NAVY SEAL WIDOW REALIZES HUSBAND’S
DREAM OF WARRIOR RETREAT
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
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:
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
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/
To 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.
I would seek for you and me a world that humans too seldom enter, for it exists only in the moment when strong men and women seek uniqueness, strive for freedom and join themselves in the struggle for interpersonal dignity, integrity and worth.
It is a world that transcends geography and calendar, society’s arbitrary categories and the small desperate narrow minds, who perpetuate terror because they cannot lead and will not get out of the way of those who do.
It is therefore a place of lofty heights and paralyzing depths, of light and darkness, of joy and pain,
of exhilarating success and disheartening failure.
It is a world where intimacy moves beyond the confines of sexual boundaries, of superficial romance, yet is free to use sight and sound, smell and taste, and touch,
to participate in the joy and the knowing of each other.
No one human wills it into being, for it exists only because of gifts – when one willingly gives of their “self” to another and that gift is accepted in trust and nurtured forever as the precious thing it is.
It is a world that most scoff at, few are willing to work for and no one can purchase.
It is that place in which we could, if we would, find the meaning of life and the very reason for being. It is first, last and always the place where divinity dwells, for if there is one word that must describe the
Grace of our need,
it is Love.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved
It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all. ~William Jones
Late at night we gossip about small events and the largeness of life. The darkness softens and I am nearly asleep when I remember one last thing I want to tell you. You know this about me. How my thoughts swirl and settle until they are ready for my voice. My final sigh, just before words, is always your cue to reach for me and hush me with a kiss.
“Tell me tomorrow,” you say.
Just before dawn you pull me around you and love me awake and whisper, Tell me now, and of course I can’t remember what I was going to say… seven long years ago.
I burrow under the guilt and try so hard to remember my one final thought and that one final day. The way the corners of your mouth turned up waiting to hear my thoughts, the way your beard scratched my skin, the way you moved in just the right way so I fit like a perfect puzzle piece against you and where that beautiful thought takes me is back to the beginning.
I’m on stage looking into lights so bright they blind me. I wait for the thrill to kick in, the adrenaline rush, and the wave that fills my lungs and lets my voice rise. I’m edgy tonight and the lyrics I need feel trapped in my throat. The bass vibrates through my bones as the opening bars to Van Morrison’s Moondance backdrops the club owner’s introduction. I hear, “Welcome Whitefeather…” and the drum brush strokes soften the bass and the piano chords kick in and it’s time to let go. I grip the microphone with both hands, breathe deeply and sing, Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance…. And there you are front and center – blue eyes blazing – with the stars up above in your eyes… I stare at you and sing with my eyes open and you seem to wait for the lyrics, You know the night’s magic, seems to whisper… and hush… before you ask me to dance.
In the middle of my song.
Because you already knew I’d say yes.
The audience thought it was part of the show, the band thought it was kick-ass, and you… well, you were always the master of calculated risk. You still are. You step into my space and back into Heaven as though you’re simply leaving for work.
I hope I can fully learn how to live in both worlds.
In this world the dawn pulls at me and I lie very still and wonder aloud, “Don’t you think that two souls connected must take turns being alive? You know, like pearl divers do. Whoever is on the surface must count the air time left so the one below can dive freely.”
I so often feel the tug on the line these days. Are you counting my breaths?
When the dogs coax me awake, I get up and wander through the house toward the scent of brewing coffee and in the dark, I trip over a pile of photographs waiting to be packed. I flip the light on and the two photos I find under my bare foot make me know without doubt you are still very much alive – somewhere – calling the shots. One is of me, posing for a band shot and the other is a distant shot of your antics on the way to our platoon honeymoon in Baguio.
I have no idea who said, I take nothing for granted now. A photograph is as precious as the moment it became a detail, but they are lovely words and poignantly true. I place the photos on the table, pour coffee and take the dogs out into the dawn.
Somehow, through your magic, I look over and you are dangling off the top of a giant Lion’s head carved into rock on the way to Baguio in the Philippines. You grip a piece of the carved mane with one hand, reach out to me with your other hand and say, “Don’t close your eyes.”
While the platoon yells encouragement from twenty feet below, I worry about how I look in these jeans and, of course, falling to my death, and I shout at all of them to close their eyes and get back on the bus. Of course they ignore me and stay where they are; ready to catch both of us if we fall.
I reach across to you and hold on with both hands.
I find a foothold and then another and you lower me slowly into the waiting arms of your Brothers. You follow me down and when you reach for me a cheer goes up. Your grin and their antics let me know what kind of honeymoon I’m in for and you whisper just to me, Never be afraid to live on the edge, babe, I’ve got you.
I wonder now if you knew then I would never be tied in and to do this alone I’d have to live on faith and grip life with both hands.
In this dawn, the weight of you gone is so heavy. Grace is the only hold I can find.
Inside, I leave the lights off and sit cross-legged in the center of the floor surrounded by half-packed boxes. I try to imagine how I will make sure with this final move that your tenderness and presence of strength is gently moved and firmly planted at Grace. What size box do I use for living dreams and night whispers and favorite songs?
I touch one photo and then another and God says, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved. And I begin to understand that I am the container, my heart is the wrapping, and nothing will fade if I keep all of this within me.
