A limited number of these custom cuffs were made exclusively for LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat in loving memory of our 31 heroes killed in action on August 6, 2011.
To order, visit the donation page at www.lz-grace.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Each cuff is made of quality bronze, silver and gold plate, molded in dies, touched by craftsman and may be ordered in Brass or Silver. The cuffs are hand crafted; Size: 7” x 11/2”
The cost is: $135.00
100% of the proceeds will go to grow LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat, a place of respite and renewal for our newly transitioning Warriors.
A portion of donated funds may be set aside by LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat to benefit the children of our Fallen Warriors.
A 501(c)3 Application is on file with the IRS (February 2013)
“We are not taught to be thinkers, but reflectors of our culture. Let’s teach our children to be thinkers.” ~Fresco
My friend, Brenda, showed up in my dreams last night seriously concerned about the state of the World and the disease of divisiveness infecting our youth. I agreed with her but argued that I alone cannot change the world. Her response: Nonsense. She’s a force to be reckoned with, even in spirit.
There is a tremendous call right now for adults across the globe to step up and teach the children that they do not need to continue the legacy of hate and division that today’s leaders perpetuate.
This is a story about a promise I made and my memory of Brenda and all she held dear. It seems especially important to share it again as one example of how each of us can start where we are and do what we can. The book I’ve chosen again this year for the “older” kids on my list is Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons in Peace from a Lifetime at War. Copies of the book can be purchased at all the normal places, but signed copies are available through http://www.powerfulpeace.net. Also visit http://www.sealofpeace.com and help us make a dent in the world toward Peace.
“You’re there now?” I asked, slightly distracted with scissors in one hand, tape in the other. I tucked the phone between my ear and shoulder thinking I’d continue to wrap Christmas presents while we bantered about the gorgeous male nurses who administered Chemotherapy in Colorado Springs Medical Center. The young men were a favorite subject for Brenda and the tales she weaved were hysterical.
A weak, throaty laugh echoed through the phone, “I do believe I am.”
The words, although breathless, hung in the air like a solemn, heavy mist. I dropped the wrapping paraphernalia, held the phone tight against my ear and walked outside to our deck. For just a moment, I tilted my head and looked into the cloudless aqua blue sky – a mirrored reflection of the water – expecting to see my dear friend waving. “Hey…” I began, stumbling over my thoughts, “everything okay today?”
“Picture this,” she began, “I’m tucked into an over-sized arm chair by a big picture window watching fat white snowflakes silently fall from the sky. Next to me is a fire blazing in a huge stone fireplace and I’m holding a steaming mug of that jasmine tea you sent me and…” she paused, took a short breath, “I’m surrounded by books and books and books.”
“Oh, it really is heaven, Bren,” I closed my eyes against the wheezy softness of her voice. Just last week her voice had been robust and full of laughter. The tropical paradise before me disappeared and I imagined I was right there with her.
“I’m choosing books for my kids,” she sighed, “well…the proprietor is choosing books; I’m just describing the children. I can’t seem to find my strength today. But I called… I called now because I need to ask you to promise…” The words faded between us.
Brenda’s kids were not actually her kids. Rather, they were her friends’ kids, at last count –18 in all — including mine, from ages 2 to 17. Each year at Christmas and on respective birthdays and graduations, each child would receive an age appropriate, award-winning book with Brenda’s personalized inscription. It was in my kitchen that she’d thought up this tradition. “Books,” she beamed, “are the doorways to the world!” I could picture her, eight years earlier, her smile lighting the room. Now, the enormity of her courage – laced with Chemo, fighting cancer, yet still concerned about her kids – it bruised my soul.
I cleared the sob from my throat, “Brenda, whatever favor you need, consider it done.”
“Lynn, I can’t tell you what the favor is just now. There are too many parts, but I’ll have Michael send it to you in an email.”
“Okay…” I could hear the whine in my voice and willed it away, “but how will I know what….”
“You’ll know,” she interrupted, a slip in comportment so foreign for Brenda that it stunned me.
