Bukszoo’s Twisted Cheer ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY YEAR! (2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living by Faith

Sheri wrote this last year toward the end of February. I tripped over it tonight… on purpose, I believe. I needed a bit of grounding and a reminder that all is well and unfolding exactly as it needs to in Divine time. True enough that living another’s dream, even when it encircles my own dream, is a huge responsibility. Reading this tonight reminds me that Steve is still very much here in soul and spirit – prompting, teaching, steering. How fortunate I am.

Steve LZGRACE

After two days of water pipes bursting under the house, I tiptoed around this morning listening for gushing water. All quiet. All clear. I tiptoed back through the kitchen checking the view from every window and poured myself a cup of coffee. Suddenly the memory of my father fixing water pipes emerged from light across the room and my body ached with nostalgia. The last Christmas we spent with my dad he spent hours fixing water pipes. As my mind pulled back to the present, my gaze tuned to the land again – backyard frozen, dog runs frozen, barn cat sentry sitting duty at his post in the crack of the door. He would have loved this farm. He would have loved the trees and the creek, the driveway and the deck. He would have cursed the broken fences but merrily stomped his way through the pastures to fix every single one. He dreamed of this.

We are living someone else’s dream and the onus is on us. We must be careful with it. He did not get to walk this property as a flesh-living man would step by step. His presence is ubiquitous and inescapable though, and his spirit fully alive in this place. PEACE is here. Drama is not allowed. Lies are not tolerated. Truth slowly ascends to the surface of souls and weak things are shattered, like glass, the fragility does not go unnoticed. But this place, the place my Father’s presence roams, is a safe place to crack. For in the quiet earth the soul is replenished.

It is a weighty, scary thing to be living someone else’s dream. You want to be worthy of it, worthy of their sweat and blood. You want to be worthy of the inheritance you walk in, the return of their investment. Not everyone has the luxury of living out their dreams on earth.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith are not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11)

— withLynn Bukowski.

Sheri Bukowski © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Founded by Grace…

Everything comes with risk, but when a Warrior lives through war and lands at LZ-Grace, it is to overcome, reconnect to family and community and achieve the peace that comes from within.

When we acknowledge and release what we’ve lived through and find connection with one another, our souls are inspired to hold tight to the edge of the cliff until help arrives; to live on; to use scars as road maps; and to pass strength and experience forward to all the world.

Grace is the voice that calls us to change and the power to pull it off.

LZ-Grace Promotional Video produced, edited and donated by Nanc Waters.

 It is with the love and generosity of our kind supporters that LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat can make a difference and begin the healing process.

http://www.lz-grace.com

Lynnette Bukowski All rights reserved ©2014

Over Coffee

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

Sunday Morning coffee porch

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

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

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

“The engraving is beautiful,” Bobby says.

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

“It is,” I say.

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

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

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

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

“I fear the rage, Steve. Not you.”

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

You say, “I fear you…”

“That’s a lie.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I say.

Bobby knows I am not talking to him.

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

The minutiae of death are stirring my crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Later,” you say, “Talk to me.”

I shake my head.

“Use words,” you say.

“I can’t.”

“Then tell me what you can’t say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shake my head.

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

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

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

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

“Entirely true,” you say.

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

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

“I’m done here,” I say. 

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

I think: God better have a separate car.

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

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

“Point,” you laugh.

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

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

I want to believe you.

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

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

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

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

Steve's Urn

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Unstoppable Souls

There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you are the one who will change theirs.

Firey WomanThe story I’m about to tell you is true. It is the story about an inspirational man, his equally inspiring and beautiful wife, and his son, William, who surpasses all of us with his will to overcome, thrive and live.

None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty. The guilty would be me. I’d like a pass because I was in mourning, but the truth is, that’s bullshit. Each of us decides every day to live or give up, to make excuses or take responsibility. It sucks that the love of my life died on me. I’m still a little mad about it.

The difference now is this: I no longer use his death as an excuse, but as my driving force.

Exactly a year and a half after Steve died; I packed up my home for the 22nd time in 34 years and moved to Virginia Beach to feel something familiar around me. I don’t have young Navy SEALs traipsing through my house at all hours like I used to, but the community of Steve’s living Brothers is close enough to me here that I feel their comfort. Still, less than a year ago I was still in a deep fog, barely unpacked and still driving around from point A to point B without knowing how I left or why I arrived.

On one such day while driving down Virginia Beach Boulevard, I heard a distinct recognizable voice telling me to turn and check out a small gym close to the corner of Great Neck. I made a U-turn, pulled into a parking space and laughed aloud at the (then) name of the gym: “Face the Pain”.  Clearly, Steve lived (and died) for sarcasm. Ironically, had I not heard his voice on that day – at that exact moment – I would not have turned, I would never have noticed the gym, and I would not have met Billy Yancey.

