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.

My Emily Friend Who Smells Like Pine…

A Christmas Glimpse… Fir Tree Needles

Please take a moment this season to adopt a Warrior who cannot be home with family, give to a foundation to assist the children of fallen Warriors, feed a hungry family, or find a child to “light up” with Love.

navysealsfund.org; semperfifund.org; TheJoelsFund.org; navyseallittlewarriors.org; marsocfoundation.org; 

Emily Diedra, small girl who smells like pine, like a tree cut fresh that Daddy shakes and brings through the door on Christmas Eve. Something like the crisp of the woods—it gets in my nose, the way her head smells when she’s leaning close to me over a jigsaw puzzle or on the porch where we are squatting over jacks and trading shiny rocks that we pretend are from different countries where my Daddy goes.

In my memory we say prayers and then for the fifth night in a row she takes a twig of pine needles and wraps a ragged towel around it, gently, like we tuck in our baby dolls. She puts the towel under her pillow and tells it something. I never hear what she whispers and I tell her again, “Mama doesn’t like us to whisper,” but she smiles, just before I turn the lights off, and promises someday to whisper loud.

In the dark Emily Diedra tells me a story about her mama with green eyes and about so many brothers there’s no time to count them. And how they would all sleep in one bed, some at the top and some at the bottom, because that way her mama could hug them all at one time from one side, like bundling up big fluffy pillows. I tell her I think it would be fun to all sleep in the same bed and I ask about her daddy and if he hugged them all from the other side and she rolls over and pretends to fall asleep.

Even though it’s cold the sun heats up the leaves and they crinkle under our feet and we step carefully because we’re on an adventure in my special place in the woods. Emily Diedra sits on a sappy log and wipes the back of her hand across her face. I think it’s because the chilly in the air made her nose run, but then I see the drops well up in her eyes and spill down over her lips. In a tiny voice she says her daddy went away because he was angry too much and when her mama went to find him, she never came back. She breathes hard and asks if I still love my daddy and I laugh and say, “Of course, silly.” Then I stop laughing and tell her in my best serious voice that Mama says sometimes people have to learn how to love. When I sit on the sappy log with her I give her my special friend hug with my arms criss-crossed around her neck.

We run half way home backwards and some of the way sideways. We trade shoes Little Girls Adventureand wear them on our hands. We lay down with the leaves and stare up at the sky so blue and heaven inside the white clouds. I give Emily Diedra three M & M’s I’ve been saving since yesterday. She asks me if I think Santa knows where all the foster kids live and if it’s too selfish to ask for paper doll cut-outs so we can color in their clothes with crayons.

We somersault off the rail of the front porch and Emily Diedra runs to pick up a fallen pine twig. She tells me pine twigs help Santa’s reindeer find kids who don’t have a Christmas tree because they can smell the fresh needles and tell Santa to land. I tell her I don’t get it. But she looks sad and crosses her heart that it’s true because that’s what her daddy told her a long time ago when they couldn’t get a tree, and even though Santa didn’t find their house it was true. I tell her not to worry because we do have a Christmas tree and Mama will make sure Santa knows Emily Diedra lives in our house now.

When we go in Mama says, “Didn’t I tell you?” and we get it because we weren’t supposed to tromp through the mud and sit on sappy logs and we have leaves dangling from our hair and sweaters. But she smiles with her lips all tight and gives us hot chocolate anyway.

This Christmas Eve we tuck our own girls in, one each, with braided ponytails and red cheeks and pine twigs under their pillows. We sip coffee and make cookies and laugh about so many years ago waiting for teeth to fall out and breasts to grow in, for dads to come home and Santa to land. And when we look at each other, our arms gummy from cookie dough we split in two bowls, we could be sisters, right? We could be, she and I back then, born of secrets and dreams, because blood owns no promise and love is learned. Tonight we can whisper loudly and laugh at the memories we hold dear, me and her, my Emily friend who smells like pine.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2006

Gathering …

“Close both eyes see with the other one. Then we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments our ceaseless withholding our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened and we find ourselves quite unexpectedly in a new expansive location in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love.” ~Boyle

I’m sitting on the edge of the tub in my Mom’s perfect bathroom fighting the impulse to find a tube of red lipstick and write “Two and a half Thanksgivings” across the mirror like an “SOS” signal. I think if I use bold block letters you’ll see the reflection from Heaven and save me.

