In special honor of my friend, Brenda’s earth birthday, I am reposting this story about a promise I’ve made and my memory of her and all she held dear. There is a tremendous call right now for youth and adults across the globe to step up and teach our world’s children that they are all significant and loved. The book I’ve chosen 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://powerfulpeace.net
Our children are our future. They deserve a chance at Peace.
Twelve hours before Brenda died she called to tell me she was in Heaven.
“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, 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 fifteen 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 military man 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 preplanned and this was her lot. After that one speech, the subject was off limits. “Pointless,” she would say, and 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.
In loving memory, pass it forward.
by Lynnette Bukowski
I am a woman of great strength and great love. I have been given divine gifts of words, keen discernment and an intuitive force I use to empower and inspire others to take their own gifts and use them for the good of all. I believe in human connection, basic human goodness, common decency, common sense and “applied” peace. If I am naïve at all in this second half of my life, it is in my continued faith in truth and justice.
And I am fiercely loyal to a Brotherhood to (and with) whom the other half of my soul dedicated his entire life.
It is now appallingly obvious that the current administration and their media cohorts have launched an assault on these Warriors for political gain. I urge all of you who want to return to a place of common sense in this world to stand behind our Troops and our Veterans. They serve and suffer even as the assault continues. So – peacefully – do what you can with what you have where you are.
As for me, hell hath no fury like a pissed off SEAL’s widow.
“I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.” MV
Iron sharpens iron. As one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17)
This is the miracle of human connection: we do not need to be in the same room, the same state, or the same country to reach out our hands and lay bare our hearts and say, I stand with you stunned – in silence and prayer, I will hold your hand, I will share your tears, I will take the impact of your pain as my own and bear it with you. We are all one. I feel this loss because this too is my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.
Two years ago (tomorrow) the world lost 30 brave men and Bart, a Warrior Dog – all heroes – aboard Extortion 17 in Afghanistan. The families, friends and loved ones of the fallen are scattered across the country and globe and while it is impossible to reach each of them in person or by phone, for the past week entire communities came together to raise funds, show support and share in the grief of loss.
Today, hundreds of people – many who do not even know these men and their families – join virtual hands in support and prayer via Facebook and Twitter to uplift and share strength.
There is such comfort in knowing we are never really alone.
It is a poignant reminder of the first time in my adult life I learned this lesson.
On September 25, 1978 I began my drive to work from Coronado to San Diego. Half-way across the Coronado Bay Bridge, a perfect 230 feet above water, sun glanced off my windshield and created a tunnel-like view of a small plane as it clipped the underside of a passenger jet and dropped from the sky. I slammed my foot on the breaks and stepped out. As cars on the bridge screeched to a stop behind me, I stood and watched with horror as the jet banked away, paused, and began a nose down dive. The sky shrieked wildly until it didn’t. For one brief moment I imagined the plane was landing, until it hit the earth and exploded into a pluming black cloud. Movement around me slowed to half speed, then quarter speed, as if the air in the blue sky had thickened with sorrow.
Those of us watching from the bridge began to scream; the sound inhuman, swallowed whole by the eerie howl of a sudden hot wind. The heat roiled in my stomach and I bent over where I stood and vomited. A man, a complete stranger, came to me and held my head, smoothed my hair back. He made kind sounds, non-words that echoed through the blood buzzing in my ears.
I don’t remember the drive to the crash site. I do remember following my stranger’s silver Mercedes as though it was a lifeline, a reality I needed to stay with. We parked blocks away, but we felt the heat, even then, as he took my hand. We ran, or he did. I stumbled beside him, keeping pace with the sirens, praying, passing stunned people who staggered into the streets. A wall of heat and smoke stopped us and we stood, useless.
My stranger fell to his knees then, pulling me down with him, crushing my hand to his chest while he wept; long crawling gasping sounds. We huddled there in the street on our knees, and between sobs he told me that he’d been running late, on his way to the airport to pick up his daughter. She was 25, working in LA and coming for a visit. Surely, she’d forgive him for leaving her stranded. He whispered the last words and I put my face close to his, looked into his eyes and took the full impact of his words.
I felt then like elderly people must feel when they forget who they are, where they are, what shoes are for, when each gesture calls meaning into question, unbuttoning a button, breathing. I was 20, a mere child, but I forced myself to understand we were taking turns, as people do, in sharing strength.
