Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer ~

Most of my slightly ‘off’ ideas start with a spark of intrigue and/or rebellion, wander around trails in my head, pause for rest, pause for prayer, and then take off like I’m driving a Maserati down The Stelvio pass in Italy.

This particular idea took hold one morning after I opened and read eleven different ‘Christmas Letters’ from friends and family near and far. Well before the social media craze, I always looked forward to these letters (and still do), but this year – 1987 – I noticed a pattern:  Everyone wrote about the ‘perfect’ and left out the ‘real’.  Eleven times that morning I read about another year of blissfully perfect marriage, and how they magically afforded a new house above their pay grade in a perfect neighborhood where all their perfect children were enrolled in perfect schools making perfect grades in three different languages and were perfect stars of the spare-time sport, club or troop the perfect parents drove them to in the brand new perfect car?

And there I sat with a cup of lukewarm coffee at a kitchen table dotted with sticky something and bread crumbs swirled into a rather artistic pattern by a 7-year old. His version of “wiping down the table after dinner” chore. Here was my pause. How could I not smile? And I was grateful for the moments of joy in our adorable-as-hell (artistically cleaned) rental home on Orange Avenue in Coronado, which we could barely afford, and which may or may not have been as a result of the brand-new Raleigh Tour de’ France worthy bicycle for Steve to ride to work, because… priorities.

Clearly, we lived in an alternate universe: Sort of broke, artistically clean and mostly happy. We had a lot of ‘real’ going on. I’ll even admit here that my sweatshirt was on inside-out and my feet were frozen, but finding a warm pair of socks meant opening the dryer, which would wake up the dog and then the kids and my perfect writing moment would be lost. Sticky elbows and cold feet it was, as I raced my pen across paper.

And so, the annual Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer was born.

I rhymed our ‘real’ (and my opinions) for 22 years, from 1987 to January 2010. I stopped writing it the year Steve died, but I can still see him grinning as he read every word and pretended to be annoyed with my candor. 

I tripped across my last poem a few days ago and decided to share our last ‘real’ to honor the memory of a man who made everything seem perfect in an imperfect world.

Merry Christmas to all and May Your New Year Delight You Daily…. 

HAPPY YEAR! (2010)

Four days after Christmas and all ‘round the house, ALL our creatures are crazy, yes, even the mouse,
Well, we don’t have a mouse, but I swear if we did, he’d be out chasing barn cats or in line to be fed.
The horses are neighing, one dog’s set on “bark”, thank God I have coffee and I can type in the dark,
At four in the morning, should the world not be calm? Welcome to Un-Ranch where it often goes wrong.

Hope your Merry’s still on and your Season’s still Bright, ‘round the world and in North Carolina,
No surprise here, I’m tardy again… c’est la vie… so Happy New Year from our little Norlina,
Go pour a cognac and take off your boots…’tis the time for the Zoo’s twisted cheer,
Of course if you’re saving up for massive tax hikes, I’ll understand if you just pop open a beer.

After twenty-plus houses in thirty-three years, it’s slightly shocking that we’re still on

Hawk’s Road,
But the “Money Pit” here is beginning to blossom, we’re no longer in the pack-transfer mode.
I think five years is planted, or at least digging in, the Zoo’s nearly from “around here” these days,
In this small country town full of big hearted folks, who don’t seem to mind much our strange ways.

The Terrorist and I (I meant Veteran, oh my) have grown quite fond of this wide open space,
I’m lobbying right now for a Ted Nugent bunker, a water board and a few cans of mace.
Oh my gosh, I’m just joking – or maybe I’m not – but either way I’ll be perfectly clear,
If the “O” and his gang keep maligning our Troops, it’s the moms and wives they should fear.
We rarely give in and we never give up and if we rallied they’d get down on their knees,
And that “apology tour” would be to all Troops, who still stand up for this Land of the Free.

See: https://www.stripes.com/opinion/dhs-went-to-extremes-to-sully-my-husband-s-name-1.91506

Really, you thought I’d skip politics this year? au contraire! Soap Box up and I’m full of glee,
Stewart! the war on terror is at our collective front doors, I think we’re stuck with that bastard ennui.
Still, I’m encouraged because by this time next year, they’ll run out of U.S. dollars to spend,
Hand-outs will stop and folks will stand up and we’ll take a look around DC’s land of pretend.
My liberal friends think I’m just being mean, but I’m really up for that Change and that Hope
Case in point, I hope to fire both sides of the Senate and House, and exChange Mr. Ivy-League bloke.
I’m calling up farmers, blue collar, small business, retired military who still employ common sense,
No Dems or Repubs, just real people, like us, who know the difference between a Trillion and Cents.

For those who are new to my seasonal cheer, I live out loud and don’t edit my views,
A short pause to disclose – my opinions are not necessarily those – shared by the entire Zoo.

Good thing Steve retired from gov contracts this year, now he works for himself and I don’t.
Turns out I’m a bit challenged with simple directions, well… it’s not that I can’t, I just won’t.
What difference does it make if I’m off by an inch, or I like to read while I hold up the wood?
Apparently a lot, ‘cause I’ve been fired on the spot, more times than I’ll admit or probably should.

Still, I nearly perfected my tractor driving skills, but that went south when I got stuck in the muck,
And though Steve was real peachy about getting me out, I concede that my tractor skills suck.
Between bugging dear Aaron on how he feels day to day, and following drill husband around,
They both cried, “Get lost!” so I applied for a job, and now I work for a Law Firm in town.