You should probably know that for 31 years Steve was my built in personal trainer. He designed programs to suit me, challenge me and piss me off. I never trained exactly the way he thought I should, but he never stopped believing in me or my abilities and to thank him for that faith, I (mostly) did what I was told. I was not, however, his BUD/S student and I made that clear in no uncertain terms every chance I got, which somehow encouraged him to buy a stupid little bell and taunt me with it. I admit here and now that I may have caused a certain “bell” to fly across the room a dozen hundred times or so, but I digress…

The ugly truth is this: When Steve died, I quit everything. I was breathing, barely, and I would have stopped that too if I could have figured out a way to do it without hurting my children. I lost my mind and I didn’t care. I lost my health, my magic and my self. I didn’t care. Grief is a skilled liar and I came to believe there was no point to anything. I sat down and did not move for an entire year believing that Steve was gone and I was done. Purposefully, I paid no attention to my health. I gained “mourning weight” and a “screw it” attitude and I did not care.

And then I met “Mr. Pain,” a.k.a. Billy Yancey. Billy is the creator of Anabo, the owner of Anabo Nutrition and Fitness and my friend — not always an easy task. Since that fateful day, I have come to know him as a stellar husband, an extraordinary Papa, and yet another man in my life who takes absolutely not one ounce of shit from me, which is fairly unbelievable because I can hand it out with mighty force.

I am now back to being a healthy, beautiful woman with all of my magic and self  Determined_Woman.jpg_preview_327x500right where it needs to be.  And I maintain bragging rights because damn, even in death, Steve knows how to pick ’em.

Billy is no ordinary man and no ordinary personal trainer.

Meet Billy Yancey, #2 Corner-back, United States Naval Academy. During his Navy football days he had three (3) interceptions against the University of Toledo and one (1) against the Quarter Back of Notre Dame, Rick Mirer, at Giants Stadium.

I hear there’s a Navy – Air Force game tomorrow, October 5, 2013 and it’s on! I thought this might be an appropriate time to brag about my personal coach.

Billy #2

FEAR THE GOAT!

FEAR THE PAIN!

And oh yes, did I mention he was also Mr. Virginia 1999.

Billy Mr. Virginia 1999

So damn glad to know this man, his gorgeous wife, Lisa, and his beautiful son, William.

Be inspired by William here: http://www.wavy.com/news/local/va-beach/virginia-beach-boy-defies-the-odds#.Uk8R2_pTLIg.email

http://www.zombierunva.com – Register and run to support William!

And… GOOOOOOOOO NAVY!!!!!!

If you are in Virginia Beach and you need a workout program that will kick your butt backwards, forwards and sideways… check out Anabo Nutrition and Fitness Gym at the Corner of Great Neck and Virginia Beach Boulevard. For more information contact Billy@TheAnabo.com or open this flyer: [ANABO – Billy Yancey]

 By Lynnette Bukowski © October 4, 2013

The Power of Sharing Strength…

helping(Sharing Strength was posted on August 6, 2012. I have revised the original in light of recent events because… much of it bears repeating)  

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 your pain because you too are my brother, my child, my beloved. And I will stand with you – the left behind, the living – and share my strength.

Today, a dear friend, Rob Dubois, Author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime of War told me a story about a young girl who felt lost and hopeless and left her life up to one last event. Rob spoke from his heart with far more detail than I share here, but these words as I remember them bruised my soul: She wrote a long note to her parents, and the last sentence said: “I’m going to the mall. If one person smiles at me I will not kill myself.” Not one person smiled at her. Not one.

I came home to read an article shared by a friend on Twitter. Matthew Hoh wrote in The Huffington Post that a study released by the Department of Veterans affairs in early February, states that Veteran suicides have now reached twenty two (22) per day. Nearly one soul per hour every single day! Mr. Hoh writes, [Our recent] “…wars did not kill 6,500 Americans, but rather 13,000 or 20,000…”

It is so easy to turn away from this and say, with compassion, we just cannot save them all. We have lives to lead, places to go, things to do. But in my heart I hear this truth: What if a gentle touch of our hand, or our willingness to stay and not turn away from their pain, or the moment it takes to pick up a phone, send a text or a Tweet or a Facebook message was the exact moment that changed a life?

What if we passed a broken soul and shared a smile…

Because there is true 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 could not 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

Share a smile today, reach from your soul and touch a life.

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.

The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you or a loved one needs help.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

There’s A Little Wild In You

WolfExcerpt 

“There’s a little wild in you,” Steve used to say. I think he believed I needed the wild to come up fighting and scrapping amid this life that he led, as though this crazy ingredient was necessary to be the woman behind the warrior.  He had a point.  It takes a little wild to travel 10,000 miles away from home to marry the man I love in the middle of a monsoon surrounded by a Platoon of Navy SEALs armed with votive candles and a liquor-laced, a capella rendition of the “Wedding March”.

Steve’s passion for me was quiet and real, but his first love, the Brotherhood of the “Teams” could barely be contained.  It vibrated just under his skin, hell bent on eruption, and flowed into every corner of our lives. I would learn soon enough that the stormy night in October 1978 was just the beginning of the torrential rhythm of our 31 year existence.

