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

Let Go of the Reins

dream-board-1
Actual Dream Board – 2013

I began once again to dream about the future at 10:02 pm on a Friday night eleven months and 26 days after Steve died. I only know this because at the exact moment I entered the dark barn on our North Carolina farm that evening, a full moon reached in and illuminated only the hands on an old kitchen clock and the rusty nail it hung on.

Restless and angry at God, my intention was to pack boxes in the loft and organize every square inch of life for my children because I was not willing to live through another night. I no longer had time for time, but I did have whiskey, sleeping pills and a spotless house. Our kids were grown, strong and smart. Our dogs and horses and barn cats would love them through this. My papers were in order, our bills were paid off, Steve’s life insurance was in the bank and the only way I was going to see Steve again was to find him where he was. I’d work out the whole mortal sin thing with God once we were face to face and I’d had my say.

There are no words large enough to describe the arrogance and insanity of a grieving heart.

But that damn clock. The precise time hovered over me like a necessary memory I could not quite reach. The woman once known as Lynn would have paused, noticed, waited patiently for the message, or the memory. But I could not find that woman. Frustrated and empty, I stood on the dirt floor of a dark barn until Pretty Girl, our paint mare, sauntered up behind me and rested her big head on my shoulder. I nudged her away. She nickered, nosed her halter off its hook, dropped it on the ground at my feet and stared at me with big eyes.

Two years earlier I was bucked off a Palomino and broke four ribs. In half. I had not climbed onto a horse’s back since. She knew and I knew it, but her energy both softened and emboldened me. I slipped on her halter, made a loose rein from the lead rope and used the barn wall to climb up onto her bare back and fold myself around her.

We walked all seventeen acres of the farm that night, around the ponds, through the trees, past the solid fencing I helped Steve build. I don’t know the exact time I let go of the rains, but it was then that my heart beat wildly with memories, my hands rested on my thighs, my body gave in to the movement and all the feelings and dreams of the woman known as Lynn returned to my mind and my soul.

I still do not know why God waits until we’re on the edge. I do know his timing is impeccable and it is not my imagination that this beautiful horse, who came to us the year before with the name of “Teacher”, would pause at precise moments, stand perfectly still to let me cry, catch my breath and begin again to dream.

I just had to let go of the reins.

 

Lynnette Bukowski ©2016 – All Rights Reserved

When my mother was a child she used to escape to her “rock in the sky” and dream. Usually about words. And if you’ve ever read her writing (www.gracebeyondgrace.com) you would understand how God poured His giant Yes all over that dream.

Fast forward a few decades and God is still pouring out His YES all over her dreams. These pics are part of her “Dream Board” she did maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Before we found this farm. Before we knew how things would go.
Almost every picture on this has come true. We pulled out this dream board and realized how precise some of the photos were – from statues serving as “signs” to the pool surrounded by trees. We knew horses would be involved but certainly didn’t know we’d have a horse farm. Even the veg garden looks like this – wild and full. Most incredibly, there’s a photo (not shown) of some interior guest rooms that weren’t designed by us but incidentally ended up looking EXACTLY like the magazine cut out.

All this to say. DREAM. Dream with God. Make it plain on tablets. Poster boards will do. 🙂

And one more thing, guys, there’s a picture of zebras on this poster. Don’t ask why but the way things are going I’m pretty sure there’s a Zebra in our future. Just sayin’. ~Sheri Bukowski

sheri-dream-board-photo

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 Jordan 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.

Sunrise With Grace

Delphinium_cv2We finally find her sitting in a cluster of delphiniums, eyes closed, smoking a cigarette. Wisps of her silver blue hair blend so beautifully with the flowers that the only way we know she’s in there and alive is by watching puffs of smoke spiral up through the lavender blue blooms.

The young man next to me leans forward and in a deep lyrical voice says, “The sun is nearly up and I brought apples. May I help you, Grace?”

A slight, wheezy sigh emanates with a puff of smoke, “Is that you, Shelly?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”  The man is a foot taller than my 5 foot 6 inches.  His stature is massive, but poised, as though he stands at attention, except for the apple he holds in each hand and the flush of color in his cheeks when his bearded face looks down at me and says, “Sheldon. The name is Sheldon. Will you hold these?”