And don’t tell a soul, but the “hold-this-up gal” finds her respite when she drives off

 

and work starts,
Steve cleans and he shops and renovates all day long, and that damn tractor can sit where it’s parked.
For fun we ride horses, Big Ozzie and Zeus and let me tell you I’ve learned a lesson this time,
As in life, here’s a hint, keep your butt in the saddle, straight and balanced, it will work out just fine.
I still write late at night or by dawn’s early light and if I’m lucky, I’ll read a book from page one,
Our lively life is chockfull but sublime, and I can prove it with a semi-happy husband and son.

Speaking of Aaron, he’s doing quite well, takes life by moments and that’s the mystery of Grace,

I

He’s not much for schedules, or sleeping, or crowds, but at the end of the day finds his place.
Indeed he’s been gifted with an eye for the “lens”, taking photos that he posts on the web,
And this Spring he looks forward to a School for the Arts, we might just be talking “celeb”.
He still loves Euro Soccer and gaming ‘til dawn, and if we’re lucky we see him each night,
My best part of each day is coming home to hear him say, “Hey Mom, I was thinking, I might…”
Without really knowing, he teaches us forward — without fear, or “why me” or fuss,
“Grace meets us wherever we are, but does not ever leave us where it found us.” LaMott

Our Sheri girl’s here, she flew in Christmas Eve, for ten days she’ll be home with the Zoo,
Cross Country from Redding, California that is, raving hair and her dad’s eyes of blue.
The gal is so busy working three jobs at once, we normally chat late at night using “Skype”,
But it’s some kind of fun when we write on the run, even better that we can sleep while we type.
Have you heard about Transformational Development Agency (TDA) or Dr. Ayoade Alakija, CEO?
You will now – ‘cause Sheri’s her EA this year – and they’re both tootin’ smart, don’t you know.
Check them out (http://www.tdaafrica.com) and all that they do, it’s extraordinary, real life-changing stuff,
In addition, she’s Admin for Bethel’s Healing Room, as though changing the world ain’t enough.
Croatia, Iowa, San Fran and L.A., the travel bug must be passed on in genes,
But the stories she’ll tell, to her babies one day, will be full of delight and great scenes!
In between trips she works behind cameras and crew, filming concerts or great speaking minds,
I pity the poor fellow who asks her out on a date, because quite frankly she doesn’t have time!
Ipak mi kurzirati svjetski dan na pronaći ljepota , mi morati prijenos sa nas ili mi nađi prema ne.

Charlottesville’s still home for Stephen and Shawna, although life’s changing at a pace beyond fast,
They sold their spec house on a wing and a prayer, in the midst of the real estate crash.
Some call it luck, but it was undeniably skill, and perseverance can beat odds any day,
Between school and two jobs and Kavella, the cute, they still manage to fit time in to play.
The future holds all kinds of new and unknown and believe me these two like to go,
Soon they’ll be surfing big waves in Hawaii, or boarding slopes in the deep Oregon snow.
Whatever they dream, I know they can do, it’s an extra blessing bestowed to our crew,
I pray 2010 is an easier year, full of favor and life dreams anew.

Don’t fall off your chair, I finally finished my book, I’m now in “edits” per the agent from hell (joking…Jae),
If my brain stays intact and those red marks turn black, I just might have a novel to sell!
Eight years, more or less, I’ve been birthing this thing, full of mystery, suspense and intrigue,
Don’t worry a bit, I’ve changed your names and events, it’s all hidden in elaborate word weave.
It’s all fiction, I swear, as does the “team” — the asylum of nuts in my mind,
Perhaps this time next year, if I’m not blacklisted or jailed, I’ll wrap it and send it out signed!

There you have it, my friends, the news of the Zoo… a few opinions thrown in on the sly,
If you need us, just call, we’ll be digging our bunker, so leave a message or just drop on by.
The sun’s coming up and the horses’ a-light, racing shadows across open land,
The pond reflects hints, such a glimmering sight, a few birds chirp to warm up their band.
Trees welcome the wind and dance to a tune I can hear if I just take the time…
And as much as I jest, heaven knows we are blessed, with these moments of life in ’09.
Peace. Out.
May this New Year Delight You daily.
With Love and Prayers for our troops and their families around the world.
Happy New Year
from the Bukowski Zoo
Norlina, NC 27563

To my politically sensitive, Liberal Friends :
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. On behalf of my greedy, capitalistic country, I apologize for all real or perceived injustices on any country and take full blame for foreign domestic problems in said countries. To do my part to save the planet, I will show solidarity with you and join your efforts for improving the atmosphere, saving water and saving trees by the following actions: holding my breath one minute each hour, refraining from bathing and eliminating all toilet paper usage.

To all the rest:
A belated Merry Christmas and a just in time Happy New Year

Let Go of the Reins

dream-board-1
Actual Dream Board – 2013

I began once again to dream about the future at 10:02 pm on a Friday night eleven months and 26 days after Steve died. I only know this because at the exact moment I entered the dark barn on our North Carolina farm that evening, a full moon reached in and illuminated only the hands on an old kitchen clock and the rusty nail it hung on.

Restless and angry at God, my intention was to pack boxes in the loft and organize every square inch of life for my children because I was not willing to live through another night. I no longer had time for time, but I did have whiskey, sleeping pills and a spotless house. Our kids were grown, strong and smart. Our dogs and horses and barn cats would love them through this. My papers were in order, our bills were paid off, Steve’s life insurance was in the bank and the only way I was going to see Steve again was to find him where he was. I’d work out the whole mortal sin thing with God once we were face to face and I’d had my say.

There are no words large enough to describe the arrogance and insanity of a grieving heart.

