My Side of Heaven

Even in my dreams you take my hand and lead me to places where words tumble from a secret place.

You decorate and dazzle me with brilliant color and velvet texture. Falling leaves I can feel under my bare feet.

I am standing in the middle of my favorite Autumn and you know this.

“They don’t crinkle,” I say, and you ease me down until we’re lying next to each other in a blanket of color.

You gather bunches and crush them gently in the air. I smile at the crisp, cool sound and watch you carefully as you roll sideways, balance on your arm, and smile down at me,

“Tell me where you’ve been, love.”

I think of all the lost roads, and empty eyes,

of the long flights and dark corners,

and lonely rooms,

of all the change and turns into

places where things fall away, and fall apart,

and the hallways where coming undone and being uncovered

break hearts and shatter dreams

 of all the paths I’ve taken to live in faith

 how I’ve been lost in the heavy work and sorrow,

and witness

to all the pain

and to the healing that comes with surrender,

and I wonder about forgiveness, for they know not what they do

and how to give away

The joy you fill me with each day

on my side of Heaven,

and you hear this even though I don’t speak a word until I say,

“I’ve been letting go of heavy things

and I’ve been healing

spirits here and there.

Sometimes my own, sometimes another.

and tending to souls, and listening to hearts,

I can hear unspoken fears

and I address my own

and I’ve finally begun to exhale, and to breath in, and I’m learning

how to let go of so many heavy things.

But mostly…

I’ve been on my way here.

 

 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2019

Love Never Fails

Each and every year we were married – no matter where he was in the world – Steve sent me roses on HIS birthday.

The odd tradition began after our first year of marriage. He was away on a “work trip” and after a particularly ugly over-the-phone argument, I received two dozen roses with a card: “I’m such a jerk and I’m sorry, but you managed to love me for another 365! so Happy Birthday to me. I pray you love me forever. I will you.”

On July 24, 2010, a month and three days after his death, I received two dozen roses with a lovely note professing his forever love and thanking me yet again for loving him another 365. I thought it was just a cruel twist… something he arranged weeks before, and the florist, not knowing he died on June 21, followed through with delivery.

But each and every year since his death I continue to receive two dozen roses, on or near his birthday, and always with a note full of words germane to what I’m struggling with or going through at the time.

I woke this morning as I do every morning – missing Steve. I wished him a happy earth birthday and blessed his constant presence around me. Sadly, I thought, this will be the year the flowers stop because the SEAL Brother I believed responsible for keeping Steve’s birthday flowers coming (even though Brian adamantly denied it when I asked three years ago), passed away after a long struggle with cancer in early June of this year.

Somehow though, the miracle of Roses from Heaven continues.  On this day, with roads flooded and unrelenting rain in Virginia Beach – July 24, 2018 – Steve’s birthday and 123 days after I broke my leg so badly that surgery required plates and rods and pins to put me back together, two dozen beautiful roses were delivered with a timely and loving and encouraging note. I mention my injury because ~ Heaven Knows ~ I am just now humbly, ungracefully, learning how to walk again – step by painful step.

And yes, I love him forever on earth and in Heaven and with each step by every new difficult step.  My body is temporarily broken, but I am renewed each year with faith and strength beyond my wildest dreams.

#LoveNeverFails #BelieveInLove

L.J. Bukowski, All Rights Reserved © 2018

Steve's Birthday Flowers 2018 2Steve's Birthday Flowers 2018 3Steve's Birthday Flowers 2018 1

Helpless

Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

“You have the power to heal yourself, and you need to know that.  We think so often that we are helpless, but we’re not. We always have the power of our minds. Use your power.” ~Hay

I close my eyes at the exact moment the wheels of the plane leave the runway and let the tremendous roar and rush of power hold me against the seat. One long moment of intense anticipation that feels like us. I like it here, suspended and helpless.

It feels like our last Sunday morning.

From my place on the bed, I narrow my focus and let the bathroom doorway frame you like an object d’art. I watch you shave, content with my coffee and imagination; a story waiting to find its way to the journal on my lap.

I ask, “What does a person feel right before they surrender?”

You angle your head, pull the razor up one side of your cheek, rinse the blade and speak to the mirror, “Helpless.”

“Yes, but what does helpless feel like?”