I hear my name echo through the house, “Lynn! Lynn-ey! Lynnette!”   Luxury elegant country classic bathroom design

“I’ll be out in a moment,” I say. My voice is gentle. No indication that I can hardly breathe through this ambush of emotion.

Mom is 87 this year. A still beautiful German woman who on the inside is full of love and vulnerabilities, but the persona she presents to the world is one of kind sternness. I still get a kick out of this. There are rules we follow and those rules cannot be broken: Stay on schedule, work hard, put your lipstick on and keep a happy face, do not talk about troubles and when something awful happens, get over it and move on.

The truth is I’ve moved on beautifully, with the exception of family gatherings and holidays, when I am reminded that I engage in conversations about everything with everyone. Worse yet, I write about it. I barely remember makeup, never mind lipstick, make up my own schedule as I go and maintain my position as the baby of the family by challenging every single family rule.

It matters not that I am a grown woman, the mother of grown children, blessed with the wisdom of years and the imagination of a child. In this house, I am separated by a generation – the “happy accident” – and the rebel girl who was lucky enough to marry the Navy SEAL who kept me somewhat tame.

Since you’ve been gone, all bets are off.

I feel your presence next to me, your arm folding around my waist, your lips on my forehead. You whisper, “You’ve got this, babe. I’m right here.”

I glance at the clean mirror and feel slightly relieved that I did not make a mess I’ll have to clean up because, clearly, you can hear my thoughts.

On the other side of the door – out there – amid dueling older sisters, quirky nieces and nephews, a proper Beverly Hills Auntie and diverse guests, I am about listening and love, and I am truly grateful for the characters in my life.

Elegant ladyIn here I am looking for a rabbit hole to go down into and compose myself. I do not want to break the rules and disappoint my sweet Mom by announcing aloud that I cannot bear one more whispered conversation about my moving on, or the nonchalant way a neighbor tells me about the single man who lives next to so-and-so who would be happy to take me on. I laugh at this. Am I a project now? They say it with true love, backtrack into compliments and segue into stories of Thanksgivings past and your perfect turkey.

I smiled when my niece told the story of our Thanksgiving on Sunset Beach in Oahu, about the tables we set up in the driveway so that twenty of your Team brothers could come and share a meal. We did bonfires on the beach and breakfast the next morning. It’s a great story and a great memory until she adds, “Mom was always jealous of you and Steve’s perfect Thanksgivings. Not so much anymore, though.”

The entire room took a collective breath and became perfectly quiet as though something sacred had fallen off a shelf and shattered. All eyes were on me. I imagined they were waiting for me to break too.

This was your holiday. They know it, I know it, and it will never be the same now that you’re gone.

My aunt adjusted her cashmere sweater, clutched her pearls and broke the uncomfortable silence with, “You know darling Lynn, perhaps you should go on a singles cruise to the Italian Riviera. You are still lovely and I’m sure someone will have you.”

I may have said, “Perhaps…” aloud just before I excused myself to powder my nose.

I have a distinct memory of being in Gaeta and hearing my Italian friends talk about their newly widowed friend like she was past tense. “She’ll get fat now and walk around with sad eyes. It’s such a shame.”

“Why would you say such a thing?” I asked.
“Because this is truth,” they answered, “a widow carries her sorrow and we cannot be with her anymore and risk that death infects our men and we lose them too.”

In Italy, I thought this was a ridiculous and damaging superstition and I told you so.