But that damn clock. The precise time hovered over me like a necessary memory I could not quite reach. The woman once known as Lynn would have paused, noticed, waited patiently for the message, or the memory. But I could not find that woman. Frustrated and empty, I stood on the dirt floor of a dark barn until Pretty Girl, our paint mare, sauntered up behind me and rested her big head on my shoulder. I nudged her away. She nickered, nosed her halter off its hook, dropped it on the ground at my feet and stared at me with big eyes.

Two years earlier I was bucked off a Palomino and broke four ribs. In half. I had not climbed onto a horse’s back since. She knew and I knew it, but her energy both softened and emboldened me. I slipped on her halter, made a loose rein from the lead rope and used the barn wall to climb up onto her bare back and fold myself around her.

We walked all seventeen acres of the farm that night, around the ponds, through the trees, past the solid fencing I helped Steve build. I don’t know the exact time I let go of the rains, but it was then that my heart beat wildly with memories, my hands rested on my thighs, my body gave in to the movement and all the feelings and dreams of the woman known as Lynn returned to my mind and my soul.

I still do not know why God waits until we’re on the edge. I do know his timing is impeccable and it is not my imagination that this beautiful horse, who came to us the year before with the name of “Teacher”, would pause at precise moments, stand perfectly still to let me cry, catch my breath and begin again to dream.

I just had to let go of the reins.

 

Lynnette Bukowski ©2016 – All Rights Reserved

When my mother was a child she used to escape to her “rock in the sky” and dream. Usually about words. And if you’ve ever read her writing (www.gracebeyondgrace.com) you would understand how God poured His giant Yes all over that dream.

Fast forward a few decades and God is still pouring out His YES all over her dreams. These pics are part of her “Dream Board” she did maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Before we found this farm. Before we knew how things would go.
Almost every picture on this has come true. We pulled out this dream board and realized how precise some of the photos were – from statues serving as “signs” to the pool surrounded by trees. We knew horses would be involved but certainly didn’t know we’d have a horse farm. Even the veg garden looks like this – wild and full. Most incredibly, there’s a photo (not shown) of some interior guest rooms that weren’t designed by us but incidentally ended up looking EXACTLY like the magazine cut out.

All this to say. DREAM. Dream with God. Make it plain on tablets. Poster boards will do. 🙂

And one more thing, guys, there’s a picture of zebras on this poster. Don’t ask why but the way things are going I’m pretty sure there’s a Zebra in our future. Just sayin’. ~Sheri Bukowski

sheri-dream-board-photo

Helpless

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.

View from a plane 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…”

I know.

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 Wooden box 1 BWwhite 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.

“I do.”

“Is He here?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“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.

Hug from behind 2 BWWhen 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.

NAVY SEAL WIDOW REALIZES HUSBAND’S DREAM OF WARRIOR RETREAT

Steve and Lynnette

NAVY SEAL WIDOW REALIZES HUSBAND’S

DREAM OF WARRIOR RETREAT

LZ-Grace, a Facility for Special Operations Veterans, Home

Breaks Ground November 16th

Virginia Beach, VA — Master Chief Steve S. Bukowski passed away suddenly in 2010 after serving thirty-two years as a Navy SEAL, but his wife Lynnette is carrying on the vision they shared together of a healing sanctuary for Special Operations Forces, Veterans and their families.

On November 16th, Lynnette will celebrate the groundbreaking and dedication of LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat in Tidewater Virginia.  The facility will specialize in recreational programs and alternative healing therapies for the purpose of decompression and healing through community rather than isolation.

“Four months ago it was an abandoned horse farm with peeling paint and overgrown

"Mema" Sherry Van Campen (89) trimming trees at LZ-Grace
“Mema” Sherry Van Campen (89) trimming trees at LZ-Grace

grass,” Lynnette says of the property, “but with the help of many good-soul volunteers and donors, it’s really shaping up.”  Even Lynnette’s eighty-nine year-old mother is pitching in – the five-foot tall octogenarian has painted walls and trimmed branches to the limit of her short reach.

“We want it to feel like home away from home for our warriors,” says Lynnette, “Steve and I frequently hosted gatherings of his SEAL brothers at our house, and we saw the healing that occurs when these men rest and reconnect outside of a war environment.”

Once complete, LZ-Grace will offer traditional and non-traditional services including:

  • Equine therapy
  • Service canines
  • Chiropractic
  • Yoga
  • Meditation gardens
  • Climbing
  • Kayaking and more…

 

The groundbreaking ceremony is by invitation only and will be attended by many in the Special Operations Forces community, Virginia dignitaries, community supporters, volunteers, donors and selected media teams from local newspapers and national television news affiliates.

“The outpouring of support has been humbling and wonderful,” says Lynnette, “Steve

Eagle Scout Project - Warrior Fire-Pit. Materials donated by Lancaster Farms, Belgard and Luck Stone!
Eagle Scout Project – Warrior Fire-Pit. Materials donated by Lancaster Farms, Belgard and Luck Stone!

would be thrilled.”

LZ-Grace Warrior Retreat Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose operations have relied solely upon the help and generosity of donors, volunteers and family members.