A fear of imminent loss closed around me like a dark tunnel blocking the sun. I wanted to fight with her, chase the seriousness from her voice and words. Hadn’t we talked endless hours over the last eight months about her strength, her will to live, her young age of 60 and the importance, or lack thereof, of breasts? What about the pros and cons of shopping for new breasts and the fun she’d have interviewing men on the perfect size and shape? Our weekly phone conversations always included the future, her pending visit to our home on Sunset Beach in Oahu as soon as she had the strength to travel. I wanted to scream at her, “Buy the ticket now, Brenda!” but the words stuck in my throat.
“Hey beach broad… you there?” This was her new tag name for me and hearing the wheezy voice attempt humor made me laugh.
“I’m here. I’m here… just rolling over to tan the other side,” I choked out, “So… what are you reading?” This was always the absolute second question of every conversation.
“Reading?” she sighed audibly, “Everything I possibly can.” A long, silent pause filled the phone line and seemed to stop the breeze. “I have to go now,” she continued, breathless, with just a slight laugh that felt like a kiss against my ear, “I’m on someone else’s phone, and the angels are restless. Plus,” she coughed, “God invited me to dinner and I have to decide what I’m going to wear.”
“Funny. Sticking with the theme of the day, I see. I love you, Bren. Hey…I’ll call you tomorrow morning… see how that dinner date went.”
“Yeah,” she laughed, sweet, full, hearty; the sound of Brenda, “Love you too.”
I held the phone close to my chest and let the dial tone drone into a maddening beep. Even then, I was reluctant to disconnect, to give in to the sense that I would never speak with my lovely friend again. Instead, I sat down on the steps with my memories.
On the day we met, I was busy corralling and cajoling four young children and a baby at a fast-food restaurant. Brenda was at the table next to us reading Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays. The fourth or fifth time I apologized for the noise level, Brenda got up from her table and sat down with us. She spoke very quietly until one by one; each child – even the baby – stopped chattering, and sat captivated as she recited a Hans Christian Anderson story.
Days later our home became her second home and she visited often at odd hours. We talked books, analyzed the work of the masters, laughed over love scenes. Her weakness was a good romance novel, but she grew serious when she talked about the importance of children knowing the magic of sitting still with a story and letting their imaginations soar. She loved all of our children, but paid special attention to our foster kids and spent endless hours engaging them in conversations about books or organizing special reading days where she would sit with them in a circle and read with all the gusto of a skilled actress. When those children left our home, Brenda made sure each of them had their very own book to take on their journeys.
We were unlikely friends, Brenda and I. I was a military wife, a young mother, a struggling author, full of creative energy and love and not much else. Brenda was nineteen years my senior, held a PhD in Philosophy and Education and Masters’ Degrees in Computer Technology, Theology and Mathematics. She was also the mother of a grown son and the widow of a Navy pilot who took his own life.
I was fascinated with Brenda, but I often felt inadequate as a friend. In quiet moments, usually over wine, I would allude to our differences. What did she see in me? The first time I broached the subject she waved her hand through the air and referred to her varied degrees as an addictive hobby. She was philosophical with the sorrow aspect, stating simply that our lives are pre-planned and this was her lot. “You teach me about being real and how to hurt and how to love. Everything else is pointless,” she announced. After that one speech, the subject was off limits. Then she stared at me, straight on, with serious, thoughtful eyes and asked me what book I was reading.
This was our glue then and now: books, words, and children.
I sat on the porch step until the orange ball of sun set and the ocean glittered into the night.
When the phone rang at 4:00 AM the next morning, Michael, Brenda’s son, apologized for the early hour and went on to explain that his mother insisted I be the first one he called. Through my tears, I told him how sorry I was and asked if he needed anything, but the conversation was blurry and surreal. Just before he hung up he said, “Check your email.”
This is what it said:
My dearest friend, the promise I asked of you has to do with the long document attached to this email. Here it is: please continue sending books to my kids. I’ve written a little something for each year, for each child, with all the pertinent birth date information and addresses, but please find more children to add each year. Everyone at age 18 or upon graduation from high school should receive Dr. Seuss’, “Oh! The Places You Will Go!” Thank you, forever.
P.S. my dinner date was heavenly. God says hi. All my love, Bren.