I learned later that the 727 was carrying more than six tons of fuel, much of it in the wing tanks. The news reported that from the moment of impact with the Cessna, it took just 17 seconds to transform PSA Flight 182 from a fully functional airliner into a mass of burning wreckage encompassing four city blocks. The crash destroyed 22 houses in North Park, and killed 7 residents, as well as all 144 people on board the jet and both pilots in the Cessna.
Jeff told me later that he knew his daughter was on the plane the moment he witnessed the impact, but that tending to me and having me with him gave him the strength he needed to “keep the fist out of his gut long enough to know, without a doubt, that he couldn’t save her.”
Jeff and I remained friends from that day on. He was finally able to go home to his daughter in September, 2002.
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as true strength.” ~Sales
Aboard Extortion 17 that day were 17 of my husband’s brothers – U.S. Navy SEALs. It is this brotherhood of men and their families who sustain me today as the widow of a veteran Navy SEAL. And I know without a doubt that on August 6, 2011, my husband Steve welcomed all 30 – and Bart – into a brotherhood that lives on in Heaven as a Platoon of Warrior Angels. Such Grace.
There is tenderness in the presence of true strength; it fairly grips the soul and stays long after the moments fade, years I think. Perhaps even a lifetime.
Lynnette Bukowski ©2012
Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance author and artist and the Founder/Director of LZ-Grace (Landing Zone Grace) Veterans Retreat. (www.lz-grace.com)
God knew as I
before I came to this world
my hats would run out
The dirty Easter bonnet
The Black Beret’ with Sass
The lovers timid veil
Designer Ribbons flare
A Mother’s backward cap
A Wife’s honorary Trident
A widow’s brimmed ache
so liquid now it melts
around my hair and eyes
and down into my soul
and there I am like Jonah in the whale
folded in half
with prayers so thin they are
whispered until I am
the string between two tin cans
rusted with regret I cannot find
What now does the Mother
of a dying son’s hat look like?
Oh, Mother Mary hold my hand
you know this part
all of the imperfect in me is naked and I am left
with nothing but a leaky love
that drips through my final hat in hand
onto the dusty floor
and scatters with such missing
that I am afraid
I may not gather enough love to
fill another cup of life.
© September 11, 2011
Author’s Note: 4/19/2013 – I wrote this article in obvious response to political gesturing by the present Administration in 2009. It was published then in Stars & Stripes, and local newspapers. It appears this 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.
I’m guessing here, but I do not think a certain Merchant Marine Captain would liken the special ops men who saved his life with the pirate terrorists who nearly murdered him.
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 years, allow me to say this straight up: You most certainly are tracking ideological differences and where it does not suit the administration’s agenda, you are labeling it extremism… or a threat. Therefore, your attempt 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
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 to rummage through a drawer for warm socks and came up with a memory so potent that time slips away in decades. I am so entranced with my memories that when my captive audience of one returns triumphant – ball in mouth – I cannot help but tell him the story.
In 1976 I lived in Coronado, California with my parents in a high-rise condominium overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I attended college and worked as lead vocal in Whitefeather, a top-forty, all-girl band. We played military base clubs and private parties four nights a week and I was rarely home before 3:00 AM. It began in October that year, each morning at dawn – with only two hours of sleep – I woke to a crude, slightly entertaining mantra emanating from a group of men dressed in blue and gold t-shirts, tight tan shorts and combat boots. They ran in formation down the beach, chanting their cadence, replete with original and rudimentary rhyme that echoed up six floors and into my head. Most of the time I was intrigued, but after one particular week of very little sleep and finals looming, I leaned my head out of my open window and issued a stream of oaths. Without breaking stride, every single man waved at me in unison, mocking my sunrise angst. Thus became our morning ritual.
A neighbor educated me about these supercilious behemoths. All were trainees or instructors at BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition School), a brutal training course for specialized commandos known as U.S. Navy SEALs. It was several weeks before I had my first close-encounter.
During a private gig, and mid-way through my rendition of Moondance, the most ridiculously handsome, arrogant man I will ever meet, walked right up onto my stage and asked me to dance. We spent the next year in heated debates disguised as dates. During one such date he dared me to marry him. I accepted the dare.
