunday morning.
From my place on the bed, I narrow my focus and let the bathroom doorway frame you like an object d’art. I watch you shave, content with my coffee and imagination; a story waiting to find its way to the journal on my lap.
I ask, “What does a person feel right before they surrender?”
You angle your head, pull the razor up one side of your cheek, rinse the blade and speak to the mirror, “Helpless.”
“Yes, but what does helpless feel like?”
“Wouldn’t know. Never been.”
I wait for you to finish your morning ritual before I slip off the bed, enter your kingdom and prove you wrong.
Research for a story I may never finish.
Over breakfast that morning we discussed in finite detail the difference between submitting to a lovely helplessness and feeling brutally helpless and while I try to recall our exact words, this memory leaps into another:
I’m hanging from the top edge of four-story scaffolding with hands slick from spattered paint; frozen with fear. You yell up at me, amused, “You climbed up there like a sexy cat. What’s the problem?” When I don’t answer and can’t catch my breath, your voice drops an octave, “Don’t look, just feel… hand grip, find your footing… that’s it…” I make it one story down before I slip and grab wildly and cry out. My heart beats so rapidly I think it’s moving the steel frame, but the vibration is you climbing up behind me, covering me, “Put your hand here, now here, I’ve got you, footing, again…” and your voice changes – striking and intense – Always consider your options, Lynn… you are never helpless.
Right now I am strapped to a seat in a passenger jet with a hundred other souls and what remains of your beautiful body rests on my lap in a wooden box. I cannot fly the plane and I cannot bring you back. Screw my options. If I die in a plane crash, you damn well better be there to greet me and if I don’t die, I’ll continue to long for the day. Of course just thinking such a thought makes me feel badly about killing all the other passengers and my flash of anger deflates into a prayer for you and God to keep us safe.
I wonder now if you sit next to Jesus, boss saints around and discuss options.
I loved flying with you. Always in the aisle seat, you sat like you were ready to pounce. I was content to watch people and whisper their lives in your ear. “The man across the aisle at the window seat clutching his hat. There’s a photo taped inside. It’s a child. He’s rigid with fear; hates his job, hates flying, but the photo anchors him. Loves his family, though, so he’ll keep doing both…” You elbow me gently; flip through the pages of your magazine. I lean closer and whisper, “The young woman three seats up, fidgeting, in the too short dress and the well-worn heels? She’s eyeing the man on the aisle across from her. Watch… she’ll bump his shoulder with her hip when she stands; smile shyly. He’ll get up and follow her.
“Shush…” you say. But when the woman stands and pretends to lose her balance, you close your magazine and watch. And when the man follows moments later, you turn to me with exaggerated scorn and say, “You scare me…”
My intuition was our secret.
When the lights blink on and the chatter begins and the world levels out, I am disappointed beyond reason.
Living constantly requires my attendance.
I always choose a window seat now. I still see stories in people, but there’s no one to tell, so I turn my head away. Perhaps when we lose the one person our secret is safe with, the secret dies too.
“Are you okay?”
The shoulders of the man next to me are too wide to fit properly in the seat. He smells of Clive Christian, has dark thoughtful eyes, and looks remarkably like an older version of Jeff, which astounds me.
I try not to stare, but the resemblance is uncanny. I manage to answer, “Yes, thank you…” while my mind slips to a last memory of young Jeff.
His eyes crystalize with pain, his hands tremble against my forearms; his voice pleads with me, “I… goddammit, I don’t know what to do. Please…”
You lean against the hospital wall a few feet away with folded arms and tired eyes. The twenty-hour fight with Command to bring this young man back to the island from training is over; the battle won, but you still stand sentry.
I had no idea what to say or do, so I say the first words that come to me, “You love each other through this. That’s what you do.” He nodded tersely and slowly released his grip on my arms. Just before he entered the room to be with his laboring wife and their soon to be still-born infant, he turned to me and said, “God help me.”
I say, “He will.” I think, Brutally helpless.
I am still in this thought when the man leans in. I flinch. He attempts to move away, but there is only so much room.
I have this thing now about physical boundaries. I don’t like people getting too close to me. I know it’s hurtful – even to complete strangers – but I think death does this to the living. Touch is too loud and sounds are too fast and I cannot seem to find my bearings.
“You’re crying,” he says.
“Am I?” I reach up and touch my face, genuinely surprised to find moisture.
Slowly, he holds out an offering – a folded white handkerchief in the palm of his hand. I find this charming and old fashioned, but I make no attempt to take it. “Please…” he says.
I take the handkerchief and touch it to my cheeks. I know he wants to engage me in conversation; I can feel it. His energy is gentle and I could easily offer so many simple reasons for tears, but I am suspended between a memory of our last and lovely Sunday morning and a young man’s broken soul. Both are far too intimate to share, so I whisper, “Thank you…” and lower my gaze.