Most of the original kids are grown now, but I continue to keep my promise and send books to a growing special list of children each year.
by Lynnette Bukowski
© 2000 (revised 2013)
It is Sunday morning nearly three years after your death and I am standing at the kitchen window of a plantation house watching you climb a 100 foot pine tree to cut a branch that hangs over the parked truck in the driveway. You’ve had enough of the dripping sap, I suppose. I murmur through the glass, “I could move the truck…” and you hear me because you turn and look, purse your lips, raise one eyebrow and pierce me with those brilliant blue eyes.
This is your fastidious look and it makes me laugh. We both know that if I move the truck today, the branch will still hang over the driveway, the sap will still drip and I will inevitably forget and park the truck exactly there again. Point made, you climb higher.
The rain begins slowly; fine drops that make the moss on the live oaks stir. I sip my coffee so close to the window that the steam swirls onto the glass and fogs my vision. You are nearly there – at the offending branch – bolo knife dangling from your thigh. I’m sure in this moment that the same bolo knife is under my bed, but I let the thought come and go because the rain is falling in solid sheets now and I am worried about you so high up without ropes.
An impatient sigh floats down and you mouth the words, “Don’t be ridiculous, honey, I’m already dead.” Perfect. Even in spirit you can piss me off faster than the nanosecond it takes me to blink.
I shout through the window, “Did you just call me ri-di-cu-lous?” My words echo around the empty kitchen. I bang my cup down on the sill; put my hands on my hips and say, “Fine.” Your laughter booms like thunder. I know you are not with me anymore just as sure as I’m looking at you up in that tree. And I know it is absurd to indulge myself with an argument in a parallel universe, but most of all… I know I cannot bear to lose you again.
I start to shout for help from someone in the house – there are many of your brothers here now healing from war – but before I can make a sound, you appear on the ground under the window safe and strong and I hear you say, “Come here.”
Damn you, I cannot stay mad. I run through the kitchen, down the porch steps, into the mud barefoot and stop. Somewhere between reality and wherever here is I am certain that if you touch me I will die. Then the thought crawls into my brain that if you don’t touch me, I will die. I stand perfectly still trying to name the thing that scares me. Ironically, it is not death.
You say, “Dance with me, funny girl.” I cannot seem to move. We are so close I smell pine and salty sap and the memory of you and I begin to weep – three years’ worth of tears. This new divine patience you have is unnerving. In life, my tears made you restless and you had to save something immediately – the World, the children, me. Here, you are reverent and calm; an observer of this pain from a three year old wound as it leaks down my face. We both know this needs to heal completely now. But if I move too quickly, if I allow this to be real, the wound may reopen and I might forget my purpose and spend my days just here between Heaven and Earth where nobody can get to me and nobody can hurt me and nothing can make me cry. When you wrap me in those arms the pain crystallizes into one single thought: Oh my God where have you been?
You say, “Just here,” and move me slowly in the pouring rain to a song I cannot hear.
I want to tell you how hard death is, but that’s not really true, is it? It is not death the living wake up to everyday, but life. There is no celestial tenet that grants us immunity from the details just because you and your brothers slipped behind the veil of Heaven. Sap will still drip on trucks, the shower head breaks; the war on terror goes on.
But there are no words large enough.
I still have days when I think this is all too damn hard. The only true thing I know is that the part of me you left here, with your abundance of faith and my sliver of hope, still believes love can heal. We both know what love can do.
And the single thing it cannot do.
Without words I tell you every last detail about life since you left. When I am done and my mind is empty of all thoughts, you sigh deeply and say, “I know.” I think you listen better this way. Really I do. It tickles me, this soft place where I do not have to explain myself, where my magic is safe, where for just this moment I do not have to be fighting strong.
My strength is not the same without you. I’ve forgotten when to lean and how to ask.
You say, “Do you remember this?” and I nod my head against you and let the memory of dancing in secret places float through my brain. We both remember different parts and I don’t know why I hear your thoughts or why you hear mine, but it reminds me of that day we said everything with our eyes, so I let it be. The rain pours down and the mud seeps between my toes and you hold me at arm’s length for this long and lovely moment and say, “Listen to me now. Lean into the hard babe, I’m proud of you.”
When I wake up my pillow is wet from rain, or maybe tears – I don’t know which – and I don’t care because what I really want is to be back in that space between Heaven and Earth. I climb off the bed and enter the morning slowly walking from room to room with the sensation of stray wisps of one universe seeping through the open windows of another.