“Wouldn’t know. Never been.”

I wait for you to finish your morning ritual before I slip off the bed, enter your kingdom and prove you wrong.

Research for a story I may never finish.

Over breakfast that morning we discussed in finite detail the difference between submitting to a lovely helplessness and feeling brutally helpless and while I try to recall our exact words, this memory leaps into another:

I’m hanging from the top edge of four-story scaffolding with hands slick from spattered paint; frozen with fear. You yell up at me, amused, “You climbed up there like a sexy cat. What’s the problem?” When I don’t answer and can’t catch my breath, your voice drops an octave, “Don’t look, just feel… hand grip, find your footing… that’s it…” I make it one story down before I slip and grab wildly and cry out. My heart beats so rapidly I think it’s moving the steel frame, but the vibration is you climbing up behind me, covering me, “Put your hand here, now here, I’ve got you, footing, again…” and your voice changes – striking and intense – Always consider your options, Lynn… you are never helpless.

View from a plane Right now I am strapped to a seat in a passenger jet with a hundred other souls and what remains of your beautiful body rests on my lap in a wooden box. I cannot fly the plane and I cannot bring you back. Screw my options. If I die in a plane crash, you damn well better be there to greet me and if I don’t die, I’ll continue to long for the day. Of course just thinking such a thought makes me feel badly about killing all the other passengers and my flash of anger deflates into a prayer for you and God to keep us safe.

I wonder now if you sit next to Jesus, boss saints around and discuss options.

I loved flying with you. Always in the aisle seat, you sat like you were ready to pounce. I was content to watch people and whisper their lives in your ear. “The man across the aisle at the window seat clutching his hat. There’s a photo taped inside. It’s a child. He’s rigid with fear; hates his job, hates flying, but the photo anchors him. Loves his family, though, so he’ll keep doing both…” You elbow me gently; flip through the pages of your magazine. I lean closer and whisper, “The young woman three seats up, fidgeting, in the too short dress and the well-worn heels? She’s eyeing the man on the aisle across from her. Watch… she’ll bump his shoulder with her hip when she stands; smile shyly. He’ll get up and follow her.

“Shush…” you say. But when the woman stands and pretends to lose her balance, you close your magazine and watch. And when the man follows moments later, you turn to me with exaggerated scorn and say, “You scare me…”

I know.

My intuition was our secret.

When the lights blink on and the chatter begins and the world levels out, I am disappointed beyond reason.

Living constantly requires my attendance.

I always choose a window seat now. I still see stories in people, but there’s no one to tell, so I turn my head away. Perhaps when we lose the one person our secret is safe with, the secret dies too.

“Are you okay?”

The shoulders of the man next to me are too wide to fit properly in the seat. He smells of Clive Christian, has dark thoughtful eyes, and looks remarkably like an older version of Jeff, which astounds me.

I try not to stare, but the resemblance is uncanny. I manage to answer, “Yes, thank you…” while my mind slips to a last memory of young Jeff.

His eyes crystalize with pain, his hands tremble against my forearms; his voice pleads with me, “I… goddammit, I don’t know what to do. Please…”

You lean against the hospital wall a few feet away with folded arms and tired eyes. The twenty-hour fight with Command to bring this young man back to the island from training is over; the battle won, but you still stand sentry.

I had no idea what to say or do, so I say the first words that come to me, “You love each other through this. That’s what you do.” He nodded tersely and slowly released his grip on my arms. Just before he entered the room to be with his laboring wife and their soon to be still-born infant, he turned to me and said, “God help me.”

I say, “He will.” I think, Brutally helpless.

I am still in this thought when the man leans in. I flinch. He attempts to move away, but there is only so much room.

I have this thing now about physical boundaries. I don’t like people getting too close to me. I know it’s hurtful – even to complete strangers – but I think death does this to the living. Touch is too loud and sounds are too fast and I cannot seem to find my bearings.

“You’re crying,” he says.

“Am I?” I reach up and touch my face, genuinely surprised to find moisture.

Slowly, he holds out an offering – a folded white handkerchief in the palm of his hand. I find this charming and old fashioned, but I make no attempt to take it. “Please…” he says.