Here, on the edge of the tub, I imagine my “sorrow” as though it’s mercury. I want it to slide off of me down into the tub and down the drain so I can leave this room and reenter the crowd of characters with a grateful heart.

I lean into your energy, let it fill me with courage, and reach for your hand. “Come with me,” I say.

I feel your lips against my neck. You say, “You are whole again, full of light, wisdom, sincere discernment and divine love. Let them be who they are because you know who you are.”

I believe you.

But when my sister’s voice reaches under the door, “Lynn, Lynn-ey, Lynnette…Wait until you see the perfect turkey. It might be better than Steve’s!”  Little Girl Serious Headache

I get up, put on my lipstick and write on my heart… I miss you. Come back. Find me. 

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

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

My Elegant Mess

The only time I actually cared about my age was when I was 16 and wanted to be 21 just so I could sing at a piano bar in an elegant dress. No kidding.  I accomplished that at 17 and it wasn’t all I dreamed it to be. Drunk people talk loudly, and Billy Holiday songs were not all the rage in the ’70’s. So I moved on to college and an all-girl band, fell madly in love with a Frogman and tripped through this fairly extraordinary life with the idea that a surprise should be behind every corner.

My husband dubbed me his Perfect Mess. I told him I was his Elegant Mess. Believe it or not, we discussed the terms for two days. I won. That was long before “hot mess” was vogue.

He thought my need to be surprised was silly… but I was never disappointed. Not once.

In fact, the year before Steve died he kidnapped me, blindfold and all and I ended up at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina on the back of horse for two days. The man had his ways…

My birth date each year becomes more precious because I gather these memories and use them to push me and guide me and look forward in a way I’ve never done before.

This year I’ve decided that I am all the ages I have ever been…

I wish this for all of you…

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This video was produced and directed by Sheri Bukowski, with Stephen Bukowski and Aaron Bukowski. Pure Love…. 

Here’s to Not Crying… by Sheri Bukowski

Written by Lynnette Bukowski’s daughter, Sheri Bukowski

ChampagneMy dad died three years ago today. Unexpectedly. He went missing on a bike ride and hours later, my mother was visited by two young Deputies who didn’t quite know what to do. So they handed her a sticky note with my dad’s name on it. Steve S. Bukowski, D.O.A. He’d collapsed from a massive coronary. It was the day after Father’s Day, the 21st; though the date now is sort of just a number. I didn’t get to talk to him on Father’s Day. He was taking a nap when I called, so I said I’d call again tomorrow. He didn’t pick up. He didn’t arrive to get my little brother, which were the scariest moments. Because if you knew my dad, you knew that he would crawl to you on broken hands and feet, over glass, blind, and somehow make it. Somehow let you know you’re okay, he’s okay, everything’s going to be okay. Things weren’t okay. Things pretty much sucked after that. By the Grace of God our family had people near or around us able to catch us as we one by one collapsed in shock. Literally, and figuratively.

I don’t know why I went into this long story. It wasn’t intentional. I guess I just sat down to say a little something in his memory and this is what came out. I guess I just saw this photo and started laughing. It’s more appropriate for me to drink champagne and dance on a tables, but God-forbid sit around and be sad. Cry a little, sure. Let the memory sink in and hurt a little, fine. Because I’m not some impermeable emotionless rock. But if he was standing in front of me right now he’d sure as hell not let me sit and feel sorry for myself.

My dad had a low tolerance for feeling sorry for anything. There was a sort of running joke in our family that if you were sick, you got 24 hours of sympathy and then you needed to get the “F” over it. There were other things to do. Not that he wasn’t compassionate, God knows he was, one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met. But he saw tragic and sorrow different than most of us do. So I’m dead, he would probably say. Alright fine. He would hug me and let me cry for a little bit. He would probably hand me some tissues, wipe the hair out of my eyes and kiss me on the forehead like he always did.