I make a coffee, ponder the mud on the hem of my nightgown and my pretty pink toes and turn the radio on. I miss your arms… and just as the thought comes, these lyrics fill the room: “We’re not broken, just bent… and we can learn to love again…” You are choreographing my morning with this new beloved song, so recently shared by a friend. The words remind me of you; poignant and beautiful. I hope it’s true for those of us left behind.
I am standing at my office window with the song pulling at my heart, coffee in one hand, keys in the other, when I hear the first crack, then another, and a large pine tree limb crashes to the ground just inches from the truck bumper. Your tenacity is limitless. I laugh so hard and for so long the tears come again.
This time though, my spirit is full, my strength is renewed and this gift of your prophecy fills me with all the love I need to one day soon run a plantation house where I can help your living brothers heal.
Wait for me. I’ll meet you there on a rainy day… and we’ll dance in the mud.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
My most sincere thanks to my “rascal” friend for sharing this… my new favorite song. Apparently they listen to “Pink” in Heaven too.
What good does it do to wrap up our heartache and loss, fear and anger, even joy (if it appears to be boasting) and hold these emotions captive for a private showing, preferably behind closed doors with a licensed keeper of secrets. It’s a cultural norm and a family tradition and I make no judgment at all.
I just don’t follow the rules.
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.
With the World.
It comes with risk, this story telling. Still, I release my life and lay it bare for the entire world to see that it may provide…
View original post 1,776 more words
How is it that I find myself at 3:30 in the morning on my back porch with an old box of matches? I ask this aloud to Spike. He does not answer. Instead, paw on my leg, tennis ball in his mouth, his brown eyes look up at me, hopeful. The print is faded, but I can make out “Subic Bay Christian Serviceman’s Center” and on some dare to the full moon, I slip out one match, strike it, and marvel at the spark and fire, the sharp, pungent smell of thirty-three-year-old sulfur. Spike is not impressed with this magic. Still, my spontaneous grin ignites a full body wag and thumping tail and I cannot help but throw a high curveball into the moonlight and watch as he ducks under the fence and chases across the pasture.
Surely, it is no accident that on this particular night I woke up…
View original post 984 more words
Love is not static: it is a living, dynamic force that melts down all barriers and boundaries.
LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat will be a place of healing with love, which is a simplistic explanation for a complicated undertaking. After a recent and hysterical conversation with a woman steeped in wisdom, it seems the perfect time to share a bit more about who I am and what my vision is for LZ-Grace. To that end, I present a radio interview I did just over a month ago with Rob Dubois, author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War on his radio program Powerful Peace Blog Talk. I continue to be honored and grateful for the opportunity.
A few days ago I found myself in conversation with a 93 year old woman named Grace. Her eyes glistened with tears as she told me about her husband returning from World War II and how difficult it was for both of them, especially because she was still working at night. She was tiny and limber and could crawl into small spaces so her service as a welder on war ships was in high demand. She was proud of her husband and proud of her service and reminded me that there was a time when the citizens of this country – young and old – worked together to defeat the enemy and heal our own.
When I began to talk with her about my vision for LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat the conversation took a turn I did not see coming. Her wit and wisdom is too precious to keep to myself.
Grace: LZ-Grace. I like the name. L a z y Grace. Suits. What exactly is this place going to be?
Me: A Veterans Retreat. LZ is an acronym for Landing Zone, not Lazy. It will be a safe place to land… a place for Warriors to come home from war and heal with love.
Grace: Now, that’s nice. That’s a fine thing for you to do for the boys coming home. In my day they called that kind of place a Brothel. She looked me up and down. Well, you’re young and pretty… should do just fine, but you don’t seem the type. She put her hands on her hips, grinned at me and asked, You hiring?
Me: Oh dear. I choked back laughter. It’s a Veterans Retreat where men and women returning from war will come for a few weeks to rest, renew and reconnect. I want to help them return with confidence and purpose to family and civilian life.
Grace: Well now, that’s a relief. That other business is difficult and thankless work and I’m not sure I’m up to it anymore.
We both laughed until we cried.