To donate, please visit www.lz-grace.com

ABOUT LYNNETTE BUKOWSKI

Highly versed in military family issues, Lynnette Bukowski spent over 15 years as a Navy Family Ombudsman and mentor at numerous Naval Special Warfare Commands.  She advised Navy families through the difficulties of disruptive deployments and loss of life and experienced those turbulent waters herself as the widow of a thirty-two year veteran Navy SEAL.  Lynnette was also a Court Appointed Special Advocate member and guardian ad litem, serving as a therapeutic foster mother to over a dozen special needs children.  She is now an author, speaker, mentor, mother of three grown kids and founder of LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat. https://gracebeyondgrace.com/about/

ABOUT MASTER CHIEF STEVE S. BUKOWSKI

Steve S. Bukowski was a graduate of BUD/S Class 91 and served over thirty-two years as a U.S. Navy SEAL and silent professional.  He was an operator, instructor and mentor with SEAL Teams ONE, THREE, FOUR, EIGHT, SDVT-1, JSOSE, and served globally at numerous other Naval Special Warfare commands. https://gracebeyondgrace.com/2013/06/21/heres-to-not-crying-by-sheri-bukowski/

 

one red maple
Flag flying at LZ-Grace in Honor of our fallen Warriors and all who serve.
Spike & Selah Meditation
Morning mediation with Spike and Selah
Willow Tree Limbs - Going Down
Volunteer Arborist Greg Walker clearing dead trees on the grounds.
morning ferns
LZ-Grace Front Porch
Lynn picking up Mema's tree-trimming debris
Lynn picking up Mema’s tree-trimming debris
St Francis
St. Francis with a hole in his heart and needing a hand.

Honor, Live and Never Forget

Landing zone flagTo our First Responders across this great land, the many souls who have died as innocent civilians and brave Warriors since September 11, 2001, the families and friends who to this day miss and love, and to our living Warriors who continue daily to keep America safe,

LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat honors you today and each day.

We will Never Forget.

My heartfelt gratitude and special thanks to:

Our local Fire and Rescue Captain and Firemen;

John “Jack” Dye, NREMT-B, EMT Scott, and Maria Rataiczak for honoring us with your presence;

Loretta Morrison on bagpipes and the beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace;

Diane Van Campen for organizing and proving nourishment to all;

Sherry Van Campen, Toni Donlinar, Kristine Mynes, and Aaron Bukowski  for working so hard to prepare LZ-Grace for this solemn and beautiful day;

to an unnamed and loved individual for wisdom, magic and guidance;

and to Nancy Watters, for filming, editing and producing a brilliant video on a moment’s notice.

Over Coffee

Excerpt Chapter from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

Sunday Morning coffee porch

Love is a constant trying and reaching and failing and falling and trying all over again. ~LB

I am sitting on an antique chintz sofa at Blaylock’s Funeral Home waiting to receive your ashes. The lighting is soft and the artwork lovely and it reminds me of the Priest’s rectory and the disaster of marriage counseling and how beautifully that day ended for both of us. No thanks to the Priest.

When Bobby walks into the room and sits down next to me, my heart begins to race. I don’t know the rules or what words to say and out of the corner of my eye I see your image leaning against the doorframe with your arms crossed over your chest, chin up. Your lips are pressed together just enough to let me know you approve. My eyes blur with tears. It is impossible and morbid to think that your strong, chiseled body now fits into an urn.

“The engraving is beautiful,” Bobby says.

I wonder if there is a return policy – an undo – a please return his body to me because I cannot stand this for one more minute – clause.

“It is,” I say.

I reach out and trace the Trident with my fingertips. It is engraved with such detail and care that I feel you move through me and I take this as confirmation I’ve done this one thing right. The beloved “Budweiser” defines you, our life together and the ethos by which we lived, far better than the inadequate words I chose. To be fair, though, I would have had to use infinitesimal small print on all four sides and every square inch of the urn and even then, there are not enough words in all of history to describe you. I glance at your image in the doorway and think, “Don’t let that go to your head.”

I feel you smile and my memory reaches back to that sunset in Del Mar and our Del Marsecond beginning.

I watch you gather words; arrange them in your mind as you stir cream into your coffee. I can read your face like a sweet braille on the tip of my tongue. You love and hate this about me, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been at home in your silence.

When you look up and stare at me a hush falls over the world. You say, “I get mad and yell. It’s who I am. You know that. But no more fists through the wall. The furniture will stay intact. And you and our babies…always were and always will be safe.”

“I fear the rage, Steve. Not you.”

Your eyes are so tired. I want to kiss your eyelids, soothe away every pain of the last eight months, but I am not your savior and I am barely your wife. I keep my hands to myself.

You say, “I fear you…”

“That’s a lie.”

“It’s not a lie.” You reach across the table; place your thumb on the inside of my wrist and say, “I fear you will leave me forever. It scares me more than anything I’ve ever been or done or will do. Can we skip the counseling bullshit and just do… you and me again?”

The steam from our coffee rises between us in the shape of a promise.

Bobby touches my arm and asks, “Are you okay, Lynn?”

I blink; feel each beat of my heart as it drains the blood from my head. I fight the dizzy because I am desperate to answer you.

“Yes,” I say.

Bobby knows I am not talking to him.

He helps me to the truck and waits while I decide where to place your urn. The floorboard seems disrespectful and the backseat too far away from me. There should be some goddamn guidelines: How to transport your lover’s remains. I can actually feel your impatience and his unnerving calm. I decide on the passenger seat, buckle you in and climb behind the wheel, but my hands shake so badly I cannot put the key in the ignition. I’m angry. So angry I want to grab the urn, throw it in the bed of the truck and scream, “There you go, badass… that’s what you get for dying.”

The minutiae of death are stirring my crazy.

More than anything I want to drive three thousand miles to the hotel in Del Mar, book our room with the ocean view, and stay there for the rest of my life.

Instead, I drive to the only place I can think of where I won’t have to explain.

