March 16, 11:15 a.m.
Jessica: HEARTBREAK OF COVID-19
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” my friend Hanna sniffles. “We’ve been waiting to get married for nearly a year. Everything is set. Everyone has already sent in their RSVPs and I’ve ordered all the food.”
I want to tell her nothing is supposed to be like it is now. But with a wedding set for only a month and two days away, my best friend can’t think of anything else.
She’s been counting down the days since Christmas. Her dress is hanging in her closet. She assembled her own silk flower bouquet and has boxes of silk centerpieces lined up in the garage of the new house she just bought with her fiancé Matt. UPS has been delivering gifts for the past two weeks.
What? You’d like to read Chapter 1? Find it here!
As maid of honor, I’ve been in the thick of it. My mother felt well enough to watch Lori while I went to the bachelorette weekend a few weeks back. The shower which was supposed to be a surprise was scheduled for the end of March. Her mom and I talked on the phone yesterday, debating whether to cancel it. Mrs. Santiago said cancel; I said wait. Mrs. Santiago won.
“If we don’t have a marriage license, how can we get married?” It had never occurred to me that when the counties announced they were closing their offices during the lockdown, that would mean marriage license offices, too.
“Matt called the inn as soon as we found out and the wedding coordinator assured him they can still accommodate us. Or we can postpone to a different date. But so far, there’s been no restriction on private functions—even if the bars and restaurants are closed. We want to get married. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can figure something out. I’d hate to have to postpone the wedding, but it may come to that. We don’t know what we can do without a marriage license. It wouldn’t really count, would it?”
This should never happen to this couple. They’ve been madly in love since the moment they met for coffee a little over a year ago. Inseparable, even. I’ve never seen Hanna smile or laugh so much since we were high school seniors. As my friend sniffs again, my eye stays on the clock, I can’t be late for my meeting.
I don’t know what to say—what words could possibly comfort her anyway? Hanna blows her nose and continues on. I’m happy to let her vent.
“I guess I should have predicted this. I got a bad feeling when the restaurants announced they were planning to close. I mean, everybody is so bent out of shape about the St. Patrick’s Day parties this past weekend. You’d think it was a major scandal. Then the churches said they were canceling services. Even the shoe store closed before I could pick up my wedding shoes. It doesn’t look good.”
Hanna is quiet for a moment. “I have a terrible feeling that we’re not going to get married on our wedding day. I just know it.”
“Don’t say that.” I mean it, too. “You’ll figure something out. Even if you can’t have a legal wedding, you have to at least say your vows and wear your dress. We can have your wedding in my backyard if you have to.”
My little patch of grass surrounded by a rusty fifty-year-old chain link fence won’t fit more than a bride, a groom and their parents but I have to at least offer. I hate to see my friend so upset, especially after she and Matt have been so happy and so in love.
After Colin left, I lost my faith in love. It was supposed to last a lifetime, but it didn’t, not for me.
Romance, the way it’s described in sappy books and movies, just doesn’t exist. They don’t live happily ever after. Things go wrong and suddenly you’re alone, in pain and lost.
I mean, I used to believe. When I was a little older than Lori, I had tons of crushes. I didn’t think I’d ever get over Jonathan Taylor Thomas after he stole my heart on “Home Improvement.” My first and only boyfriend was Colin. We fell in love at the library, finishing our senior theses. We only had a few years together. Lori never even met him.
How can I believe in forever love?
Hanna and Matt have great faith that it exists. And maybe they’re right, for them. Love is something fresh, startling, and all consuming. Matt is the kind of guy who takes Hanna’s hand to step off a curb or helps her with her coat. Hanna doesn’t even apologize when she cuts our get-togethers short so she can hurry away to meet Matt. The way they look at each other, it’s like the world falls away and they are the only two beings in the universe.
Did I ever have that? I can’t remember anymore. Even so, I wipe away a tear.
“Thank you. You sound so sure, it gives me hope. Thanks, Jess. Maybe everything will turn out.” Her voice sounds so small. It doesn’t sound like hope. It’s more like disappointment, a sense that nothing will ever be right again.
“Look,” I try to sound brave, maybe even wise. “April 18 is your day. It will always be your day. If the two of you have to hold hands in the backyard and proclaim your undying love to one another without anybody else around, you have to do it.”
She sighs. Her heart is breaking and I can’t think of a single thing to say.
I sigh along with her and take another look at the clock. I’ve got to get off this call or I’ll be late for my very first meeting with the editorial team. But how can I disconnect when my dear friend is in tears and all I want to do is run over and wipe her eyes and hug her tight. Social distancing means I have to stay right where I am, helpless as that feels.
After a moment of quiet, a moment full of hurt, Hanna sighs again. “Thanks, chica. You probably have a million things to do. So do I. In fact, I have a class at noon and I haven’t even finished reading the materials for it. It’s weird teaching from my kitchen table. How’s Lori doing? Is she working on her school assignments? Are you keeping busy?”
If I didn’t have a meeting in two minutes, I’d tell her how I cleaned the kitchen so my new colleagues wouldn’t get a great view of how I keep house. Maybe that would make her laugh. But it’s a story that will wait until later.
“Yes, she’s being a very good girl.” Lori looks up and beams at me with her gap-tooth smile. Thank goodness the Tooth Fairy didn’t have to abide by the stay-at-home rule. She came last night with a dollar for Lori’s front tooth.
I glance at the clock. “Hanna, I do have a meeting and since you’ve got to get ready for your class, we better hang up. Tell you what. If you’re free at five, let’s FaceTime for happy hour.”
“You started your new job today, don’t you? Aren’t I awful? I didn’t even ask you about it.”
I shrug. “I haven’t done anything yet except fill out paperwork.”
“But you must be so excited. You’ve wanted to be a reporter since high school.”
It’s true. I found out even a shy person could be bold about asking questions and writing stories. Hanna used to read everything I wrote. She became a high school English teacher and I set my goal on newspapers. It took me a lot longer than I expected to get where I am but at last I’m here.
“I really am. But, Hanna, I hate to hang up on you but I have to.” Even as upset as she is, I have to tell her the truth. I know she’ll understand. Hanna and I have always been honest with each other. I told her when I hated her first boyfriend and she held my hand when I was in the emergency room after I was mugged last year. Aside from my parents, she’s the only person I trust. And since she won’t scold me for being out alone at a bar—I wasn’t really…long story—I called her that awful night.
“Got it. My American literature class awaits. I’ll call you later.”
“And Hanna? I think things will work out. They always do.”
“I hope you’re right. See you, chica.”
As I hang up, I look at the clock again. Oh, god. It’s already past show-time. Great.
I race to my computer and click on the Zoom link Claire sent. Well, damn. The meeting is already in progress and this is one of those moments when I can’t slip in and take a chair at the back. I come close to panicking until I finally figure out how to turn on the video and audio. By then, I can feel all those virtual eyes looking right at me. The look on Claire’s face, with that little “eleven” between her eyebrows and her lips pressed thin, communicate well enough that she’s not pleased by my tardiness. Oh, crap, even Mr. Okun is here and he’s addressing me.
I’m looking for your ideas!
Every Monday I’ll post a new chapter until Dan and Jessica find love, lose it and, we hope, find their happily-ever-after. Do you have an idea, torn from your own pandemic stay-at-home saga, that might help them?
If you have a suggestion for what happens next, send it along with your name and hometown to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Copy and paste the address, please.) Together we can write a great story to remember the lockdown of 2020.
Ⓒ 2020 Mary K. Tilghman