The square-cut cubic zirconia at the center of the ring offends my minimalist sensibilities.
Jewelry should quietly accent the wearer’s personality like a sprinkle of cinnamon on Mexican hot chocolate.
But this ring is like habanero sauce on ice cream. Its sparkle speaks of an epic love story that began with an assault and survived love triangles, world domination attempts, kidnappings, an avalanche, affairs, mob shootings, and catatonia.
The larger-than-life romance is that of Luke and Laura of General Hospital.
Luke and Laura were the soap opera’s most famous and enduring super-couple. Their exploits scaffolded my childhood afternoons and formed the initial architecture of my understanding of love and romance.
Romance in the Reagan Era
It was Ronald Reagan’s America. The entire country bedazzled itself in “greed is good” aspiration and looked to daytime and nighttime soap operas for inspiration.
Our family was no different. We watched General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, Dynasty, and Dallas from our modest bungalow that sat on the edge of a highway in a leafy south Jersey suburb. My mother worked as a classroom assistant, and dad inspected cars at the local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Rushing home from school, I threw my backpack in my bedroom, concocted a glass of chocolate milk, and settled in on the couch for the unfolding story of Luke and Laura. Mom joined me during the summer and holidays when school was out for the both of us.
Dad managed to know the twists and turns of Luke and Laura’s romantic adventures despite having a full-time job. He discussed them in meticulous detail over dinner. Dad adjusted his lunch in the late afternoon to coincide with the show’s broadcast. Besides, he needed a break from checking brakes and administering driving tests to sweaty teenagers.
“Preston, what are you watching?” one of dad’s co-workers asked one day.
Dad said nothing and pointed at the television. Within minutes, a multi-ethnic band of rough-hewn men with thick, Jersey accents stood captivated as they watched Luke, Laura, and Robert, a British secret agent, foil Mikkos Cassidine’s plot to dominate the world by controlling its weather.
Both parents called in sick from work on November 16, 1981. That was when Luke and Laura married in a lavish ceremony that rivaled Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, the world’s other super-couple who married in July of the same year. My parents toasted to Luke and Laura’s marriage with champagne dad bought from the supermarket. I joined in with a Dixie cup of ginger ale.
Happily Ever After
Dad surprised Mom with a replica of Luke and Laura’s 25th-anniversary ring for their silver jubilee.
My parents lived ordinary lives, but their romantic imaginations were extraordinary. Until both their cancers were advanced, they dressed up on Saturday nights, splashed their best cologne, and went dancing. They wore matching red and black outfits. Dad’s red fedora perched on his head at a jaunty angle. Mom’s anniversary ring shimmered on her finger.
They escaped the daily racism, low-income jobs, illness, and marital strife through watching the exploits of a fictional couple whose story began with a rape.
Neither my parents nor Genie Francis, who played Laura, excused the rape storyline. It is an unforgiveable act. To my parents, it was another sign that something unexpected could come from a tragedy. It’s like believing in Black love’s survival in the United States, a thing that was once regulated by white enslavers and the legal system.
I wear mom’s “Luke and Laura” ring when I especially miss my parents, which is all the time now that they have both been gone for several years.
Except for a six-year marriage in my 20s, I’ve been single for most of my adult life. The most incredible adventures in my life so far have played against a backdrop of Honduran orphanages, the rolling hills of South Africa, dusty Aztec pyramids, and in the halls of political power.
When I’m not working, I spend afternoons drinking Sauvignon Blanc and staring at the Caribbean. Trade winds tousle my hair. I glance down at mom’s “Luke and Laura” ring, gleaming in the blinding tropical sunlight.
Its twinkle casts me into daydreams of past adventures and the anticipation of upcoming ones as I learn to swim, dive, and map sunken slave ships. I yearn to meet the Luke to my Laura – a fellow adventurer and romantic, a worthy life-companion for this ring.