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Tremors of Love : Couple, Brought Together by Quake, Plans Wedding

November 26, 1994|KURT PITZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was an unusual way to find a husband, Patricia Silden concedes.

She was catching the last, precious hours of sleep before going to her job as a law firm's office manager in January when her Northridge Meadows apartment started bucking like a rodeo bull.

When the shaking subsided, Silden stumbled to her third-floor balcony. She heard muffled screams and men's urgent voices nearby in the darkness. "Is anyone out there?" she called out.

"Yeah, who's there?" came a steady reply. It was Mike Kubeisy, the free-lance photographer from Apartment 336 who had said hello to her in the parking garage a few days earlier.

"It's Patricia. Patricia Silden. I'm OK, but I can't get out."

Kubeisy promised to come back after helping a few injured tenants and making sure that the building's gas line was shut off. Twenty minutes later he returned with an emergency ladder.

"It never crossed my mind that he might forget me," Silden, 38, recalls. "He was someone I felt I could trust right away."

In the emotional months since the tragedy at the Northridge Meadows complex, Silden has learned that her first impulse about Kubeisy was right. Theirs is a tale of love among the ruins.

*

As daylight on Jan. 17 revealed the destruction wrought by the earthquake, Silden was among the horrified tenants watching rescue crews pull the maimed and the 16 dead from the wreckage.

"I was under control," Silden said. "I didn't cry. But I was shaking inside."

About an hour later, Kubeisy, 35, emerged from the building, where he had been leading older residents to safety. Silden introduced her sister, who had come to the building, to "the man who had rescued me." Then Silden did something untypical of her. She asked Kubeisy for his phone number.

Two days later, Silden called Kubeisy at his mother's home to thank him. The two had a short, pleasant conversation both describe as "unremarkable," and their friendship might have ended there. But chance intervened.

They both showed up at a meeting for earthquake victims organized by a local Methodist church, and afterward walked to a mini-mart together to buy a soda.

Twelve days after the earthquake, they met again while searching for valuables amid the rubble of their apartments.

"I was not my usual self," Silden says. "I had just run into a family whose father had died. They were looking for his things, and it made me wonder why I was even there."

When Kubeisy saw Silden standing forlornly in her apartment, his protective instinct took hold.

"You look like you need a hug," he said, walking in. She looked him over, then accepted. "You know," he added softly, "if you ever just want to talk, call me."

This time, however, he asked for her phone number.

During the next few weeks, they reminisced about their neighbors who had died and shared their nightmares from the morning the top two floors of their apartment building flattened the one below.

"We both started to open up and talk about the pain," Kubeisy said. "I had felt through this whole thing that I had to play the strong man. But with her I could let my vulnerability show."

They discussed her divorce from the owner of a computer software business, and his breakup with his girlfriend in 1993. Silden took her in-line skating with his friends. "Every one of them told me, 'Man, she's perfect for you,' " he said.

When Kubeisy proposed at Disneyland on July 25, Silden's first reaction was to laugh.

"I said, 'Is this for real?' " she recalled. "But then I said, 'Yes! Yes!' " The wedding is set for Dec. 10 in Woodland Hills.

*

Sitting on plastic chairs in the unfurnished Simi Valley home they recently bought together, Kubeisy and Silden recall the moment they crossed the threshold of romance.

"It was in February. . . ." Kubeisy said vaguely.

"Feb. 4," Silden interjected. "You took me to an ice skating rink. After about 100 laps, you put out your hand toward me. I thought, 'Is he trying to keep his balance, or is he trying to hold my hand?' So I just took it, and after that we didn't let go."

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