But the second my tears crossed the line into excuses, his eyes would have turned into blue fire and he’d be yelling at me. “Get your ass up! Get the Fuck over it and do something. Clean your room for God’s sake. There are worse things to cry about. There are babies who don’t have parents, there are children who don’t have food in their cupboards. There are grown ups who need families, make some dinner. There’s a little kid down the street who’s been dreaming of an Xbox. Go buy him one. Make him smile. There’s a little girl who’s never been on a pony. Do something about it.”

I can still see his crystal blue eyes turning into fire and I can hear his voice. “Do whatever you can to make sure they have what they need. And when they have what they need, do whatever you can to make their dreams come true. At the very least I did that for you, because I sure as hell didn’t raise you to sit around and cry.”

So here’s to not crying… for too long.

Sheri Bukowski © 2013

Neptune’s Child ~ Thoughts on Life

In honor of the Month of the Military Child, I present an essay written for a Reader’s Digest Contest in 1991 by our daughter, Sheri Lynn. Children were asked to address their feelings about family values, thoughts on life, what their mom and dad did at work and what they wanted to be when they were grown. Sheri did not win the contest, but she certainly melted our hearts. Steve carried a copy of this with him wherever he went. I found it yellowed and creased in his wallet when his personal items were returned to me the day after he died.  Love Dad

About my Bukowski Family 

By Sheri Lynn Bukowski – Age 7

My mommy can do almost everything except throw a mouse away when it’s on a sticky thing and except when daddy’s home, because then she pretends she can’t do everything so he can.  My daddy knows this secret.

My mommy and daddy probably know as much as God does, but mommy says they don’t because they’re just a mom and dad and we all, even mommies, learn something new every day. Also, we’re not supposed to put people on pedestals because we are all equal.  I don’t know about that because I don’t think anybody is equal to my daddy.  Mommy says pedestals are “thinking” things, and we should all try to be nice and say we’re sorry when we’re not nice. I suppose it’s like when she goes crazy and yells at everybody, even the dogs, and then says, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

I think a pedestal is a wooden box.  I think it must hurt really bad to fall off so I will never put myself on a pedestal.  My brother says mommy and daddy don’t know anything about nothing.  He’s 10.  I think he should fall off a pedestal.

My mommy tells us we should talk to and listen to people every day if we can because every person and every day is important.  Mommy says this includes my three year old foster brother, even if he is a pain.

My daddy always says, “Never give up!”  And my mommy always says, “How do you know if you don’t try?”  Sometimes I really, really hate my parents because they make me do stupid things like wash my face and wear dresses.  Daddy says it’s okay because he will always love me anyway.  Mommy says it’s not nice to hate but I can not like her if I want.  I hate Philip, the boy who sits next to me at school, but I’m trying not to like him.

My daddy works in the Navy SEAL Team and does things that only special daddies like him can do.  He knows how to jump out of airplanes and shoot loud guns and dive under ships and crab-crawl through jungles and climb rock walls.  When he’s home we crab-crawl through the back yard and climb rocks and jump on the trampoline and he lets me wear green makeup on my cheeks, but mostly he’s gone and he writes us letters.

I think you have to know how to be lonely for your family and to write letters to be a Navy SEAL.  I love my daddy more because I think he needs it.

My mommy used to work at a place writing things for attorneys because attorneys don’t know how to write like she does. We had a nanny from Denmark named Hella, like hello except with an A.  Now mommy stays at home and gets her story money from the mailbox.  She works as a mommy for free because she loves us and because she takes care of us and sick babies and helps mommies and daddies of foster children to know how to love when they have sad hearts or angry feelings.  Mommy says she has enough love and I believe her, so it’s okay that I love daddy a little more since he’s alone a lot.

When I grow up I will probably be a Navy SEAL and a dancer.  I will try to be a nice person and watch out for pedestals.  I will also probably be a gymnastics girl in the Olympics because I’m pretty good so far.

If I win, will you please send this to my daddy.  Mommy knows the address.