I hired her.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
The dogs and I came upon a young woman lying on the beach this morning. Selah did a puppy bounce around her waiting to be adored, but the girl did not stir or move or react. In the predawn she looked like a slight shadow, very young and curled around herself, but as I kneeled next to her I saw the distance in her wide open eyes. She stared out into the surf and might have been dead except for the intense shivering.
I took my sweatshirt off and put it over her and sat down in the sand.
In this beginning of the second half of my life I have learned to listen more to my intuition and my heart, than to my head. So I did not dial 911 or yell for help. Lights were on in a few of the oceanfront houses, but it was just us on the beach. It felt more right than not to just sit in silence and let the dogs play and the winds calm and the sun rise.
I reached out my hand and brushed a bit of hair from her face. The long strands were stiff with sand and damp and I knew. Instantly, I knew. I thought then about the exact right words to say to someone hell bent on suicide. But there are no right words.
So I said, “You don’t need to be underwater to feel like you’re drowning, do you?”
She did not answer with words, but my hand was still smoothing her hair when I felt the nod.
Penetrating sadness vibrates low and moves slowly.
I moved closer, gently placed her head on my lap and waited.
Both dogs, tired from romping, lay down beside us and she begins to speak in agonizing whispers about not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough for her husband who just last week returned from war. She does not know who he is anymore and he does not know who she is anymore and she is sure it is she who is inadequate and why they are done.
“Are you done?” I ask.
The question makes her weep and she nearly crawls into my lap. I consider this a good sign.
Softly, I tell her that hearts opening themselves to one another are a bit like anticipating the shiny thing that comes in a tiny box that is hidden inside a dozen larger boxes. So often we think the large boxes are just empty packaging. Except they are not empty, and they never contain what we think they will.
Love must be slowly unwrapped and fallen into each day without expectation. Expecting changes the air… and it is always those things you don’t see coming that can crush you.
My words make her cry harder and leave me breathless and I begin to cry too. I have a silent argument with God. I can’t ever figure out why He places me in situations I feel ill prepared to handle. Seriously, it’s like arguing with a damn rock. He wins without words and I am left cracked wide open and raw.
I do not notice the shadow of a man running full out up the beach until the dogs alert. I just barely hear him yelling into the wind, “Oh my God, oh my God. Carly…” when he is upon us and sweeps the woman in my arms into his own. She wraps around him and holds on and something inside of me gives way.
Spike is suspicious, Selah is frantic and long moments of unadulterated emotion hold all of us until the young woman reaches out to me, squeezes my hand and smiles through her tears.
I manage a deep breath and say, “You are not done.”
Young women, listen please…
A man worthy of loving you will love you unadorned, smart or inexperienced, dressed up or dressed down, laughing or crying, frightened or brave. Let him be who he is and love him for what he is each and every time he walks through the door.
Unwrap your love slowly and know this: you are enough just as you are and the allure of a woman in full possession of herself and her powers will prove irresistible.
The only thing you need to be is unafraid of finding out exactly who you are and then step straight in, hold your head high and carry the universe in your heart.
“Love is not a because, it’s a no matter what.” ~Picoult
Lynnette Bukowski © 2013
Author’s Note: 4/19/2013 – I wrote this article in response to political gesturing about a DHS Report by the present Administration in 2009. It was published then in Stars & Stripes, and local newspapers. It appears that the Administration keeps repeating itself like a broken record, issuing a new version of the “same” report every few years. They simply change a few studies, update the latest craze in “terrorism” lingo and keep pushing an agenda that includes our brave men and women… not as heroes, but as threats.
I believe in honoring – not disparaging – our Warriors who so bravely fight on against the “actual” Terrorists. To that end… I present a re-posting of my 2009 article:
I went to bed last night with a hero and woke up with an extremist – a potential terrorist. Imagine my surprise.
For 30 years I’ve enthusiastically climbed into his bed, helped him raise three children and fifteen foster children, prayed for and with him, cried, fought, laughed, moved the household around the world and country – all in support of his job as a US Navy SEAL.
As an intelligent and intuitive woman, mother and wife, you’d think I’d know who I’m sleeping with. Not so, according to Janet Napolitano and her Homeland Defense team.