There is nothing left to do but keep dancing. And by dancing I mean living. And by living I mean step by tiny step. I know this much is true now: we do not become all of who we are until we’re forced into it. Hemingway called it, “a grace under pressure,” which suits me these days, but I believe he meant it as a strength that rises up when we’re faced with a larger than life challenge.
This is mine: taking your impromptu visits, our memories and our dream and using them all to step into my future.
I’ve got this with both hands and enough of you in me and around me to love whatever gets in my way until it ceases to be an obstacle.
What a marvelous night for a Moondance…
Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved
June 2017 update: It has been three years since I woke in the wee hours from this dream and each day that followed has been a whirlwind of miracles, generous hearts, and tremendous hands-on help from family and Steve’s “Brothers”. I’ve met brilliant new life long friends and united with old friends who, as I do, care deeply about our Warriors finding a bit of peace in the midst of 16 years of war. Through God’s Grace, since March 2015, 383 souls have graced this land. Never doubt that miracles are real. With Steve’s spirit urging me on, I will continue to grow and hold dear, this sacred place of rest and renewal.
To learn more about LZ-Grace, please visit http://www.lz-grace.com. Thank you for your prayers.
Years ago my parents moved to the country and bought a little farm. 17 acres…trails…ponds…horses… grass.
It was a place of respite, a place my father found peace during and after 32 years of military service. He went to work remodeling, building, designing and mowing, all with the dream in mind of having his Brothers (his team guys) and their families come WHENEVER they wanted simply to rest from the world. When he went to plant the beds in front of the house he decided he wanted a huge red maple but there were none anywhere. My parents drove hours and hours looking for a nursery for this ONE baby red maple to grow in the front yard.
When he died- leaving piles of wood, flooring, his brand new jumping horse and a thousand little dreams unfinished – my mom and I would look at that tree and laugh. “At least he got to plant the damn tree.”
Nearly four years have gone by and the vision to build a retreat for our Brothers in service grew in my mother’s heart. And it grew and it grew, and things started to happen. We found a property further south and looked at it- it was gorgeous and out front was a statue of St. Francis. The plantation wasn’t available yet but we knew St. Francis was a sign. He was once a warrior who devoted his life to the service of his brothers. Who found rest and Peace, and God … outdoors, in nature, protecting every living thing.
Two years went by and with the statistic of 24 Veteran suicides a day, we were feeling the weight of this need. When we LEAST expected it, we happened upon a property that fit EVERY SINGLE NEED we had for this vision. It had been reduced from $2.1 Million to $995,000. Already it looked promising and as we toured the 35 acres of gorgeous oak, pine, ornamental pear trees, standing at the end of the line, as if leading an army, was this one red maple tree. About the size my dad’s tree would have been if he were alive. The only one in sight. The only one in over 38 acres around us and we knew.
We just knew.
From that point every single corner we turned was another sign – even a woodworking room with lumber ready for rebuilding- as if he picked up the pile from our old house and dropped it off at the new place just so we felt at home.
Oh yes, and there in the back of the property, hidden in clover, looking at the muck of our back bay, a small statue of St. Francis looked on, minus an arm and with a gape in his core. It was a grotesque coincidence, that our dream was to help veterans regroup and regain life after 13 years at war and here was this man, a veteran warrior, with a hole in his heart, just needing a hand.
I started to weep.
We simply could not afford this on our own. We called family, our friends called friends and long story short – between an amazing guy in Beverly Hills, a Brother Frogman and world renowned star, and a few other divinely set-up people, within DAYS our offer was on the table and ACCEPTED.
Within hours we had $100,000 for our deposit and the contract was signed but there was one more condition – we come up with $90,000 more to put down not because they were trying to deter us but simply because of regulations. So – here we are – 10 days from closing and we are in need of oh you know, just an extra 100K.
We believe this is supposed to happen and we have no idea how. It’s brought a community of people together already which I believe is a miracle in itself, but we need more. So friends, please pray. Please share with those who have a heart for our Veterans, and for this dream. Please give if that’s what you can do. And if you have insight, vision, thoughts, ideas, let us know! It’s just the beginning and we need all the chutzpah we can get.
Please donate here: http://www.gofundme.com/91nmbk
Sheri L. Bukowski © All rights reserved
Excerpt Chapter from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love
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 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?”
“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.
“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?
Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved
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
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.
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 and 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
“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’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.
In 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.
I get up, put on my lipstick and write on my heart… I miss you. Come back. Find me.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
Knowing freedom is to free someone else.
I’ve come to know that where there is damage and pain there is also truth to be found. And when one of us somehow finds our way out of the abyss or the tunnel or the woods, we need to share our way out or through.
Everything comes with risk. But if you’ve lived through war and find your way home to Landing Zone Grace (LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat) there is not one thing you cannot overcome and achieve.
When we release what we’ve lived through and find connection with other souls, we are inspired to live on, to use our scars as road maps, to reignite a marriage, to find safety again with family and friends and to pass our strength and experience forward to all the world.
Please consider supporting LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat. Our mission is service and our immediate needs are funding and an existing site so we can begin serving our Warriors as they come home in 2014.
Find out more about me and my mission to serve our Special Forces Warriors and their families here:
NRANews.Com Veterans Day Special Interview with Cam & Company
BBS Radio Interview with Leader of the Pack Susan Herbert and Mark German. Find them at http://www.H4Hero.com
Blogs of War Special Feature
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013 All Rights Reserved.
Twitter: @BukowskiLynn and @LZ_Grace
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?”
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.
In 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