Your urn is heavy – or perhaps death is – but the heaviness soothes me, like a weight that holds me in place. I use both hands, back through the glass door and find a table in the corner where I place you just so – the back of the urn to the wall; the entrance and entire room in view. Habits die hard.

Mary-Beth weaves through the tables with a coffee pot and two cups. This week her hair is red and spun high on top of her head and her blue eye shadow matches her sweater. She puts both cups on the table, pours coffee into one and asks, “How ya’ holdin’ up, darlin’?”

We both glance at your urn. I say, “I know this is odd.”

“Nothin’ odd about it. That’s a fine looking urn. You just pick him up?”

I nod.

“Well then, seems just right to me. We’ve missed ya’. The gals and I was just talkin’ about the two of you. Always whisperin’ over coffee… and that man’s eyes… I’ll tell you what!  Had a look meaner than a caged coon, but always polite and tipped nice. We notice those things.”  She looks straight at your urn and says, “Just so ya’ know.”

I nod. Perhaps part of the sweetness of moving to a small town where nobody really knows us is this acceptance of how out of place we are and how quickly we blend in.

She fusses with napkins, leans in and says, “Deet’s and me, we barely have a civil word to say to each other after all these years. Gotta love the man, though. Works himself to death.” She clamps a hand over her mouth, “Oh, honey, that’s just a figure of speech, now. I’m not thinkin’ right.” She pats my shoulder, “I bet you two never had cross words.”

Our worst fight lasted eight months and grew to epic proportions, so out of control that I packed up half the house, both children and drove across country to figure it out.  I say, “Yes, we did,” and the tears begin to fall.

“Oh now, I’ve gone and made ya’ cry.”  She hands me a tissue from her apron pocket, “It’s fresh; just wrinkled. I’ll leave you be, Miss Lynn. Y’all enjoy your coffee and holler if you need somethin’.”

I take a deep breath as she walks away, tear open a Sweet n’ Low and hear you say, “Stop using that crap!” so clearly it brings a smile through the tears. All three waitresses and the scattering of customers stare at me.

It’s not like I didn’t do bizarre things while you were alive. I’m damn near famous for some, but bringing your remains in an urn to a small town café to have coffee with me probably tops the list. I don’t care.

I want to sit here and believe you are with me. I want the clink of dishes and random chatter and sounds of life because the silence at home is deafening. I want to remember every single word we said and all we did right, after how badly we went wrong.

You leave a twenty dollar bill on the table, pick up both coffee cups and say, “Follow me.”

I do. Down corridors and around corners until you open the door to an ocean front room and the sound of crashing waves rolls over me. I want to disappear, just here, with you. It’s been so long.

I step out of my shoes, remove my sweater; suddenly determined.

“Later,” you say, “Talk to me.”

I shake my head.

“Use words,” you say.

“I can’t.”

“Then tell me what you can’t say.”

I watch you sit down in the chair, coffee in hand. You cross your legs, perfect a smug posture and try to hide a smile.

I won’t win this one. I know it and you know it. I drop down on the bed; stare at the ceiling and exhale, “Fine. Here’s what I cannot say! It frightens me when you disappear right in front of me. When whatever it is takes over your body and pulls at my strength. I cannot say that in seven short years I’ve mastered hiding my own desires and wants and needs in my emotional closet so as not to disrupt your life when you’re home.”

I turn my head and look over at you. You do not look up. Your hands are on your knees and your head is bowed and I want to crawl into your lap, but I stay where I am.

I take a soft breath and continue, quietly, “I cannot say that I feel insignificant and unworthy because I can never find the perfect balm to soothe you or the exact words to pull from you the seed of your angst. That without reason, I began to believe I am that seed and I want to deny my own thirst so as not to grow the weed. I cannot say… that I have enough love for both of us if you would just trust that enough to let me crawl in to the place where you need comfort.”

I hear you cross the room, feel you lie down beside me. You take my hand and in a voice so soft I can barely hear your words, you begin, “I cannot say to you that I am scared to death and fear nothing. That I want my own things and my own time and my own space and need to be with my own thoughts until I know what I’ve seen and what I’ve done and who I am is all one and I am solid again.  I need sex for my hunger and food for strength and I don’t want to talk or think or be and I can’t love and I can’t feel and I never know if any of that will come back and I need you to wait.”

You wrap yourself around me and whisper, “I cannot give you up or let you go or leave you behind. And I love you beyond all reason and I cannot stand your tenderness or your tears when I’m like this and I cannot make you understand the difference.  I cannot say I am afraid of your love.”

I say, “I wonder, if you lock anger in a box, does it stay there forever? Does it stay there long after your gone? And who opens it in the end?”

You roll over and stare at the ceiling for a long moment and say, “You do. And you bury it in the sand.”

The ocean took the rest of our words and drowned our hurt well into the night.

Mary-Beth stands at the edge of the table and studies me, biting her lip. When I look up at her she asks, “Are you hungry, honey?”

I shake my head.

Silently, she refills my cup, pats me on the shoulder and walks away.

“I don’t know how to deal with his intense and unexplained anger,” I say.

The priest considers me, steeples his fingers, sighs deeply, “And what is it you do to make him angry?”

“I… Perhaps I’m not being clear…” I look over at you, at the hint of an ‘I told you this wouldn’t work’ on your lips. I sit forward, “He. Wakes. Up. Angry…. He. Comes. Through. The. Door. Angry!”

“Entirely true,” you say.

The priest nods at you, looks at me and says, “I see. And so, it must be something you’ve done. Come now. Think hard.”