Sarcasm aside, I’ll just say this straight up. I know this man. I know many, many of his fellow SEALs. I’ve fed them, cried with them, buried them, and commiserated with their families. Not for one moment have any of them – active duty and retired – forgotten these words: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Let me climb out of bed and get up on my pedestal so I’m equal to you when I ask this: Which part of that oath don’t you understand, Secretary Napolitano? Between you and me, Janet, woman to woman, words hold meaning.
I noticed in your feeble mea culpa to our Military Veterans your reference to only the wording of a footnote regarding the Department of Homeland Defense’s assessment entitled, Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. Please note that Page 7, Section (U), is not a footnote. Read in its entirety, the memorandum (which was certainly not written for us silly citizens to read) refers to sociopaths like Timothy McVeigh, violent Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists in the same sentence as… “the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.
How dare you disparage the men and women of the United States military to further your own political agenda. There are indeed real terrorists out there among us, but they are not made up of our military men and women or our veterans.
For 32 years my husband, alongside his brothers, endured the rigorous, constant training of Special Forces, lived the life and perfected the skills that are second to none in this world. He took an Oath and by GOD, by our love and support of him and his career choice – this entire family has lived that oath for all these many years.
You, Secretary Napolitano, and your DHS Team, by accepting the memoranda as truth, albeit a few unfortunate words, have equated our brave men and women to sociopaths.
Indeed, there are a few sociopaths who have managed to serve and train with the U.S. military over the years. All walks of life endure such people. Ironically, though, when I researched the definition of Sociopaths – those who are interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others – I was startled to note that the behavior of a large majority of Congressman, Senators and members of our current administration exhibit several symptoms of a Sociopaths mindset, to wit: not learning from experience, no sense of responsibility, inability to control impulses [especially with our money], lack of moral sense, lack of guilt, self-centeredness, just to name a few.
But I digress.
As a military wife for 30 plus years, I tend to observe closely and speak frankly. So here goes: You most certainly are tracking ideological differences and it appears that where it does not suit the administration’s agenda, you label it extremism… or a threat. Further, any attempt you’ve made at an apology is not accepted. I do not want to shake your hand or discuss this. I am an American, Ma’am. I am not politically correct and don’t want to be. I’m on God’s side, the Country’s side, the People’s side and as such, the Military’s side… If loving this Country, supporting our military and believing in God is now labeled as Extremism, I give.
I no longer have my very own extremist to sleep with. He’s dead. He served this Country his entire adult life with honor and integrity and I will not — for one moment — think of him as anything but the hero he was.
In addition to giving up my husband to this Country, I will make one other concession: If I gladly accept the label of being an Extremist, will you step down and take the entire administration, democrats and republicans alike, with you? I’m sick of all of you and quite frankly, consider the lot of you a threat to My Country.
© 2009 Lynnette Bukowski (updated 2013)
Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance writer, the founder and director of LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat and the proud Widow of a Veteran Navy SEAL. She presently lives in Virginia Beach, VA
In honor of a very special young man’s Bukszoo Birthday… I present a repost of James’ story. His name has been changed to protect him, and he is grown now, perhaps with kids of his own. Not all military children are born into the family. Some come to stay for just a while and leave an imprint of love on our hearts forever.
At 11:42 pm on a Wednesday night I opened the front door to a weary-eyed social worker, a police officer so rigid he looked to be vibrating, and a two, perhaps three-foot tall blanket that may have been light green at some point in its history. I stepped to the side to allow them entry. No one moved. Red, usually attached to my hip, stayed in the doorway in a sit position, but his front paws crept forward until the tip of his black nose nudged the blanket. A tiny hand appeared, touched the top of Red’s head, and then quickly withdrew. The movement snagged a silky frayed edge and the cloth fell away to reveal a mess of brown hair, round blue eyes and a perfect spray of freckles across cheeks and nose. The boy stared straight ahead, jaw set, lips rigid, “I not talk,” he said.
I nearly smiled, but this felt like a test, so I nodded once and said, “Good to know.” I ignored the woman’s raised eyebrows and instead, turned and walked down the hallway, as though welcoming a frightened child and two strangers into my home with five children asleep upstairs and my husband deployed was simply another day in the life. It wasn’t. But I had trained for and signed on to be an emergency therapeutic foster parent, and it was far too late at night to admit I might be in over my head.