With both hands I grip the plain wooden box on my lap so tightly my knuckles turn white and looking at them oddly reminds me of Crystal’s delicate hands clutching the sides of the hospital gurney.
“Relax your grip, honey, you’re safe.” I whisper.
“But I’m falling off the edge of the world…” she says.
I’m staring at my own hands when I realize I’ve placed the man’s wet handkerchief against the box under my naked fingers; a barrier between you and me. I know it’s a ridiculous notion, I know it’s a box, I know these are ashes. In some closet in my mind, though, I’ve put a stranger between us and it is as real to me as your death. He watches as I brush the handkerchief quickly onto my knee. The act feels rude and unkind, but I don’t have the breath to apologize. I need to close my eyes; concentrate through the rising panic and as I do, I notice – perhaps for the first time – how excruciatingly painful it is to have a broken heart.
I’m falling off the edge of the world.
Softly, he says, “I used to be afraid of flying.”
I shake my head no, stare out the window, and grip the box so firmly my hands shake.
I’m not sure why or what I’m holding on to so tightly, but I sense it’s a last and final thread and when it breaks, I need to be ready for impact.
Going numb is a practiced skill. It began the morning after you left and I welcome it now like a new friend. I named it grief and asked it to stay around and come in full force when I need it. I’ve decided I need to stay clear of undiluted joy and sorrow, so numb is my easy. Besides, I don’t think grief is sadness. Sadness has a shelf life; grief endures.
“Precious cargo?” he asks.
“My husband,” I answer. My tone is monochrome, as though you’re waiting for me in First Class. Numb is my easy.
There is an awkward moment of silence before he says, “I’m so terribly sorry.”
I don’t know how or if I respond because my memory is jolted back to Tripler Medical Center and Crystal lying perfectly still on a sterile hospital gurney that seems too short for her tall frame. She is seven months pregnant and looks impossibly young. The infant she carries is no longer living, but the doctors must induce labor and she must give birth. To a dead child. It is an impossibly cruel ending to a precious gift.
She is on her back staring at the blemished square tiles of the ceiling and each time she blinks into the florescent light, silent tears leak down the sides of her face. Any words of comfort I have do not leave my lips. They are flat and empty against the enormity of such anguish. She has held this devastating truth for twenty-four hours waiting for her husband to arrive and with every third breath she turns her head to find me and whispers, “I’m so terribly sorry.”
She is sorry she called on us in the middle of the night. She is sorry we’ve never met before. She is sorry she walked so far three days ago. She is sorry she cried herself to sleep. She is sorry she fought with Jeff on the phone the other night. She is sorry she cannot make friends easily with other wives. She is sorry for staying so long in the sun, wanting to work, leaving the bathroom a mess. She is sorry for crying; for being so weak and helpless.
Dear God, I pray, give me soothing words… No words come. Instead, I turn the light off, place a cool washcloth on her forehead and hold my hand against her cheek to catch her tears. It is the only comfort I can give.
There is a long while when the only sounds in the room are hospital monitors and room ventilation; lonely clicks and rushes of air that seem flippant and vulgar.
When she sighs heavily the sound echoes around the room. I hold my breath.
“Do you believe in Jesus?” she asks.
“Is He here?”
“Holding your baby,” I say, and I am blinded by my own silent tears.
A moment later the hospital room door cracks open and a sliver of light shines over your head as you motion me out to the hallway to meet Jeff.
I still see the light when I open my eyes. The flight attendant’s voice instructing us to prepare for landing seems far away, but I let the practiced words lull me back to the present. I ask the kind man next to me for his address so I can launder and mail his handkerchief back to him.
“Keep it please,” he says, “Perhaps we’ll meet again in our travels.” He looks at me thoughtfully for a long moment, hands me a business card and adds, “I am so sorry and I hope I’m not being too forward, but if you ever need anything, call me. Please consider that an option.”
You know me so well. Of course I need to be reminded of mortality, but not too harshly and with frequent breaks for frivolous distraction. So you send vivid memories that make me believe you must be holding that child in Heaven and plant complete strangers to carry your messages.
I am never helpless.
I nod at the man and attempt a smile. I cannot speak because I have no language for what really happens between you and me now. I can only be a faithful witness.
When the plane lands, the roar of the engines engulfs me, much like one of your hugs; from behind, as though you’ve taken a quick break from eternity while I’m standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes or sitting at my desk drowning in words. You must know I want that hug… with your lips pressed against my temple to let me know I am safe.
Kiss me now, please. Then you can get back to your Heaven.
Lynnette Bukowski ©2015 August. All rights reserved.