I take the handkerchief and touch it to my cheeks. I know he wants to engage me in conversation; I can feel it. His energy is gentle and I could easily offer so many simple reasons for tears, but I am suspended between a memory of our last and lovely Sunday morning and a young man’s broken soul. Both are far too intimate to share, so I whisper, “Thank you…” and lower my gaze.

With both hands I grip the plain wooden box on my lap so tightly my knuckles turn Wooden box 1 BWwhite and looking at them oddly reminds me of Crystal’s delicate hands clutching the sides of the hospital gurney.

“Relax your grip, honey, you’re safe.” I whisper.

“But I’m falling off the edge of the world…” she says.

I’m staring at my own hands when I realize I’ve placed the man’s wet handkerchief against the box under my naked fingers; a barrier between you and me. I know it’s a ridiculous notion, I know it’s a box, I know these are ashes. In some closet in my mind, though, I’ve put a stranger between us and it is as real to me as your death. He watches as I brush the handkerchief quickly onto my knee. The act feels rude and unkind, but I don’t have the breath to apologize. I need to close my eyes; concentrate through the rising panic and as I do, I notice – perhaps for the first time – how excruciatingly painful it is to have a broken heart.

I’m falling off the edge of the world.

Softly, he says, “I used to be afraid of flying.”

I shake my head no, stare out the window, and grip the box so firmly my hands shake.

I’m not sure why or what I’m holding on to so tightly, but I sense it’s a last and final thread and when it breaks, I need to be ready for impact.

Going numb is a practiced skill. It began the morning after you left and I welcome it now like a new friend. I named it grief and asked it to stay around and come in full force when I need it. I’ve decided I need to stay clear of undiluted joy and sorrow, so numb is my easy. Besides, I don’t think grief is sadness. Sadness has a shelf life; grief endures.

“Precious cargo?” he asks.

“My husband,” I answer. My tone is monochrome, as though you’re waiting for me in First Class. Numb is my easy.

There is an awkward moment of silence before he says, “I’m so terribly sorry.”

I don’t know how or if I respond because my memory is jolted back to Tripler Medical Center and Crystal lying perfectly still on a sterile hospital gurney that seems too short for her tall frame. She is seven months pregnant and looks impossibly young. The infant she carries is no longer living, but the doctors must induce labor and she must give birth. To a dead child. It is an impossibly cruel ending to a precious gift.

She is on her back staring at the blemished square tiles of the ceiling and each time she blinks into the florescent light, silent tears leak down the sides of her face. Any words of comfort I have do not leave my lips. They are flat and empty against the enormity of such anguish.  She has held this devastating truth for twenty-four hours waiting for her husband to arrive and with every third breath she turns her head to find me and whispers, “I’m so terribly sorry.”

She is sorry she called on us in the middle of the night. She is sorry we’ve never met before. She is sorry she walked so far three days ago. She is sorry she cried herself to sleep. She is sorry she fought with Jeff on the phone the other night. She is sorry she cannot make friends easily with other wives. She is sorry for staying so long in the sun, wanting to work, leaving the bathroom a mess. She is sorry for crying; for being so weak and helpless.

Dear God, I pray, give me soothing words… No words come. Instead, I turn the light off, place a cool washcloth on her forehead and hold my hand against her cheek to catch her tears. It is the only comfort I can give.

There is a long while when the only sounds in the room are hospital monitors and room ventilation; lonely clicks and rushes of air that seem flippant and vulgar.

When she sighs heavily the sound echoes around the room. I hold my breath.

“Do you believe in Jesus?” she asks.

“I do.”

“Is He here?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Holding your baby,” I say, and I am blinded by my own silent tears.

A moment later the hospital room door cracks open and a sliver of light shines over your head as you motion me out to the hallway to meet Jeff.

I still see the light when I open my eyes. The flight attendant’s voice instructing us to prepare for landing seems far away, but I let the practiced words lull me back to the present. I ask the kind man next to me for his address so I can launder and mail his handkerchief back to him.

“Keep it please,” he says, “Perhaps we’ll meet again in our travels.” He looks at me thoughtfully for a long moment, hands me a business card and adds, “I am so sorry and I hope I’m not being too forward, but if you ever need anything, call me. Please consider that an option.”