A piercing, rigid scream coincided with me flipping a switch in the kitchen; the brightness igniting the sound and the child until both dissolved onto the floor, skittered across the tile and came to rest as a steady choking sob in the corner of the room. I glanced toward the sound of whispers in the hallway, heard the baby cry, heard the upstairs floor creek with footsteps and nearly missed the words from woman to officer, “I thought I mentioned he doesn’t like to be touched.” Still, my focus was on the dog huddling peacefully next to the trembling boy in the corner of my kitchen. My first thoughts: Who the hell touched him? Then: Dog is fine, boy is breathing, floor is clean. Really, this is my brain in crisis-mode.
I’m sure I heard God chuckle as I ushered the adult people out of my home with a quiet, thank you. To my ears I sounded like a crazed Ms. Manners. I just barely controlled my urge to laugh aloud at their relieved smiles, the promise that the child would be placed in a permanent foster home by the weekend; and the pitifully small paper sack in my hand with the name “James” scrawled in black marker. It was weep or deal time so I closed the door, found two pillows and a large quilt and settled in for a long night on the kitchen floor.
Until that night I thought I knew what was in the next room, what kids like for dinner, what grass feels like on bare feet. I was comfortable with the orderly mess I orchestrated each day. It was crazy and hard and joyful and it was mine. Until the night of James — when I discovered that in three years a child can be so badly abused that his small world is reduced to a corner in the kitchen and an old soiled blanket.
On day two, James and I compromised with a makeshift bed upstairs next to Red’s pillow at the end of Aaron’s crib. He dressed himself, but only while underneath the blanket draped over his head. He ate with his hands, brushed his teeth and appeared intrigued by the maneuverings of the older children in the house. They spoke to him, answered for him, proclaimed his cuteness and ignored his quirks. Still, he did not talk. He paid no attention to Aaron, or so I thought, who, for most of the day remained strapped to my chest in sling. One morning, in the midst of a chaotic (our norm) breakfast, signing papers and packing lunches, James tentatively stepped very close to me and with the edge of his soiled blanket, reached up and wiped a bit of spittle from Aaron’s chin. For an instant all activity stopped. A collective deep breath filled the space and then – through the guidance of angels perhaps – we all knew not to react to this tender moment – instead, we resumed chaos as usual.
Baths were out. Since I drew the line at Red and the blanket in the bathtub, our first attempt at bathing ended in shrill screams and a brief regression to his safe place in the corner. Sheri – in all her eight-year-oldness, cleaned out the plastic baby pool and with Red’s patient cooperation, a bar of soap and a three-year old at the end of a hose, we had a semi-clean boy and a sparkling, if not matted, Golden Retriever every other day.
James’ two day emergency stay turned into two weeks, four days and three hours – this according to James –and not duly noted until the day I received a phone call notifying me of a permanent home move, to which I responded with a simple, no thanks, he’s already home. The social worker was still speaking when James took my hand (a touch miracle of its own) and pointed with glee to his tiny drawings on the wall in his safe corner. This was the first smile, the first initiated touch and the first emotion I’d seen from this child. After some confusion (he still wasn’t speaking) I came to realize that he had drawn meticulously neat small dots to represent hours, circles around exactly 24 dots to represent days and squares around each set of circles to represent weeks. Also, he was partial to blue crayons, which oddly complimented my yellow flowered wallpaper.
Patience is not one of my virtues. I tend to set my course and go, obstacles be damned. James, though, elicited a calm in me I cannot to this day explain. I was content to watch him watch life, soak it in and return to his safe place in the corner as necessary.
Red was my Godsend and as it turns out, James’ confidant. Shortly after the baby pool baths began – and out of necessity – I showed James how to brush Red’s coat. Our back deck was about a foot off the ground and built around a large oak tree. Each day, James would sit on the edge of the deck next to the Oak trunk. Red would cuddle up to his left side and as the brushing began – a methodical, tender child stroke – James would quietly talk. Usually, I sat in a glider on the other side of the massive oak rocking Aaron, but James never seemed to notice that there was anyone else in the World except for him and Big Red. He told Red in vivid detail about his broken arms, his round scars, his mommy’s bruised eye, how Man #3 was more mean than Man #2, but wrestled better until he got mad. How touching meant hurts and talking was trouble and how he thought maybe Man #1 might be his dad who went to Heaven but mommy didn’t tell him for sure.