I nod, take the apples from his hands and watch as he reaches into the blooms and effortlessly lifts one hundred pounds of Grace into his arms.

“I dropped my cig,” she says.

“Life’s a bitch,” he says.

She throws her head back and laughs while he carries her like a young lover down the walkway. I follow behind, apples in hand.  Gently, he places her in the middle of the bench and sits next to her. I sit on the opposite side and exchange a knowing smile with Sheldon. I’m not sure what we both know, but it feels to me in this moment as though we’ve known it for a long, long time.

We both know Grace.  She is saucy, short; 93 years old and befriends those of us who are brave enough to approach.

I was sitting on this exact bench thirty minutes earlier when the stranger, Sheldon, walked out of the dark and stood close enough for me to see he looked frightened. When he spoke his voice crumbled into panic, “I cannot find Grace. Will you help me?”    bench at beach

I had a moment with God, then.  O’dark-thirty, I am alone with no gun and no dogs and not afraid. Explain, please? It was not outside the realm of possibilities that I was seeing a man who was not there and talking to myself, but suddenly I knew exactly of whom he spoke.  Also, he had an apple in each hand. It was a woman, not a state of being he needed help finding.

While we searched, he told me that he sat with her every morning to watch the rise of dawn. He could not remember how many days or weeks or months now, but it had been awhile since he’d arrived back in CONUS. He says this as though I simply know what he’s talking about. I do, but I keep it to myself. He’s distracted, but methodical, looking under trees, behind fences, sweeping his hands through thick rhododendron bushes.  I ask, “Have you checked her house?” He stops and looks at me for a long moment, and then he shakes his head; continues the search. His voice ebbs and flows as he tells me that sometimes he stays awake all night just waiting to leave his empty house and make it here – to the bench. She is his saving Grace and he is the deliverer of treats. This morning: apples.

Grace squeals like a delighted child, “Here we go!” I am back in the present moment and cannot help but smile at her enthusiasm. Her feet do not reach the ground. She crosses one ankle over the other and swings her feet to and fro while the three of us sit and watch the sun rise and send bursts of light over the water.  She chomps down on her apple and talks with her mouth half full. “Shelly,” do you know my friend, Lynn? She’s a writer and building a place for you boys to find a little love when you’re home.”

sunrise beachSheldon leans forward on the bench to look over at me. One eyebrow is raised, but he touches the tip of his ball cap and says, “Nice to meet you, Ma’am.”

I open my mouth to respond, perhaps clarify her statement, but Grace interrupts, “Oh, don’t be so darn formal, Shelly,” She scolds, takes another bite of her apple and talks while she chews, “Shelly here – this young strapping Navy man – fancies killing himself. Damn fool if you ask me.”

I audibly catch my breath; hold it.

Sheldon leans forward, puts his face in his hands and mumbles, “Grace… I don’t think… ”

“Don’t you shush me, young man. I’ve had just about enough of this balderdash. I’m old. I hide in flowers to sneak cigs. I need to tell someone else about you …” she takes another huge bite of apple, chews for a moment and continues, “…because I’m not leaving this earth until you find your footing again. And I need help.” She takes her tiny hand and smacks it on his thigh. It sounds like a painful pop, but he does not flinch. “How many ways to kill yourself are we up to now…. ten, twelve?”

“Grace,” I begin… I hardly know what to say, but I see Sheldon lean further into his hands and I can feel his discomfort.

“And you be quiet too, young lady. Let me have my say.” She giggles, swings her legs, licks apple juice off her wrist and continues, “You never show up here without your dogs. Ever. Why today? I’ll tell you why today. I need some damn help. As if the hand of God delivered your pretty butt right to this bench. That’s right… I asked for you and not five minutes later I watched you walk by those delphiniums, head hanging, deep in thought.”

She turns from me and leans her body against Sheldon. “You are a dear young man and too full of life to give up. I don’t need you in Heaven. I’ve got plans… and they don’t include some young swashbuckler. I need some damn rest. Now… you tell Lynn right here about your panic attacks. Go ahead…”

“Grace, too hard… you’re being too flippant about something so difficult… “My words stumble out and catch on a sob. I have no idea where the tears came from or when they began. I wipe a sleeve across my face and look up to see Sheldon staring at me, tears rolling down into his beard.