You know me so well. Of course I need to be reminded of mortality, but not too harshly and with frequent breaks for frivolous distraction. So you send vivid memories that make me believe you must be holding that child in Heaven and plant complete strangers to carry your messages.

I am never helpless.

I nod at the man and attempt a smile. I cannot speak because I have no language for what really happens between you and me now. I can only be a faithful witness.

Hug from behind 2 BWWhen the plane lands, the roar of the engines engulfs me, much like one of your hugs; from behind, as though you’ve taken a quick break from eternity while I’m standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes or sitting at my desk drowning in words. You must know I want that hug… with your lips pressed against my temple to let me know I am safe.

Kiss me now, please. Then you can get back to your Heaven.

*****

Lynnette Bukowski ©2015  August.  All rights reserved.

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

The Grace of our need… is Love

I would seek for you and me a world that humans too seldom enter, for it exists only in the moment when strong men and women seek uniqueness, strive for freedom and join themselves in the struggle for interpersonal dignity, integrity and worth.

It is a world that transcends geography and calendar, society’s arbitrary categories and the small desperate narrow minds, who perpetuate terror because they cannot lead and will not get out of the way of those who do.

It is therefore a place of lofty heights and paralyzing depths, of light and darkness, of joy and pain,

of exhilarating success and disheartening failure.

It is a world where intimacy moves beyond the confines of sexual boundaries, of superficial romance, yet is free to use sight and sound, smell and taste, and touch,

to participate in the joy and the knowing of each other.

No one human wills it into being, for it exists only because of gifts – when one willingly gives of their “self” to another and that gift is accepted in trust and nurtured forever as the precious thing it is.

It is a world that most scoff at, few are willing to work for and no one can purchase.

It is that place in which we could, if we would, find the meaning of life and the very reason for being.  It is first, last and always the place where divinity dwells, for if there is one word that must describe the

Grace of our need,

it is Love.

 You are not alone1

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Rainy Morning Letters – Moon Dance in Baguio (revisited)

It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all. ~William Jones

Late at night we gossip about small events and the largeness of life. The darkness softens and I am nearly asleep when I remember one last thing I want to tell you. You know this about me. How my thoughts swirl and settle until they are ready for my voice. My final sigh, just before words, is always your cue to reach for me and hush me with a kiss.

“Tell me tomorrow,” you say.

Just before dawn you pull me around you and love me awake and whisper, Tell me now, and of course I can’t remember what I was going to say… seven long years ago.

I burrow under the guilt and try so hard to remember my one final thought and that one final day. The way the corners of your mouth turned up waiting to hear my thoughts, the way your beard scratched my skin, the way you moved in just the right way so I fit like a perfect puzzle piece against you and where that beautiful thought takes me is back to the beginning.

WhiteFeather LBJ MoondanceI’m on stage looking into lights so bright they blind me. I wait for the thrill to kick in, the adrenaline rush, and the wave that fills my lungs and lets my voice rise. I’m edgy tonight and the lyrics I need feel trapped in my throat. The bass vibrates through my bones as the opening bars to Van Morrison’s Moondance backdrops the club owner’s introduction. I hear, “Welcome Whitefeather…” and the drum brush strokes soften the bass and the piano chords kick in and it’s time to let go.  I grip the microphone with both hands, breathe deeply and sing, Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance…. And there you are front and center – blue eyes blazing – with the stars up above in your eyes… I stare at you and sing with my eyes open and you seem to wait for the lyrics, You know the night’s magic, seems to whisper… and hush… before you ask me to dance.

In the middle of my song.

Because you already knew I’d say yes.

The audience thought it was part of the show, the band thought it was kick-ass, and you… well, you were always the master of calculated risk. You still are. You step into my space and back into Heaven as though you’re simply leaving for work.

I hope I can fully learn how to live in both worlds.

In this world the dawn pulls at me and I lie very still and wonder aloud, “Don’t you think that two souls connected must take turns being alive? You know, like pearl divers do. Whoever is on the surface must count the air time left so the one below can dive freely.”

I so often feel the tug on the line these days. Are you counting my breaths?

When the dogs coax me awake, I get up and wander through the house toward the scent of brewing coffee and in the dark, I trip over a pile of photographs waiting to be packed. I flip the light on and the two photos I find under my bare foot make me know without doubt you are still very much alive – somewhere – calling the shots. One is of me, posing for a band shot and the other is a distant shot of your antics on the way to our platoon honeymoon in Baguio.