The truth is my marriage to Steve was not unlike locking myself in a cage with a hungry wolf. I did that once. Like my marriage, it was frightening and painful, joyous and loud and I knew I’d probably get eaten alive, but something – the slow dance and chance at survival – made it worth the risk. Wolves mate for life. I always kept this detail close to my heart, because to use the term “marriage” with wolves and warriors is fairly laughable. The union of Navy SEAL and the woman he weds is the igniting of a fire that burns white hot until it doesn’t anymore. In the wild the same premise holds true. Only a very few survive.

I did. And it had everything to do with Grace.

When I banged the cage open on this life, I was hell bent on my vision of a handsome prince and grand adventure as a 20 year old bride. I had no idea I would find instead an emotional rock fortress surrounding a driven man full of passion, honesty, pride and skill — with all the social grace of a troll. I suppose that might be a bit unfair. He did have an “on switch” used to charm world leaders and children, but he did not tolerate small talk or suffer idiots. Secretly, I found this endearing and useful.

And sure, it is always easy to rewrite history after the fact, but Steve really was one of the best of the best.  Before real world news events and the former administration started leaking secrets about these men at work, Steve did his job as a Navy SEAL in complete silence.  Most of them still do. He was trained and raised, so to speak, by the Frogmen of Vietnam and he did not sway for an instant from those lessons.

At first we lived as two young souls in a vacuum of subjects never to be discussed, which worked against every cell of the female in me. Women like details. We gather information, talk it through, report back in even more colorful detail and we like to be heard. Men could live their entire lives without sharing details. Steve listened well, but there had to be one of the following life sustaining events to look forward to shortly after his listening card was full: food, hard work, fun, sex, sleep. Shuffle as necessary and repeat. I was lucky to get complete sentences out of the man and even then, we talked around the obvious. That his job was dangerous, from training to deployments to war, was not up for discussion.

So we found other things to talk about and because we fancied ourselves madly in love, coming home to me was always his safe haven. I had his physical body, but after the initial welcome and the soft place to land, I continually had to clog and slog and pull my way through a thick dark muddy abyss with just a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the mental and emotional Steve might come home too.

For long moments after I gave birth to a child or brought a foster child home the murky fog would clear and this wonderful, weeping man who exhausted all of us with his playfulness and fierce love would appear like a long clear blast of cool air. Nothing was off limits when Steve had a child to entertain. His stories of adventure, replete with extraordinary detail, hands waving through the air and voice booming, could enchant children for hours.

Don’t think I didn’t ding him on this. I’d wait until all the kids were tucked in and asleep and say, “That was some detail there with bombs and booms, undersea exploits and cliff-hanging escapades. Do tell…”

With a huge grin, he’d ask for a sandwich or some such thing and say, “I made it up.”

I can’t stress this enough: Men like food, hard work, fun, sex, sleep. Repeat. Women like details.

Then he would leave on another deployment and I would hit face first into the wall of reality and the long hard climb back to unity. The man who left me was never the same man who walked through the door.

I truly believe I survived because I grew a spine of steel, reached deep and found an abundance of unconditional love, leaned heavily on impenetrable faith, rediscovered my fierce independence and matched Steve’s passion and resistance with my own fighting wild spirit. But perhaps it was simply Grace and to borrow Rumi’s words: Destined lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.

After 32 years of living on the edge of death and two more years working for a contractor, Steve fully retired.  We owned a small ranch in North Carolina, a few horses and had a full on dream for a house full of grandchildren and the creation of a safe place for his Brothers to come to when they were done with their part in saving the world.

A few months later he finished a 16 mile bicycle ride and died of a massive heart attack at the tender age of 55. On that day two sheriff deputies arrived at my door and handed me a yellow sticky note with the acronym “D.O.A.” written in pencil.

Steve died as he lived, on his own terms with no fanfare or drama.

And my initial dreams of a fairy tale marriage? They never did come true.  But something much larger than two people in love erupted into this world and I am forever grateful for such Grace.

I’ll carry on his dream in the very same way that I still get down on my knees every day and thank God that not one of us can live the way we want to because God does not let us get away with it.

We do not love on our own terms.

Be grateful in all ways for fierce love and wild abandon because at any moment the people we love can disappear just like this:

You are here. Now you’re not.

 Lynnette Bukowski © 2013 All Rights Reserved

LZG_logo HR Please visit www.lz-grace.com and https://www.facebook.com/LzGraceVeteransRetreat for more information about how Steve’s dream lives on.  

Into Your Hands We Eventually Fall

For those who see

Every loss now breaks the heart

Just a little bit more

Until we are left with only

Faith

That life goes on

Beyond our touch

And remains

Ever present like a tiny

Breeze that seeps into sleep

Through an open window

And sooths the soul

And if we catch it,

A silver ribbon

Of Grace arrives and

Carries us on in waking moments,

As we move,

As we walk,

As we pray

As we weep,

As we live.

And you remain in the sweetest corners

Of our broken hearts

Bound together with hope

That you are safe

And free and there,

Just there

For those who see.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2012

 

Memo from the Department of Just Showing Up

DSC_0003 (2)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.

 By Lynnette Bukowski © 2011RED
Lynnette Bukowski continues to show up to life each day as a freelance writer and artist. She is the Founder and Director of LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat and is always available to correspond with military widows and families of our fallen warriors at ljbukowski@gmail.com