On the forty-second day of James, a sunny, breezy day, James asked Red if he ever wanted to be a cowboy some day. I heard hope in the question and I so wished Red could just this time… answer the question with a hearty Yes! I was still smiling to myself when I heard Red’s sigh from the other side of the Oak, heard his nails scratch the deck board as he stood and shook. James – holding on to Red’s collar – appeared at the side of my chair. He reached out and patted Aaron’s head, touched my hand and asked, “Could Red and me please have a butter jelly sammich, Mommy Lynn?”
Exactly one year, thirty days and two hours from the first moment we met – and I have the wallpaper saved to prove it — James left our home to live with his natural grandparents in another state. From letters and phone calls I know that James learned to ride horses – to be a cowboy – and in high school he began to train dogs specifically to work with abused children.
That was the year I learned to listen. Really listen. I kept notes – The Journals of James – I wept in the shower each night for the pain this child endured, I testified in court to make sure Man #3 saw the inside of jail cell, I learned to listen to small words, small gestures, tiny movements and night terrors and wait with baited breath for the moment when a simple request for a butter jelly “sammich” rocked my world.
In honor of the Month of the Military Child, I present an essay written for a Reader’s Digest Contest in 1991 by our daughter, Sheri Lynn. Children were asked to address their feelings about family values, thoughts on life, what their mom and dad did at work and what they wanted to be when they were grown. Sheri did not win the contest, but she certainly melted our hearts. Steve carried a copy of this with him wherever he went. I found it yellowed and creased in his wallet when his personal items were returned to me the day after he died.
About my Bukowski Family
By Sheri Lynn Bukowski – Age 7
My mommy can do almost everything except throw a mouse away when it’s on a sticky thing and except when daddy’s home, because then she pretends she can’t do everything so he can. My daddy knows this secret.
My mommy and daddy probably know as much as God does, but mommy says they don’t because they’re just a mom and dad and we all, even mommies, learn something new every day. Also, we’re not supposed to put people on pedestals because we are all equal. I don’t know about that because I don’t think anybody is equal to my daddy. Mommy says pedestals are “thinking” things, and we should all try to be nice and say we’re sorry when we’re not nice. I suppose it’s like when she goes crazy and yells at everybody, even the dogs, and then says, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
I think a pedestal is a wooden box. I think it must hurt really bad to fall off so I will never put myself on a pedestal. My brother says mommy and daddy don’t know anything about nothing. He’s 10. I think he should fall off a pedestal.
My mommy tells us we should talk to and listen to people every day if we can because every person and every day is important. Mommy says this includes my three year old foster brother, even if he is a pain.
My daddy always says, “Never give up!” And my mommy always says, “How do you know if you don’t try?” Sometimes I really, really hate my parents because they make me do stupid things like wash my face and wear dresses. Daddy says it’s okay because he will always love me anyway. Mommy says it’s not nice to hate but I can not like her if I want. I hate Philip, the boy who sits next to me at school, but I’m trying not to like him.
My daddy works in the Navy SEAL Team and does things that only special daddies like him can do. He knows how to jump out of airplanes and shoot loud guns and dive under ships and crab-crawl through jungles and climb rock walls. When he’s home we crab-crawl through the back yard and climb rocks and jump on the trampoline and he lets me wear green makeup on my cheeks, but mostly he’s gone and he writes us letters.
I think you have to know how to be lonely for your family and to write letters to be a Navy SEAL. I love my daddy more because I think he needs it.
My mommy used to work at a place writing things for attorneys because attorneys don’t know how to write like she does. We had a nanny from Denmark named Hella, like hello except with an A. Now mommy stays at home and gets her story money from the mailbox. She works as a mommy for free because she loves us and because she takes care of us and sick babies and helps mommies and daddies of foster children to know how to love when they have sad hearts or angry feelings. Mommy says she has enough love and I believe her, so it’s okay that I love daddy a little more since he’s alone a lot.
When I grow up I will probably be a Navy SEAL and a dancer. I will try to be a nice person and watch out for pedestals. I will also probably be a gymnastics girl in the Olympics because I’m pretty good so far.
If I win, will you please send this to my daddy. Mommy knows the address.
Sheri Lynn Bukowski © 1991