I have no idea who said, I take nothing for granted now. A photograph is as precious as the moment it became a detail, but they are lovely words and poignantly true. I place the photos on the table, pour coffee and take the dogs out into the dawn.

Somehow, through your magic, I look over and you are dangling off the top of a giant Lion’s head carved into rock on the way to Baguio in the Philippines. You grip a piece of the carved mane with one hand, reach out to me with your other hand and say, “Don’t close your eyes.”

I close my eyes and wonder how I let you talk me into this.  Steve Baguio

While the platoon yells encouragement from twenty feet below, I worry about how I look in these jeans and, of course, falling to my death, and I shout at all of them to close their eyes and get back on the bus. Of course they ignore me and stay where they are; ready to catch both of us if we fall.

I reach across to you and hold on with both hands.

Lynn Baguio

 

I find a foothold and then another and you lower me slowly into the waiting arms of your Brothers. You follow me down and when you reach for me a cheer goes up. Your grin and their antics let me know what kind of honeymoon I’m in for and you whisper just to me, Never be afraid to live on the edge, babe, I’ve got you.

I wonder now if you knew then I would never be tied in and to do this alone I’d have to live on faith and grip life with both hands.

In this dawn, the weight of you gone is so heavy. Grace is the only hold I can find.

Inside, I leave the lights off and sit cross-legged in the center of the floor surrounded by half-packed boxes. I try to imagine how I will make sure with this final move that your tenderness and presence of strength is gently moved and firmly planted at Grace. What size box do I use for living dreams and night whispers and favorite songs?

Steve LZGRACEI touch one photo and then another and God says, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved. And I begin to understand that I am the container, my heart is the wrapping, and nothing will fade if I keep all of this within me.

There is nothing left to do but keep dancing. And by dancing I mean living. And by living I mean step by tiny step. I know this much is true now: we do not become all of who we are until we’re forced into it. Hemingway called it, “a grace under pressure,” which suits me these days, but I believe he meant it as a strength that rises up when we’re faced with a larger than life challenge.

This is mine: taking your impromptu visits, our memories and our dream and using them all to step into my future.

I’ve got this with both hands and enough of you in me and around me to love whatever gets in my way until it ceases to be an obstacle.

What a marvelous night for a Moondance… 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

June 2017 update: It has been three years since I woke in the wee hours from this dream and each day that followed has been a whirlwind of miracles, generous hearts, and tremendous hands-on help from family and Steve’s “Brothers”.  I’ve met brilliant new life long friends and united with old friends who, as I do, care deeply about our Warriors finding a bit of peace in the midst of 16 years of war.  Through God’s Grace, since March 2015, 383 souls have graced this land. Never doubt  that miracles are real. With Steve’s spirit urging me on, I will continue to grow and hold dear, this sacred place of rest and renewal.

To learn more about LZ-Grace, please visit http://www.lz-grace.com. Thank you for your prayers. 

LZG_logo HR

 

 

Over Coffee

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

Sunday Morning coffee porch

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

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

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

“The engraving is beautiful,” Bobby says.

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

“It is,” I say.

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

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

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

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

“I fear the rage, Steve. Not you.”

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

You say, “I fear you…”

“That’s a lie.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I say.

Bobby knows I am not talking to him.

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

The minutiae of death are stirring my crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Later,” you say, “Talk to me.”

I shake my head.

“Use words,” you say.

“I can’t.”

“Then tell me what you can’t say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shake my head.

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

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

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

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

“Entirely true,” you say.

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

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

“I’m done here,” I say. 

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

I think: God better have a separate car.

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

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

“Point,” you laugh.

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

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

I want to believe you.

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

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

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

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

Steve's Urn

Lynnette Bukowski © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Scandalous

Excerpt from: Love is Born in Giant Fields of Crazy (Married to the SEAL Teams ~Lessons in Love)

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. ~Lamott

Palomar Mountain - Our Oak Tree

At your ‘Celebration of Life’ I sit in the front pew a hand-reach away from the flag-draped casket with your still body inside. I try to concentrate on our daughter, poised and elegant as she delivers her Daddy’s eulogy. Every once in a while I see you behind her, your hands on her shoulders, but the vision fades each time I blink. Damn the Xanax or whatever they gave me to handle the day. I don’t need “endure death candy” to survive. I need you not to be dead.