Our Family

Sheri Lynn Bukowski © 1991

“White Hot” Rainy Morning Letters #720

Excerpt from Married to the SEAL Teams: Lessons in Love

When I least expect it the missing burns white hot just under my skin anLake Arrowhead snow 2d I fold myself in half, wrap my arms around my knees and wait for it like I’m a kid on a toboggan racing down an icy hill with fat trees in my path. Time slows into long, long moments when I know I’m going to get hurt, and badly.  And I do. But I steer into it now because the impact kindles my strength.

Like I’m Firewalking again, I feel your presence. In spirit, you watch and wait until I stand up and move on and I hear, “Hooyah, Babe!” when I need it most of all.

Silence does have a sound.

And there is no statute of limitations on missing.

I still want to curl into a ball and wail loudly and for so long that God gives in and gives up and gives you back and we can do our forever again. Instead, I took our forever as my own and wrapped its precious fragility with memories and scars. And now we know it was never safely bound by hope or adventures or things.

I give things away now – two at a time – because it is not my place to convince others they don’t need things.

sperlonga italy 3Things are ephemeral. Like me on the side of the cliff in Sperlonga with you on billet. Half way up I lose my strength, then my grip. I scream, “I need something!”  And you laugh. Laugh! Sure of yourself, sure of me. You roar, “You don’t need one damn thing but me, baby. Suck it up. Climb!”  And I do.  Sobbing and spent I stand on the top of that cliff with bloody hands and legs and shout, “You’re supposed to save me, you ass!”

You say, “I just did.”

True enough.

These tiny scars are white hot tokens of my strength.

The children carry their own scars. One returned to balancing himself in the ocean, in currents strong with peace. One remains strong in faith, has no fear and lives without a net.  And our youngest wears his strength softly cloaked in a soul so tender I’m reminded where love lives.

They circle me carefully now because I am alone in this forest, wild and fierce.

And I am stronger than I have ever been.

To remind me of this I keep my missing in a box under our bed packed with memories that fill me up. The things of our forever may never be the same, but the rough edges of my grief have been smoothed away into missing.

Still, your spirit softens and delights me like the memory of waking up from afternoon naps to find your hand on my heart. I say, “What?” and you smile that smile and say, “I was missing you.”

White hot love.

In a box now… to remind me that if we had our forever again

I would still hold the map upside down and prove to be the worst navigator in history.  This would piss you off in no small way, but I’d make you laugh until you cried at the abundance of life when we find ourselves on a goat trail in France.

 

And I would still throw the level down and dance through the pasture to All Summer Long while you toiled over a horse fence. Sure, you’d yell. But your heart would smile until your arms reached out. Then, I’d make you dance with me because… really, honey, level is all in perspective.

And I would still love just to fight and fight just to love like the very first time was the very last time every single time.

I do not know the exact moment our forever became my missing, but as it turns out, missing is not a thing to be put away or given up or ignored.

Missing is an ember hell bent on igniting a white hot strength for life.

Hooyah, Babe!Lake Arrowhead snow

Lynnette Bukowski, All rights reserved June 2012 ©

This Is Freedom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think the purpose of knowing freedom is to free someone else.

What good does it do to wrap up our heartache and loss, fear and anger, even joy (if it appears to be boasting) and hold these emotions captive for a private showing, preferably behind closed doors with a licensed keeper of secrets. It’s a cultural norm and a family tradition and I make no judgment at all.

I just don’t follow the rules.

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

With the World.

It comes with risk, this story telling. Still, I release my life and lay it bare for the entire world to see that it may provide one widow with the strength to go on, the endurance to love an impossible man, cherish a thrown away child, inspire a lost soul to find a way, or hold tight to the edge of a cliff until help arrives.

Live Out Loud

And freedom rings.

