L.A. Affairs

L.A. Affairs (Sarah Wilkins, For the Los Angeles Times)

"If I were a horse, someone would shoot me out of compassion," I said to no one in particular. I was lying on the living room floor seeking relief from an aching back. Two months earlier, clear air turbulence had nearly ended my career as an L.A.-based flight attendant.

My sidekick suitcase stood in the corner, reminding me of past adventures: exploring the Amazon rain forest, dancing to Greek bouzouki music in a taverna on Mykonos, climbing the hills of Easter Island to view its giant icons. Now the only thing I could lift was a drawing pencil. To relieve the tedium of chronic pain and daily rehabilitation exercises, I signed up for a drawing class at the Laguna College of Art and Design.

Peeking through the art studio window, I caught a glimpse of a very tall figure with a mustache, shoulder-length brown hair, turquoise pants and a red T-shirt.

"Oh, I hope he's the teacher," I thought. My stewardess quick-study training had kicked in. Quiet confidence? Check. Tall? Check. Handsome? Check. He had the look of a non-conformist, which piqued my curiosity.

His genuine interest in each of us to develop our creativity was contagious. My work improved with each session. Indeed, we all surprised ourselves with drawings we once thought beyond our talent and hope.

So I signed up for Drawing II. Besides, I wanted to see what the mod-colored instructor was going to wear next.

In the meantime, I continued to see friends, including Wendy, who might best be classified as a matchmaker. Wendy had enrolled us in a cooking course at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Each week, after class, we celebrated our newly acquired chopping skills with a glass of Chardonnay at a nearby restaurant in Corona del Mar. One evening, our regular recipe-review session was interrupted by a tap, tap, tap on the picture window near our seats.

"Who's that?" she asked, curious about my anemic wave.

"Ed," I answered.

"Ed, your art teacher, the one you've been talking about for the last six months?" She seemed a little incredulous about my tepid response. "The one who draws like Leonardo da Vinci?

"Stay put, I'll be right back," she ordered on her way out of our booth to grab him at the front entrance.

"Don't embarrass me," I warned, helplessly.

"Ed, do you own a cleaver?" she asked as soon as she seated him at our table, "'Cause I'm giving a Chinese cooking party at my house Saturday night, and you're invited if you do!"

Checking her watch, she then announced: "Oooops, gotta go, husband's waiting. Pat will fill you in on the details."

What details?

Wendy will hear about this, I vowed to myself.

The big night arrived with a major adjustment. At Wendy's prompting, the location changed from her Newport Beach ocean-view canyon home to my 400-square-foot apartment over a garage in Laguna. To top it all off, one hour prior to the kick-off, I received one of those bad news phone calls.

"Sorry, my husband and I have just had a big argument. You're on your own," Wendy said.

"You can't do this to me. You're beef lo mein, the main course. I'm only won tons," I pleaded in a panic.

"You have the same recipes I do. Wing it!" she said, without any regret in her voice.

Ed arrived with high expectations and his cleaver. "It's only me and my handmade won tons," I announced. Nonetheless, he seemed pleased.

We talked past midnight.

As the weeks progressed, he stopped by after class for white wine and hot dogs and we got to know each other. I looked forward to his twice-weekly visits, even though I had to stand at my kitchen counter most of the time, still struggling with my back injury.

Ed wasn't the worldly type I usually dated. He had no riffs on rare wines or compelling stories of travel to off-the-beaten-path locales. But he liked me without my lipstick and false eyelashes. By the time he and my neighbor had grabbed an old door as a makeshift stretcher for an emergency run to the hospital, I'd come to understand my criteria for prince charming. To my astonishment, Ed stuck with me, no matter what.

When I was confident I could walk down the aisle without groping the pews for support, we married at the St. Francis By-the-Sea Chapel in Laguna, constructed from the shards of buildings destroyed in the Long Beach earthquake. That was its selling point to us. We understood about picking up the pieces. Now we live in a cottage-by-the-sea, more in love than when we first met.

Pat Chatlin is an artist in Laguna Beach; she is nearing completion of her first book titled "To Kiss the Sky," about her flying career.

L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.