Yesterday, a crowd gathered outside our closet. I was inside turning circles, touching your suit jackets and flannel shirts and casually said, “I need you to choose the dress, dammit.” I am positive I heard you say, “The red one,” but when I plucked it from the hanger and turned around there was a collective gasp from my Southern friends. They passed tissues, warned me away from creating a scandal, shook their heads and insisted on black.

I wish now I had worn the red dress. I try to stay present in Sheri’s words, but all I can think of is you alone in that box and your absolute hatred of being bound up in choker dress whites and trapped. I want more than anything to stand up, pry open the lid and unbutton the uniform so you can at least relax a bit while we do this thing – this pomp and circumstance – this telling of stories about your life that I so desperately need to hear.

When Carl stands at the podium so overcome with emotion he can barely speak, I consider calling the entire thing off. Everyone can go home. This isn’t real. My vision blurs and my mind starts to skip. I know I appear properly present: shoulders back, chin up, hands folded in my lap. But when my knees begin to shake, and I cross my left ankle over my right and force myself to sit with a rigid back, I hear you laugh at my finishing school maneuvers. I’ll never know now why these idiosyncrasies entertained you so.

And just like that, something inside me shifts very subtly, so that all the empty spaces in my heart fill with memories, like water flows — into crevices so precious there are no words big enough to describe where I’ve gone.

I am standing alone in the dark on a country road next to my broken down Datsun B-210 waiting for you to save me.

You pull over in your roommate’s Corvette, jump out of the car like it’s on fire, open the passenger door and yell, “Get in,” which, of course, prompts me to say, “Go to hell.” I am so relieved you’ve found me I want to cry. But I can’t give in and we stare at each other for a long moment through the dark before I grab my things, saunter to the car and slide into the leather seat. Warm and grateful, I sit silently while you drive and lecture me about my stubborn ways: singing back-up for an idiot Elvis impersonator even after you told me he was bad news, driving my derelict car on deserted country roads, wearing high heels.

“High heels?”

“It’s three in the morning, you’re broken down on a deserted road and you have no protection and no shoes to walk in and you’re miles – forty milesfrom home. Jesus, you drive me crazy!”

I think: pot calling the kettle and I’m not giving up the heels, so I remain quiet until the silence between us becomes too loud.

“How did you find me?”

You glance at me, downshift around a curve and sigh so loudly your breath fills the car, “I will always find you. You’re in my blood.”

I fell in love with you that exact moment. I might have known it before then, felt it swimming around in my head and heart, but it was right then that I knew.

We drive for over an hour, up and down hills, through canyons and around crazy curves until you stop at a country store to buy me coffee, yourself a Pepsi and donuts smothered with powdered sugar and wrapped so tightly in cellophane that it takes ten minutes and your knife to rip open the package. High on caffeine, covered in sugar, we make it to the top of Palomar Mountain before the sun rises. The dawn is quiet and smooth and we are alone in the world. It is a perfect moment and I let you talk me into making love on the picnic table in the cool breeze under a giant oak.

Tim is talking now, telling a story about how you taught this young officer from the Naval Academy to always “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” There is an easy cadence to his words. I can just barely hear his voice through the chatter of waking birds. I think – just now – being folded in your arms as the sunlight peaks through the oak leaves above our heads is the right thing to do.

Like a dance movement, you are up and dressed before I even notice the crunch of tires on gravel. You wrap me in the poncho-liner; pull me up, brush a kiss against my lips and whisper, “Smile,” just as a Ranger’s truck pulls in. I do, but only because I’m a little awe struck at how easily you approach the driver’s open window, lean in and chat, like you own the surroundings. When the Ranger tips his hat at me and says, “Morning Ma’am,” I manage a dignified smile. I’m quite sure he notices that even my bare feet are blushing and I look away first, stare at the tree and imagine what the inside of a jail cell looks like.