I want the secret code from God to unlock your soul and calm the fire inside you. I want guidance and help. I’m entirely sure I do something every three minutes to make you mad, but that’s not why we’re here. There is anger and there is this… this furious rage. How do I battle an unknown terror that eats away at your soul, puts your fist through walls, and frightens our babies?

“I’m done here,” I say. 

From the hallway I hear, “Go with God, Son.”

I think: God better have a separate car.

You come out smiling, take my hand, and say, “To be fair, the Monsignor doesn’t have a clue what it’s like being married to me.”

“He doesn’t have a clue what it’s like being married. Period!

“Point,” you laugh.

I let go of your hand. “There’s not one damn thing funny about this. Is it me, Steve? Is all that rage, all of this because of something I did?”

“No. I told you that when you left. I’ve told you that every week since. It’s gone, over, locked down.”

I want to believe you.

You take my elbow, open the car door and say, “Buckle up, I have an idea…”

The words remind me of us before the fury; before life became wrapped in anger, before I bolted like a frightened child. I am so lost without you. I close my eyes while you drive and silently ask God to skip over the middle man and just give me the key to your peace.

He does, but He makes me wait until we’re at a hotel coffee shop in Del Mar.

I wonder now if death would be easier on us – the living – if we knew the answers to all the questions we can never ask. Was life enough? Did you feel loved? Were you relieved when the angels came and said, ‘Well done, Son, let’s go home now.’  But more than anything, I want to know in your last moments, did you think of me?

Steve's Urn

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Scandalous

Excerpt from: Love is Born in Giant Fields of Crazy (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

Palomar Mountain - Our Oak Tree

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.

“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 milesfrom 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.

Black high heels

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.

My Emily Friend Who Smells Like Pine…

A Christmas Glimpse… Fir Tree Needles

Please take a moment this season to adopt a Warrior who cannot be home with family, give to a foundation to assist the children of fallen Warriors, feed a hungry family, or find a child to “light up” with Love.

navysealsfund.org; semperfifund.org; TheJoelsFund.org; navyseallittlewarriors.org; marsocfoundation.org; 

Emily Diedra, small girl who smells like pine, like a tree cut fresh that Daddy shakes and brings through the door on Christmas Eve. Something like the crisp of the woods—it gets in my nose, the way her head smells when she’s leaning close to me over a jigsaw puzzle or on the porch where we are squatting over jacks and trading shiny rocks that we pretend are from different countries where my Daddy goes.

In my memory we say prayers and then for the fifth night in a row she takes a twig of pine needles and wraps a ragged towel around it, gently, like we tuck in our baby dolls. She puts the towel under her pillow and tells it something. I never hear what she whispers and I tell her again, “Mama doesn’t like us to whisper,” but she smiles, just before I turn the lights off, and promises someday to whisper loud.

In the dark Emily Diedra tells me a story about her mama with green eyes and about so many brothers there’s no time to count them. And how they would all sleep in one bed, some at the top and some at the bottom, because that way her mama could hug them all at one time from one side, like bundling up big fluffy pillows. I tell her I think it would be fun to all sleep in the same bed and I ask about her daddy and if he hugged them all from the other side and she rolls over and pretends to fall asleep.

Even though it’s cold the sun heats up the leaves and they crinkle under our feet and we step carefully because we’re on an adventure in my special place in the woods. Emily Diedra sits on a sappy log and wipes the back of her hand across her face. I think it’s because the chilly in the air made her nose run, but then I see the drops well up in her eyes and spill down over her lips. In a tiny voice she says her daddy went away because he was angry too much and when her mama went to find him, she never came back. She breathes hard and asks if I still love my daddy and I laugh and say, “Of course, silly.” Then I stop laughing and tell her in my best serious voice that Mama says sometimes people have to learn how to love. When I sit on the sappy log with her I give her my special friend hug with my arms criss-crossed around her neck.

We run half way home backwards and some of the way sideways. We trade shoes Little Girls Adventureand wear them on our hands. We lay down with the leaves and stare up at the sky so blue and heaven inside the white clouds. I give Emily Diedra three M & M’s I’ve been saving since yesterday. She asks me if I think Santa knows where all the foster kids live and if it’s too selfish to ask for paper doll cut-outs so we can color in their clothes with crayons.

We somersault off the rail of the front porch and Emily Diedra runs to pick up a fallen pine twig. She tells me pine twigs help Santa’s reindeer find kids who don’t have a Christmas tree because they can smell the fresh needles and tell Santa to land. I tell her I don’t get it. But she looks sad and crosses her heart that it’s true because that’s what her daddy told her a long time ago when they couldn’t get a tree, and even though Santa didn’t find their house it was true. I tell her not to worry because we do have a Christmas tree and Mama will make sure Santa knows Emily Diedra lives in our house now.

When we go in Mama says, “Didn’t I tell you?” and we get it because we weren’t supposed to tromp through the mud and sit on sappy logs and we have leaves dangling from our hair and sweaters. But she smiles with her lips all tight and gives us hot chocolate anyway.

This Christmas Eve we tuck our own girls in, one each, with braided ponytails and red cheeks and pine twigs under their pillows. We sip coffee and make cookies and laugh about so many years ago waiting for teeth to fall out and breasts to grow in, for dads to come home and Santa to land. And when we look at each other, our arms gummy from cookie dough we split in two bowls, we could be sisters, right? We could be, she and I back then, born of secrets and dreams, because blood owns no promise and love is learned. Tonight we can whisper loudly and laugh at the memories we hold dear, me and her, my Emily friend who smells like pine.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2006

Gathering …

“Close both eyes see with the other one. Then we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments our ceaseless withholding our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened and we find ourselves quite unexpectedly in a new expansive location in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love.” ~Boyle

I’m sitting on the edge of the tub in my Mom’s perfect bathroom fighting the impulse to find a tube of red lipstick and write “Two and a half Thanksgivings” across the mirror like an “SOS” signal. I think if I use bold block letters you’ll see the reflection from Heaven and save me.