Years later, when he arrived from a mission just moments before I gave birth to our daughter, I yelled at him about his lousy timing and party-crashing habits. He laughed, kissed me square on my panting lips and said, “I didn’t crash your party, I simply showed up to the rest of my life.” The sweetness of that moment may have been lost to labor pain, but I digress…
In October 1978, Steve and I were married at 10:00 o’clock at night at the Christian Serviceman’s Center in Subic Bay, Olongapoe, Philippines during a monsoon. Picture this: me in red Candie high heels, (I had them in every color) climbing alone into the back of an open Jeepney(a Filipino taxi) in rain and wind that sliced the sky open. When I arrived, the electricity was out but Steve was there, along with Sixteen Navy SEALs (slightly intoxicated), and a Navy Chaplain who stood wearily between my travelling companion and Steve’s best friend. I stood at the entrance, charmed by the glow of the votive candles they held. In unison, they began their own off key version of the wedding march. The room smelled of matchstick sulfur, wet clothes and grain alcohol, but I was delighted by their goofy smiles and I think I laughed aloud as I sloshed my way down the aisle with mud spattered up to my knees and rain dripping from the hem of my cotton dress. Steve smiled that cocky, edgy smile, leaned in close and whispered, “See, all you had to do was show up.”
Exactly six hours later Steve and his platoon left for a three-week excursion. Middle of the night exits and unannounced returns became the rhythm of our existence. During our first year of marriage, we spent exactly 98 days together, no more than 15 consecutive days at a time. I found it fascinating to drill him on details about his trips and quickly learned that even my best methods of persuasion only worked for short clipped versions of his days (so to speak) at the office. Eventually, we found other things to talk about. Every two to three years from 1978 on we moved across the street, the country or the world. We lived in seven different states and four different countries.
Independence, while slightly force-fed, taught me how to run our family on my own for months on end. And it never failed that just about the time the kids and I learned a new language or adapted to a new culture, Steve would show up on the doorstep and we would begin again the next adventure.
This is no sad story, I tell Spike. He lifts his head, having long since curled himself around my bare feet, and looks at the small box in the palm of my hand. It is not a treat or ball and his obvious disappointment makes me laugh through my tears. Death is nothing at all. Even now – so many months after Steve’s passing from this earth – he is urging me on to show up to life without him. This, I announce aloud, is beyond measure, a legacy much larger than our little universe of dog and broken woman in the wee hours of dawn. This ancient little box of matches is a gift full of brilliant love and serendipitous moments.
Steve was right. Life is not complicated. Rather, it is a sequence of surprises, both excruciatingly painful and full of glorious adventure mixed and stirred up in moments. We mere mortals too often obscure the steps and miss the moments, when all we really need to do is just show up.
It is the perfect morning to lie in bed and cuddle with the memory of you. Through the window glass the trees shush, their leaves yielding to clear drops, one after the other, sometimes two together, as though you are watering my heart from your Heaven.
The roof dulls the sound for a moment until it spatters over the eaves and creates blistering drops on the deck, like sizzling bacon. I think: bacon and three fried eggs and a sliced tomato. A lazy weekend morning and I serve you one of the few gifts you would accept from me.
At this moment – right now – I feel your solid chest against my back, your right forearm and calloused hand resting on my hip, your knee pushing gently against the back of my thighs. You are right here. If I turned, I could lay my head against your shoulder, push my face into your smooth neck and know. The knowing of nothingness and everything.
My eyes squeeze shut at the ache of pure sadness. The missing your physical presence makes the windows shudder with a stomping rush of falling rain. Is this your universal answer to my tears? You were never this dramatic on Earth.
You whisper: Get up and write this down. I stretch against your memory like a waking child. I say: don’t tell me what to do.
If you were here to make me coffee I would hear the sound of six level scoops. Water pouring – like this morning rain. The aroma of your love for me would seep into the bedroom like a stealth warrior.
I get up, wander into the kitchen and put six rounded scoops and one-half more, which I know would cause a morning spat. Why do I so blatantly break the making coffee rules? Because I like the way our spats end: You grab my hips and spin me into a bear hug and ardent kiss that even now – in the memory of it – leaves me breathless.
Still – probably surrounded by a Platoon of spirits – with each cup of coffee you pour – you add cream, a teaspoon of sugar and while you stir, you grumble to the cup, I can’t believe she is still such a rebel. They all chuckle. I can hear you, you know, as though the words form a red neon ticker tape of commentary circling the tongue and groove pine of the kitchen ceiling.
I ask God: Do spirits laugh? And I have this vision of you sitting around with God and Buddha, a few Mystics and all the Team guys who have so recently passed over. You are all telling stories, animated hand gestures and colorful language and the laughter is so huge it sounds like thunder rumbling through the trees.
The passion with which we lived still resonates. My ego starts to dream up God deals.
Dear God, today is the 495th day of this infinite deployment and really, I need him back now. Here’s the deal….