Imagine two massive boulders, each thirty feet wide. One formed a seat ten feet off the ground; the other sat perfectly perpendicular, reaching twenty feet into the sky.  We called it The Chair, a giant granite lounger overlooking miles of agrestic field, scrub brush and wild oleander, far enough from our Southern California neighborhood to keep parents’ duped, but for our youthful bodies, a short ten minute hike.  It was there, with my back against solid granite and my legs stretched out tanned and shapely, I smoked my first cigarette.

I was 16 and righteous.  Still, I stole the pack of Tarranton 100’s, full strength filtered, my father’s brand, from the pantry in the kitchen.  I wrapped it in tissue and shoved it to the bottom of my oversized bag and announced that I was heading to Katy’s house.  Mom, chronically distracted, never noticed what she didn’t want to see.

The Chair held our crowd of six comfortably.  The last to arrive, I made my way to the exact middle of the rock, sat down and inhaled the late summer air , salty with eucalyptus and sweet from oleander in full bloom.  Donald passed out plastic cups filled with Strawberry Hill wine and as though reverent to unspoken tradition; we sipped in silence so as not to interrupt the choir of cicadas.

I wasn’t acting on a dare.  And thinking back, had I been goaded, I would have dug myself in to a staunch no-smoking position.  Rather, I was irked at the labels assigned to me by my friends: logical, practical, proper. It didn’t matter what they meant.  The adjectives screamed boring and controlled, different from my cool and clever friends.  So, acting as though I knew what I was doing, I pulled the pack from my bag, lightly tapped the top against my palm, peeled off the sliver of protective cellophane, and slid one sleek cylinder out with my fingertips.

Donald sat to my left, our 18 year old token adult.  He smoked in front of his parents and dazzled us with his sap green Nova and bad boy looks.  Claudia, sweet and tame, sat next to him with her legs folded under her, eyes wide with expectation.  On my right, Tom and Katy sat side by side, legs tangled, holding hands, pretending to ignore my induction into sin.  But I could see Katy blinking, almost twitching, as she stared straight ahead into the falling light.  Katy was like that, nervous and theatrical; probably thinking the rock might crack and split, swallowing the whole of us all because of my indiscretion.

Mentally, I disappeared for a moment. I was six again, a small girl on a different rock on the top of a mountain a hundred miles away.  I could see the world below, or what I knew of it, and a vision of my dad with his arms extended, a cigarette dangling from his curved mouth while smoke spiraled up and away.  I would run straight at him and jump, wrap my arms around his neck and breathe in the sweet, acrid smell of tobacco, the scent of my childhood. I blinked, held the filter between my lips, closed my eyes and ran my thumb and forefinger down the length of the taught thin paper.

The strike of a match broke my daze and I opened my eyes.  Donald held the flame to the tip and I pulled in a breath, coughed, and pulled again, coughed, until smoke drizzled from my mouth and out my nose and my eyes stung until they watered.

I liked Donald, but he wanted something from me that I wouldn’t give up.  Instead, I offered him the cigarette.  He shook his head slowly, patted his shirt pocket, “No,”  he groaned the word, staring at me with his mouth slightly curved, as though he’d just turned down a sexual favor.

I could still back out.  Stub the burning end against the rock and say I tried it, didn’t like it.  Even then, I was stubborn. They knew it and I knew it, and the wine was sweet and the smoke dizzying and for just that moment I had a tiny surge of rebellion; 16, carefree, pulsating with life, and tasting freedom.

Three thousand miles away and thirty six years later I wake up remembering that evening on The Chair so vividly that I can feel the rough warmth of the rock on the back of my legs. I roll over to tell Steve of my dream and know right then the cruelest part of death is that it happens again every morning.

This wave of grief leaves me restless and lost and what I want is beyond where I can touch. It is crushing and breathless and does not fade even as I shrug my coat on over my pajamas, pull on my boots, and gather dogs for the morning walk. I feel betrayed and wild and overcome with the want of a cigarette, something I have not wanted for many, many years. And I know just where to find one.