I hear my name echo through the house, “Lynn! Lynn-ey! Lynnette!”   Luxury elegant country classic bathroom design

“I’ll be out in a moment,” I say. My voice is gentle. No indication that I can hardly breathe through this ambush of emotion.

Mom is 87 this year. A still beautiful German woman who on the inside is full of love and vulnerabilities, but the persona she presents to the world is one of kind sternness. I still get a kick out of this. There are rules we follow and those rules cannot be broken: Stay on schedule, work hard, put your lipstick on and keep a happy face, do not talk about troubles and when something awful happens, get over it and move on.

The truth is I’ve moved on beautifully, with the exception of family gatherings and holidays, when I am reminded that I engage in conversations about everything with everyone. Worse yet, I write about it. I barely remember makeup, never mind lipstick, make up my own schedule as I go and maintain my position as the baby of the family by challenging every single family rule.

It matters not that I am a grown woman, the mother of grown children, blessed with the wisdom of years and the imagination of a child. In this house, I am separated by a generation – the “happy accident” – and the rebel girl who was lucky enough to marry the Navy SEAL who kept me somewhat tame.

Since you’ve been gone, all bets are off.

I feel your presence next to me, your arm folding around my waist, your lips on my forehead. You whisper, “You’ve got this, babe. I’m right here.”

I glance at the clean mirror and feel slightly relieved that I did not make a mess I’ll have to clean up because, clearly, you can hear my thoughts.

On the other side of the door – out there – amid dueling older sisters, quirky nieces and nephews, a proper Beverly Hills Auntie and diverse guests, I am about listening and love, and I am truly grateful for the characters in my life.

Elegant ladyIn here I am looking for a rabbit hole to go down into and compose myself. I do not want to break the rules and disappoint my sweet Mom by announcing aloud that I cannot bear one more whispered conversation about my moving on, or the nonchalant way a neighbor tells me about the single man who lives next to so-and-so who would be happy to take me on. I laugh at this. Am I a project now? They say it with true love, backtrack into compliments and segue into stories of Thanksgivings past and your perfect turkey.

I smiled when my niece told the story of our Thanksgiving on Sunset Beach in Oahu, about the tables we set up in the driveway so that twenty of your Team brothers could come and share a meal. We did bonfires on the beach and breakfast the next morning. It’s a great story and a great memory until she adds, “Mom was always jealous of you and Steve’s perfect Thanksgivings. Not so much anymore, though.”

The entire room took a collective breath and became perfectly quiet as though something sacred had fallen off a shelf and shattered. All eyes were on me. I imagined they were waiting for me to break too.

This was your holiday. They know it, I know it, and it will never be the same now that you’re gone.

My aunt adjusted her cashmere sweater, clutched her pearls and broke the uncomfortable silence with, “You know darling Lynn, perhaps you should go on a singles cruise to the Italian Riviera. You are still lovely and I’m sure someone will have you.”

I may have said, “Perhaps…” aloud just before I excused myself to powder my nose.

I have a distinct memory of being in Gaeta and hearing my Italian friends talk about their newly widowed friend like she was past tense. “She’ll get fat now and walk around with sad eyes. It’s such a shame.”

“Why would you say such a thing?” I asked.
“Because this is truth,” they answered, “a widow carries her sorrow and we cannot be with her anymore and risk that death infects our men and we lose them too.”

In Italy, I thought this was a ridiculous and damaging superstition and I told you so.

Here, on the edge of the tub, I imagine my “sorrow” as though it’s mercury. I want it to slide off of me down into the tub and down the drain so I can leave this room and reenter the crowd of characters with a grateful heart.

I lean into your energy, let it fill me with courage, and reach for your hand. “Come with me,” I say.

I feel your lips against my neck. You say, “You are whole again, full of light, wisdom, sincere discernment and divine love. Let them be who they are because you know who you are.”

I believe you.

But when my sister’s voice reaches under the door, “Lynn, Lynn-ey, Lynnette…Wait until you see the perfect turkey. It might be better than Steve’s!”  Little Girl Serious Headache

I get up, put on my lipstick and write on my heart… I miss you. Come back. Find me. 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

Lessons in Cadmium Red

When my father died, I learned the value of heritage. When I was assaulted, I learned I was so much more than my body. When my young friend took his own life, I learned forgiveness. When my unborn babies died, I learned a boundless capacity for love. And when my husband died, I learned that my life was blessed. Of course, I did not recognize any of these lessons until long after the experience had passed.

This is the story of one life lesson…

At midnight on my 45th birthday I was knee deep into a bottle of Ménage à Trois wine and fascinated with my birthday gifts – tubes of oil paint and soft sable brushes. I dipped one brush into my favorite color – Cadmium Red – and made one long curved brush stroke. Proud, I held up the canvas and said, “Look at how beautiful! What does it remind you of?”  Cadmium Red Poppies

Steve looked at the canvas for a long serious moment and said, “My extraordinary patience… and the audaciousness of you.”

“Huh… I’m not sure you and the word patience belong in the same sentence. But I’ll give you extraordinary,” I paused, slightly confused, “Also, when I asked the question, I was thinking of those red poppies in the pasture.”

