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Love Shifts

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Dedicated to a Fault: Married just four days after the Loma Prieta earthquake, one couple has beaten the relationship odds for 10 years.

In celebration of those romances that--against all odds--survive

By Kelly Luker

IT'S BEEN A BAD year for long-term love, at least around this neck of the woods. At last count, five couples in my circle of acquaintance are going down in flames. We're not talking twentysomethings who used up their 45-minute shelf life of commitment before flitting off to the next Mr. or Ms. Right. These are grown-ups who are calling it quits after 18 years, 22 years--and, in one case, 28 years.

None of them are folks I would call close friends, but it breaks my heart all the same. Call it the Mary Poppins Syndrome, but I desperately want to believe that love endures. This desire isn't about reality. It is duly noted--and often repeated--that 70 percent of the marriages in this state will end up in court. The academics have a dozen or so reasons why--longer lifespans, less economic necessity for the institution and major sociological shifts that have rendered golden anniversaries virtually obsolete.

None of it matters. On darker mornings, I still study the wedding pages in the local paper and imagine all those joyful faces pasted on lemmings, blithely scurrying toward the nearest cliff.

Fairytale faith may be able to overpower harsh statistics and a lifetime of evidence pointing to the contrary, but it needs just a little help, OK? As in a bad Ronald Reagan movie, you want these folks to do it for the Gipper. Unfortunately, the needs of us innocent bystanders are rarely taken into consideration when two folks are ready to split the sheets.

So the best I can do is tuck these broken people and their broken lives into a little prayer and focus on their counterparts. I know one husband and wife who will be celebrating their 10-year anniversary almost concurrently with the 10-year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

They like to say the temblor was their wake-up call, a reminder that life is short and precarious--and sometimes doesn't offer second chances. They exchanged vows four days after the Big One and are more crazy mad in love than ever. It's never occurred to either to change or fix the other, but in a decade, both have blossomed.

His love and support has awakened the artist in her--her creativity pouring out in watercolors, pottery and mosaics. And he? Well, he was kind of a lonely mountain man, living in a one-room cabin that had seen better days. In those years before the Loma Prieta, his best friend was an old, incontinent dog named Felony.

She moved in with him, bringing her love and acceptance and a cheerful attitude as she cleaned up after Felony's frequent indoor accidents. A year or two later, flowered curtains appeared over the kitchen sink.

Next, a real floor replaced the fading linoleum, and eventually stained glass touches found their way into various windows. A carefully tended flowerbed now carpets the way to the front steps. Over the years, the tired cabin found new life, nurtured by this couple's desire to gift each other with the home they both could cherish.

This home is a beauty to behold; but it didn't get that way through nagging, threats or ultimatums. It wasn't easy--he doesn't work much and they are usually short on money. But I guess they had patience and the right tools.

It occurs to me that the landscape of relationships suffers the same bad press as Christianity or basketball, for that matter. It's kinda comforting to bitch about the fundamentalists or the NBA lockout, all the while forgetting the folks quietly doing good works or happily shooting hoops. But we end up despising the religion, turning off the b-ball boys and eventually, I suppose, shrinking into ourselves to avoid the disappointment that seems to inevitably dog the heels of love.

My heart still aches for the couples who didn't make it last year and also, I suppose, for the many others that will end up in shards this year. But fortunately, that cabin isn't far from where I live. It helps to take a walk by it every so often, to see what flowers have been planted, what new project is taking life in the woodshop. I think of that walk as a little emotional salve to keep the calluses at bay.

So, here's a toast to Jim and Laurie and to all the homes that not only survived but got better-looking over time. Long may your gardens grow.

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From the February 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro.

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