I stay the dogs at the door and go in search of Steve’s backpack – perfectly intact from the day he died – months ago now.  I touch each item, reverently at first. His knife, a pair of socks, a rolled t-shirt, an extra clip full of ammunition, a length of Para cord, a flashlight, his cell phone with the last number dialed. Me.His final words swirl in my head:  I’m off for a bike ride. I’ll call tonight. Love you… A surge of anger rises and I see a flash of the medical examiner’s report in my mind’s eye: Excellent physical conditioning, lungs clear. No head trauma. Cause: Sudden Cardiac Death. Six months before he died, Steve took up smoking one cigarette each evening. I didn’t argue hard enough. The thought, when it reaches me, tells me he knew something inside of him was irretrievably broken.  And all over again I am pissed off at God. How could he build this strong, larger than life, hero of a man who gave every ounce of his life to others, and not bother to heal an inheritance of rotten arteries?  It’s as though he always lived on the edge of this one final challenge.

I claw through the rage until my fingers wrap around the renegade pack of stale cigarettes and, righteous with emotion, I slip the pack and a matchbook into my pocket, slam open the door and think,  Janis was right… maybe freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stomp down the porch steps, across the yard and fling open the gate to our back pasture. The dogs remain by my side until I realize I’m holding my breath and with a long exhale I raise my hands and they bound away, excited about bunnies and bushes and sticks and all the adventures life holds in the new day. I cower from their infectious circle of joy. How dare the world keep spinning.

As if sensing my mood, Cowboy, my paint gelding saunters up and together, silently, we watch dawn peek over the top of the farthest hill.  Deep pinks and brilliant purple frame the sky and tiny shots of light glitter through what’s left of the leaves.

We know this path, all seventeen acres of trees and ponds and open pasture.  The breeze is slight, the air crisp and fallen leaves crunch under my boots and Cowboy’s hooves like a private morning symphony.  The other three horses join us and single file we march along, stopping only long enough to throw a stick. I want to breathe in their peace and the fresh air of the morning, but indulging in such calmness means I have to give in or let go or give up.

 A large oak marks the half-way point of our walk and I stop to lean against it. I want to lay down right here, curl back into sleep and wake up again next to love. Instead, like a defiant child I pull a crushed cigarette from the pack and strike a match. I have not smoked in years and inhaling assaults my throat and nose and lungs. I imagine this is what hell feels like from the inside out. The soot invades the deepest part of me and escapes in an explosion of putrid fog. When the dizzy hits I slide my back down the trunk of the tree and collapse into a sobbing mess.

The dogs form a half-circle around me and inch forward until their paws rest on my thighs. The horses edge closer too. Cowboy nudges my pocket for a treat, but in my angst I forgot to replenish my pockets. The only thing I hold in my hand is a smoldering cigarette and his disappointment is palpable. I stub it out in the dirt and say, this is what grief is, this tragic, angry, sniveling mess of despair. They barely care. He moves closer and nudges my shoulder with his nose. And as though he’s conveyed some unspoken message to his herd, the other horses all look up and I catch the gleam of their eyes, noses wet from dewy grass and the rising sun shadows their faces into long silly grins. The dogs alert and give chase to a deer – all except Spike – who returns with a stick and a full body wag. Cowboy snorts and pulls his hoof through the dirt. It is his way of calling bullshit on my pathetic attempt to conjure up something meaningful wrapped in rebellion.

I cannot help but smile. And I am more than slightly taken by God’s wondrous work with creatures who talk to me, lovingly nudge me and coax me out of a long ago dream and into the only moment they know. There is no going back. There is only now, right here and their absolute truth: play, work, eat – but mostly Love with every breathing moment. Anything else is smelly and pointless.

Like His creatures… we are here to live and love with purpose every day.

This. Is. Freedom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 Lynnette Bukowski © 2012

Lynnette Bukowski is a freelance writer, the founder and director of LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat and the proud Widow of a Veteran Navy SEAL. She presently lives in Virginia Beach, VA