“I know.” His face was partially hidden behind a book, but I saw the grin in his eyes, “Think back… that exact flavor of red, o’dark-thirty, twenty years ago…”

“Oh.” I poured another glass of wine.

We spent the rest of the night wrapped up in memories. Specifically, this one:

I had not seen or talked with Steve for three months, so at 4:00 in the morning when he woke me from a sound sleep to let me know he was home, I did exactly what was expected; I rolled over, stuck my hand under my pillow and mumbled, “Forty-five, finger on trigger… you feeling lucky tonight?”

He said, “That’s my girl.”

Years earlier, we agreed on this exchange just in case it was not him sitting on the edge of the bed. The truth is I always knew it was him. His presence changed the air. But once, just after we were married, he returned home in the middle of the night and met the wrong end of a shotgun at the bedroom door.

I do not like to be scared. He did not relish being shot. Fair is fair.

Correct verbal response received, I welcomed him home, got up and made coffee and in hushed tones told him about the moments I saved.

“Sheri took her first steps, Stephen discovered baseball and Lego’s, I jerry-rigged the bathtub faucet to work around the stuffed Lego piece I could not dislodge, I was hired to ghostwrite for a psychologist, and… an 18 year old Danish Au Pair is asleep in the guest bedroom.”

He held his coffee cup suspended midway between the counter and his mouth and asked, “What’s asleep in the guest bedroom?”

Before I could explain further, the 5 foot 11 inches, legs-up-to-her-ample-chest, blue-eyed-blonde Hella, sauntered into the family room wearing only a Cadmium red tank top and matching bikini underwear. She stopped in front of him, did a full model’s pivot, placed her hands on her hips and said, “I am Hella. You are Steve, yes?”

Steve glanced at her, swiveled on his stool, leaned across the bar until his face was inches from mine and whispered, “You are the finest woman in the universe. Now that you know that, I’m going to kill you, slowly. What the fuck?” Then he turned back around and without preamble said, “Go put some clothes on. Now!”

It was the beginning of a hate-hate relationship between the two of them that lasted just over two months.

I should mention here that Steve did not ever mince words, his normal voice was at a volume just under a roar, and he did not flirt with women if I was anywhere in the vicinity.  He was both a gentleman and very good looking, so there was never any shortage of women trying to turn his head. But his head never turned because I am who I am and he was who he was. You can doubt that if you wish, but there truly are men and women who do not stray.

That said, I took a moment to absorb what I’d just witnessed: A young, beautiful woman had just presented herself to my husband as though I had moved her in solely for his pleasure. I gave the unsettling development half a thought and then dismissed the behavior as a cultural difference. I tend to be an optimist. Steve was a realist. I took a deep breath and explained why she was now in our home.

Hella had come to America two months earlier as part of an Au Pair program. I was told she wanted to increase her English skills, help with housework and provide child care in exchange for room and board. What wasn’t perfect about that? I needed someone to play with the kids while I was writing and we could not afford a babysitter. We could help her, she could help us. And okay, details were lacking as to why she did not get along with her first American family, but our neighbors – sponsors of many of these young ladies – asked for my help.

Steve’s sigh was room deep, “Babe… we need to talk about that “help” thing you have and… I do not think she’s here for the same reason you think she’s here.”

“Maybe not, but can we give it a try?”

He rubbed a hand over his face, gave me a weary smile and said, “Yes, we’ll give it a try.

Steve told me once that coming home was often more adventurous than his day job. I took it as a compliment. In reality, it was a testament of his fortitude.

I’ll admit this now. I used to collect people. Other folks collect coffee mugs or teaspoons. Not me. I amassed people who asked for my help without weighing who they were, where they came from or what they wanted from me. In the beginning, Steve was charmed by this quirk, then exasperated, and finally, resigned. Out of necessity, he became my scoundrel detector and I counted on his keen ability to “sense” a person’s demeanor and motive in minutes. I had this gift too, but I leaned toward giving scoundrels a chance. When Steve intervened, they were sent on their way before I had time to protest.

This worked well when he was home. Not so much when he was away.

Hella’s stay with us became a battle of wits and wills. She did not like housework, enjoyed cooking even less and during her third week in our home, she lost Sheri. Granted, Sheri was a pistol, but to this day I am not sure how a baby wearing only diapers can open the front door, cross a busy street and manage to toddle four blocks from home without a caregiver noticing her absence. Apparently, Sheri wanted a cookie and was mercifully intercepted by a kind neighbor who had both a cookie and my number, which is how I found out she’d gone missing.

I relieved Hella that day from all duties having to do with our children and, much to Steve’s delight; I set about working with her sponsors to have her sent home. It would take four more weeks.

bags packedIn all fairness, I still believe Hella was essentially a good girl, but terribly misled by two of her Au Pair peers. They advised her that American men tended to be weak and malleable. So, for girls who wanted to stay in America, but did not want to watch children, clean house or cook, the game plan was to win the man’s affections and thereby have all their wants and needs fulfilled. Wants and needs included an established man, a car to drive, money to shop and no rules and curfews.

When she finally broke down and admitted the game plan to both of us, Hella’s behavior made more sense, but I had to admit how badly I’d been duped.

Righteously, Steve only rubbed it in for the next twenty years.

It took me that long to learn how to balance my unrestrained capacity to see good in people with my own gift of discernment. And longer still, to notice that no matter how outrageous, traumatizing, unexpected, or agonizing, every experience we live through teaches us a lesson about ourselves or others.

How absolutely blessed I am to have been cherished by a man who knew my heart, endured my lessons and loved me still.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013