The 93 year old sitting between us tosses her apple into the sand and with far more strength than I think possible, she grips my thigh with one hand and his with her other hand. “Look here, you two. There is no time left to talk about the weather and trip over words.”

Sheldon nods, resigned, and begins, “Other people imply that they know what it’s like to be like this… to be home from the hate …but not home at all, to go through a divorce…fuck me, I was barely married… ” He takes a long, deep breath, “Sorry…bout my language.”

“We’re not worried about your words. Say them all,” Grace says. She pats his leg, rubs her tiny hand on his arm. I swear she’s making clucking sounds to comfort him.  I am so taken in by his words that I cannot move. I let the tears drip down over my lips and watch as he physically rocks forward, then backward. A self-comforting move that comforts me.

“… Except maybe that other people are generally caught up in their own lives,” he continues, “They don’t see. My wife didn’t see what she did not want to see.  Gone. Left. I can’t make her stay or make her come back and I don’t think I want to. Not afraid… I’m not afraid of dying. I want back out there. I want to work. I don’t want to live, I want to go, work, do.  I’m afraid of living, not dying. Afraid of sleeping… when my heart starts to pound in my chest and my fingertips go numb and my mind starts this rapid movie and my vision blurs and there is not enough air. Never enough air and the entire space collapses into a single thought… all the thoughts swirl into a single thought and there is nothing else but that thing – as if I were seeing it through a gun barrel…”

“… and I’m tiresome. People cannot abide being around me. They think they ought to, and they try, but I know and they know that I’m tedious beyond belief. I’m irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and there is no reassurance good enough. And I’m scary as hell. Look at me. People don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, and those who do… they’re still out there doing what I need to be doing and just so you know,” he glances at Grace, “they too have their own 12 ways of dying.”

He stops talking as suddenly as he started and stares at me. Dares me with his eyes to get up off the bench and run. I don’t. I stare back. I think I might get up, walk to him and hold him for whatever time it takes for his heart rate to ease, but that seems too bold in the moment. We’re strangers – emotionally glued together now by an incredible woman named Grace. I have nothing to say because every single word he said is true. It’s the truth. And the only thing I know to do – honestly do – is sit with the words and him and Grace and let the sun fully rise.

Grace claps her hands together and chuckles, “Good. Now I can die in peace.”

Her words break the spell. Sheldon turns his full body towards her and smiles, “Old woman, you better have your fine self right here on this bench tomorrow morning. I’m bringing cherries.” He leans a bit towards me and grins, “And you… if you’re brave enough to show back up, I’ll bring tissues. You have snot all over your face.”

And just like that we go from death and despair to laughter while Grace sets a meeting time for tomorrow. We exchange phone numbers and awkward smiles and then Grace hops off the bench like a teenager and says, “Bring me some cigs tomorrow morning. I think I’m all out.”

“Not in your wildest dreams, woman.” Sheldon laughs. He hugs me quickly, sincerely, and then takes Grace by the hand to walk her home.

I’ve been aware from time to time of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of those corners are incredible and take my breath away with the beauty they store. Others seem too dark to wander through alone.  Perhaps that’s the point. We are none of us alone when another soul is willing to walk into the dark corner with us, hold our hand for a moment and turn on the light.

Lynnette Bukowski © 2013

Grace.againThere are so many reasons to be alive… Please seek out and find some Grace.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  1-800-273-TALK (8255) http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/1-800-273-8255 – Press 1

 

“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

Stand Up For Our Troops and Our Veterans

I am a woman of great strength and great love. I have been given divine gifts of words, keen discernment and an intuitive force I use to empower and inspire others to take their own gifts and use them for the good of all. I believe in human connection, basic human goodness, common decency, common sense and “applied” peace. If I am naïve at all in this second half of my life, it is in my continued faith in truth and justice.

And I am fiercely loyal to a Brotherhood to (and with) whom the other half of my soul dedicated his entire life.

It is now appallingly obvious that the current administration and their media cohorts have launched an assault on these Warriors for political gain. I urge all of you who want to return to a place of common sense in this world to stand behind our Troops and our Veterans. They serve and suffer even as the assault continues. So – peacefully – do what you can with what you have where you are.

As for me, hell hath no fury like a pissed off SEAL’s widow.

“I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.” MV