Real Life

The quake brought us back together

Despite the pain and heartache caused by the February earthquake, Christchurch mum-of-two Karen Harkness never expected such devastation would lead to happiness.The aftermath of the disaster reunited Karen

Despite the pain and heartache caused by the February earthquake, Christchurch mum-of-two Karen Harkness never expected such devastation would lead to happiness.

The aftermath of the disaster reunited Karen with the man that got away 35 years ago – her first love and high school sweetheart Kevin Clews.

The pair (both 53) met at Beckenham Primary School in Christchurch and dated when they were 13, planning to one day walk down the aisle.

But when 17-year-old Kevin had a fight with Karen’s father and was banned from their home, their close relationship was forced to come to an end.

“We were really young,” says Karen. “And it was hard for me, especially being an only child.”

Kevin moved north and the two went on with their lives. Karen eventually married and had two children, and Kevin wed twice, fathering three boys and naming his only daughter after his first love.

The pair hadn’t been in touch for years when the earthquake occurred. After the tragedy, Kevin moved from Tokoroa to Christchurch to be with his family and help with the relief effort.

“I was only on annual leave from my work, but once I arrived I knew there was lots to do here, so I handed in my notice and moved back to Christchurch.”

Kevin wasn’t only helping rebuild the city, but also his life, and after a long separation he thought it was time to call Karen.

“I used to think about Karen – she’s always been my angel,” says Kevin.

When the pair were reunited, their feelings for each other came flooding back, and they realised their love never went away. Kevin proposed to Karen two months later.

“I always thought she was the one that got away. I wondered what life would be like if we got married as teenagers,” he says.

“I proposed quickly – we’ve mucked around for 35 years, so why muck around any more?”

For Karen, who was reeling from the earthquake, reuniting with Kevin was the boost of confidence she needed.

“I was single, so it was perfect timing. You have to be with someone you can trust – someone who’s honest and who you can be yourself with. When he proposed, I said yes straightaway.”

The pair plan to marry later this month and are excited that, amid the hardships they and their family and friends in Christchurch have endured, they have a wedding to look forward to. “I was never far away from Kevin’s heart,” says Karen. “He has made me feel very special and very loved.”

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