God sighs… the infinite loving sigh. No Deal. He says this in capital letters. And like I’m watching a You-Tube short I’m given a glimpse of you – vital and healthy, slipping through narrow gates, holding infants, holding moons, philosophizing with Emerson and St. Francis, building lavish parks, bending to take a toddler’s hand, telling sea stories with your Team mates, trimming your mustache, building houses, studying in a library that is endless and everything. You are full of Joy.
When you stand, turn, and stare at me, through me, hands on hips, blue-green blazing eyes near maximum intensity I can hardly breathe through the realness: I’m writing again, I say. The answer to the question you have not asked.
About damn time. You think it. I feel your thought and see it glisten through you just as the sun peaks through the cloud. It’s your rare, reserved smile spilling over me. I laugh aloud because even in Heaven you’re a smart ass.
It’s all about the Love… I hear you say, standing at the stove stirring your beef bourguignon and reminding me each time I walk into the room that it’s all about the love. I wonder if you even had an inkling then of the absolute greatness of that simple lesson?
You wait patiently then – so unlike you – until my soul fills with a boundless blue love. The rain begins again and it is here in this moment I feel your energy leave me – for now – standing in the perfect memory of you.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2011
At 3:00 in the morning I decide to confront a certain foot locker that a year ago took two men to move from the barn to my bedroom. Until now, I did not have the nerve to open it, but I cannot lie in bed and look at it for one more moment.
I turn on a light, pry open the lid and laugh at the perfectly organized assortment of goods.
Now, the rule for this 22nd move in 34 years is to sort every last thing and either keep, toss or give away. Since I’m moving 3000 sq. ft. plus barn into 1600 sq. ft. and a shed, the 3 pile strategy is an absolute must. But in the wee hours of the morning I am suddenly and adamantly opposed to rules. And, it appears, I’ve developed a situational case of A.D.D. with a twist.
This is what actually happens…
I don a starched camouflaged jacket, roll up the sleeves and go in search of a bottle of wine and a sturdy glass.
I wander around with an over-sized baggie full of elaborate screws, nails and attachment thingies that appear to be 10 years old just to see if I can use them anywhere. I can’t.
I marvel at an assortment of creative weaponry to include an ancient, but recently sharpened Bolo knife and feel just a little bad ass. Because I can.
I attempt several PT moves listed in a notepad full of handwritten lists of PT workouts. 4:00 AM Fail.
I wonder: what the hell is a brand new spring miter clamp used for in daily life?
I clip on an ammo belt full of shot gun shells (which would have been useful a few months back when two yahoos entered my yard!) and decide it’s a good O-dark-thirty look.
I am perplexed at the myriad issued green flip-pads held together with rubber bands containing notes to the kids, notes to me, meditation notes and quotes penned in the margins. The man hated to write, which is how he talked me into writing and typing hundreds of papers straight through his MS. Now I’m a little bit pissed.
I make coffee, settle in and read every word.
When the sun comes up it finds me sitting in the middle of a circle of memories and smiling from ear to tired ear.
“The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it…I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.”
Lynnette Bukowski © 2012
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.
We have to be willing to wait.
This is the story of Bucket, a three-legged, huffy little dog with blue eyes, shaggy white fur and silly brown speckles. But I can’t tell the story of Bucket without telling the story of Kyle, his beloved imperfect boy.
Kyle was seven when he became our official tag-a-long. Danny, my best friend, and I knew Kyle was sick with leukemia – but to us, Kyle was simply Danny’s little brother. He was small for his age, and his left leg was much shorter than his right, but his most entertaining features were the freckles on his ears that looked like connect-the-dots, and his full head of red hair, with a dollop that stuck straight up from the crown of his head.
On Monday, the first day of Easter week, Danny and Kyle’s Mother announced that Kyle could come along with us on one of our adventures. Danny beamed, as though he’d been entrusted with a precious treasure. We were only nine, but when Kyle’s face lit up and he hobbled off to get his shoes, it made everyone in the room get goofy smiles and their Mom’s eyes sparkle like glitter.
Still, in the 1960’s the seriousness of life lasted only until the next opportunity to play and of course, because Kyle was Kyle, we treated him like any little brother long before this milestone day. We called him “runt”, “slow-poke” and “Opie” with the love and affection that only a brother and his tom-girl best friend could show. He’d laugh it off, stick like glue and never give up. Secretly we were pleased because Kyle was special and perhaps some of that special would rub off on us. Plus, we were fascinated by a kid who was smarter than all of the encyclopedias in the school library, and he didn’t even attend school!
