I've made no secret of the fact that I and my beloved are foundering on sharp rocks in a dark and violent sea. Still, there are cloud breaks every now and then, just for an instant. Clear calm cool blue eyes from a tortured mass of black look upon me. This, anyway, gives me hope. And hope can keep even the most damaged boats afloat until they list in to a safe harbor. In the meantime, I'm the frantic guy on deck with a flashlight and bucket, leaning on the tiller and urging on the outgoing tide, helping hope as much as I can.

Although a marriage is not the same as a running injury or a suddenly malfunctioning computer, I thought it might help to apporach the problem in the same way: what changed before it broke?

In the 16 years we've been together, there have been births and deaths, moves, lost jobs, new jobs, vacations, tragedies, miscarriages, anniversaries. Impossible to remove, of course. Ultimately, though, each of these has an effect. The questions I posed to myself were: How have these things changed me? Have the accumulated experiences deflected me from the reasons why I decided to share my life with this woman? What can I do to patch the hull and set a course to calmer seas?

I saw her in the front doorway the other morning as I dashed off to work. She wore her sheer, loose-but-hanging tight in all the right places pj bottoms and an equally loose t-shirt which had slipped from her shoulder and pulled just enough across her breasts. Her hair was the aftermath of a storm, rainbows in the jungle. We said something nice to each other. My heart did a backwards twisting one-and-a-half.

I want to feel this more often. I want to get things back to the way they were before. Not to the get-home-from-work-get-naked-and-fuck-until-we-drop time. Neither the mother-in-law nor the kids will go for that (at least not for long). Holding hands or sitting on the couch -- me sitting, she with her head in my lap as I stroke her hair or with her feet in my lap, providing a foot massage -- watching a show we both like and conversing easily, kindly, gently. Each of us an oasis for the other.

Long ago, when it was just us and then later when it was us with a wee small one, art was one of the languages through which I told her of my love. My portfolio is filled with studies of her -- some clothed, some nude, sleeping, awake, legs, vulva, feet. Nearly every piece of art in our home is something I've made for her. Fruit in the kitchen. A landscaqpe in the family room. Nudes in the bedroom. Love notes scribbled on a cartoon shoved in to her planner or pinned under the windshield wiper of her car. Hearts on the sidewalk.

A heart is what brought me to my hands and knees on the walkway to our home late last night and in to this morning. I bought a new tub of sidewalk chalk at lunchtime yesterday. When I got home from job #2 last night around 11pm, I brushed away the leaves from the walkway and got to work. About an hour and four thick chalk sticks later (and may others in various stages of stubbiness), I had it completed -- Happy Valentine's Day written in huge block letters, pink with a thick blue outline. Above that, a full voluptuous heart in pink scumbled with blue and outlined in white against a yellow, blue and white starburst, the tips of the stars in purple.

I hid the chalk in the garage, imagining how urprised she'll be when she opens the door to head to work hours before dawn. Hoping she likes it. Hoping she can see this as a seeking tendril to bind whatever holes have split our vessel. Hoping.

On a shelf above where I stashed the chalk, I saw one of my old art books. I took it down and sat on a box and began leafing through it, ideas beginning to pop. My pastels and acrylics tapped their fingers on the opposite shelf. Papers and canvases nearly forgotten shuffled anxiously.

I stood and headed inside, thinking, "What next?"