Your grin and swagger as the truck pulls away annoys me. I feel as though I’m the object of a little “outdoor fun” discussion between two men, and my absolute relief at not being arrested blooms into anger. I am not easy and this was not a joke. I bolt off the table, cuss at the gravel digging into my skin and find you standing in my way, legs slightly apart, arms folded.

I glare at you.

I am absolutely sure I see tears in your eyes when you say, “I told him you were the mother of my unborn children.”

Dear God, you take my breath away.

I wonder now if that oak tree still delights in our presence.

You are incorrigible. On this day and in this moment, making me relive this memory in such detail that I have to grab the seat of the pew and laugh out loud, which instantly wakes me into the present moment. Carl has stopped speaking and stares at me, concerned.

Perfect. The room is silent. I can feel two hundred eyes on the back of my head. For a moment I imagine the local Sheriff is going to stand up and arrest me for indecent behavior at a funeral. It matters not that I’ve appropriately worn black and I’m the widow. I feel exposed; scandalous. I hear your distant laughter and I bite my lip to keep from laughing with you. I manage a weak, “I’m fine.”

If they only knew.

Carl nods and begins to talk again about you as only Brothers can; calling you out for being a supreme pain in the ass and at the same time praising your life word after word. So many of your Brothers are here and they each take a turn to tell their story of you – this larger than life man. They don’t know the half of it. I hear stories you never told me and remnants of those you did. Carl stands again, chokes back tears, and asks you to prepare the final Platoon in Heaven and wait there until he arrives.

He steps down and tenderly presents me with the small flag. He climbed to the top of a building in Iraq with that flag – thrust it to and fro – and folded it himself. 

This is more than I can bear and you know it and pull me away.

While taps play you dance with me on the roof of our home in Gaeta and between sips of champagne convince me that you alone arranged a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve.

Mag’s had your draped flag flown over BUD/S and as they take it from you, I whisper, please be careful. I’m not sure they hear me because I’m dancing in mud and watching your eyes and trying to be very, very quiet in our secret place. They fold it, one exact movement after another and when they hand it to Carl, I ask you to wait… just for a moment or an eternity.

He steps close to me, leans in and says, “You should have worn the red dress,” and I know this to be true.

I hold your folded flags tightly against me and allow my soul to stay wrapped in your arms on the top of a distant mountain years and distance away, while I take one step and then another. The aisle is long – miles long – and it is dark and I am broken and I need to find my own way. It occurs to me then that I have such a long way to go before I am home again with you. I stop, look down at my pretty black high heels, step out of them and leave them right there on the chapel floor.

Black high heels

Scandalous, I know.

You were always right about the heels.

I thought I wouldn’t live through it. But I did. I learned to love the places you left behind for me. ~LBukowski

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013, December. All rights reserved.

LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat – We Heal The Living

Knowing freedom is to free someone else.

I’ve come to know that where there is damage and pain there is also truth to be found. And when one of us somehow finds our way out of the abyss or the tunnel or the woods, we need to share our way out or through.

Everything comes with risk. But if you’ve lived through war and find your way home to Landing Zone Grace (LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat) there is not one thing you cannot overcome and achieve.

When we release what we’ve lived through and find connection with other souls, we are inspired to live on, to use our scars as road maps, to reignite a marriage, to find safety again with family and friends and to pass our strength and experience forward to all the world.

Please consider supporting LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat. Our mission is service and our immediate needs are funding and an existing site so we can begin serving our Warriors as they come home in 2014.

Find out more about me and my mission to serve our Special Forces Warriors and their families here:

NRANews.Com Veterans Day Special Interview with Cam & Company

BBS Radio Interview with Leader of the Pack Susan Herbert and Mark German. Find them at http://www.H4Hero.com

Listen Here:

Blogs of War Special Feature

http://blogsofwar.com/2013/09/12/lynnette-bukowski-landing-zone-grace-veterans-retreat-preparing-special-forces-personnel-and-their-families-for-life-after-war/

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013 All Rights Reserved.

For more information, please visit http://www.lz-grace.com or email me at lynnette@lz-grace.com

Twitter: @BukowskiLynn and @LZ_Grace

Lessons in Cadmium Red

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

This is the story of one life lesson…

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

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

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

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

“Oh.” I poured another glass of wine.

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

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

He said, “That’s my girl.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013