We hiked to our favorite adventure spot in the woods; a small meadow surrounded by pine trees and vacant cabins. We had just started to gather wood for our “fort” when Kyle dropped his handful of sticks. “Do you hear it?” he asked, “Something sounds afraid – a tiny cry that goes up at the end like a squeaky sigh?”
Danny and I laughed. Kyle loved to tell stories and this day, bright blue and warm, was no different from the rest, except that Kyle was with us outside.
Kyle limped wildly toward the pile of leaves. We both heard it then – just the slightest sound – like a broken bird in the wind. Danny cocked his head and motioned for me to follow him, but by this time, Kyle was waist deep in the leaves, “Here!” he yelled, and we both ran full out toward the boy holding up a large metal bucket.
“Kyle, be careful!” Danny yelled, “It might be a squirrel or a raccoon and they bite and Mom will kill me and…give it here!” Danny was clearly more afraid of his Mother’s wrath than the mystery animal in the bucket.
Kyle held his free arm straight, palm out. Danny stopped short. “Shush! You’re going to scare it, now shush!” Kyle warned. Before we could stop him (and honestly we didn’t try), he high-stepped his way from the leaves, reached into the bucket and brought up a ball of quivering fur. “Hello,” he whispered, and even as he said it, even as he placed the tiny fur-ball on the ground and we gasped at the wobbly three-pawed stance, Kyle grinned and shouted, “Look! He’s absolutely perfect.”
Once home, we all crowded at the kitchen door while Kyle announced to his Mom that God had sent him a puppy with only three paws to keep him company for the rest of his life. Bucket – aptly named – wiggled from Kyle’s arms then, plopped onto the linoleum and did a lopsided pitter-patter across the floor. Their perfectly coifed Mom, in her pressed and pink paisley dress, actually kneeled on the kitchen floor to greet Bucket. Something was way off. We all stared dumbfounded when she burst out laughing and wiped tears from her eyes.
From that day, Bucket was Kyle’s shadow and protector. Kyle read Huckleberry Finn to Bucket and it was downright creepy because Bucket always barked at the good parts. When they watched the “Andy Griffith Show” together, Bucket danced to the whistling tune and then he’d fetch Kyle’s small fishing pole. This always caused uproars of laughter for anyone watching.
We played “go-fish” and Bucket tapped the cards with his paw when it was his turn. On our adventures or just around the back yard, Kyle and Bucket had the same walk-and-wait gait that made us all (even Kyle) laugh until our bellies hurt.
Shortly after the school year started, Bucket began to meet us at the bus stop and as we stepped off the bus, he’d bark twice and run home. We came to learn that these were days Kyle didn’t feel well and Bucket was sent to tell us he couldn’t play.
On good days, though, Bucket would meet us and turn two circles, sit, turn two circles and run back to where Kyle stood, waving and yelling happily, “I’m good today, you guys! Real good.”
One week before Easter and one year later, I sat alone on my rock thinking about how to pray and what the rules were for miracles. Kyle had not been on an adventure in two months and now they were down the hill in San Bernardino at St. Mercy’s Hospital.
I rolled onto my stomach and stretched myself across the sun-drenched rock to peer over the edge, just as my best friend’s bicycle clanged to the ground twenty feet beneath me. I was surprised because Danny knew this was my private place and I had never let anyone sit on the top of the Rim of the World with me, especially a boy. He leaned his head back to look up at me, not bothering to swipe the tears that leaked from his swollen eyes.
“Kyle died,” he whispered.
My throat crowded and my eyes stung. I couldn’t talk, so instead I reached down and held my hand out. Danny climbed up easily and took my hand. He held on, even as we scooted across the rock, even as we lay down, side by side. He murmured that we must be very close to heaven and then we cried together until the tree limbs and light sky above us blurred to dark blue, until a tiny bark drifted up to us in the night. We rolled to our stomachs and peered over the edge.
Bucket turned two circles, barked again, turned two circles, sat and stared straight up past us to the night sky.
“Kyle must be feeling real good today,” Danny said.
I began to believe in miracles at the tender age of ten.
Now you know the reason why.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2011
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, or to a foundation who helps Warriors transition from combat to home, feed a hungry family, or find a child to “light up” with Love.
Soldiersangels.org; Sealfuturefund.org; lz-grace.com; semperfifund.org; thejoelfund.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 All rights reserved © 2006