The only black suit jacket I had was a little tight on the chest. I didn’t really have time to get the creases out of my tie. While my wife finished putting on her earrings, she was asking me if I was done with my meeting. It’s hard to believe it’s wedding season already, but it was the first day of spring. And, like past weddings, I was making us late. It looked like I really wouldn’t have time to change out of my sweatpants.
Thankfully there was no traffic, because my friends were getting married online.
I have known Christie and Jeff for years. I’ve seen them move in together, adopt a cat together (Katamari). We have spent many nights building tiny model robots (Gundams). I was there during their proposal. So when I heard about Donald Trump’s ban on flights from Europe last week, I knew it would put a damper on their honeymoon plans. Jeff wondered on Slack if Iceland—where they had planned to elope—was considered “Europe” in the US’s vague evening pronouncement.
But they are a resourceful couple. They have biked along the Shimanami Kaido in Japan. They make films together. To recharge, they backpack in the Emigrant Wilderness. When travel through Europe became questionable, they decided they could still go to Iceland and keep to visiting the UK instead. That was until UK travel became included in the exclusion. “We could have gone,” explains Christie, “but looking at things now, we’d probably be fighting for the last flight out of Iceland.”
So they figured they would then get married this week in California. “We called city hall on Monday and they said they were still open, but to make sure we call again on Thursday before getting married.” Later that day, six Bay Area counties, including the one Christie, Jeff, and I live in, announced a shelter-in-place order. By Thursday, California governor Gavin Newsom would announce a similar order for the 40 million residents across the state.
I assumed marriage was off for the foreseeable future. That was until Thursday, when I received an invitation via Google Calendar to their wedding. It said:
We’re doing our wedding ceremony at home today, please join us online if you can. Click the hangout link in this calendar invite!
The invite was for four hours later. In an attempt to be thrifty, they used a free Zoom account.
When we “arrived,” we were greeted by Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete and Friends on vinyl and a delightfully handwritten sign reminding guests to, among other things, grab a drink and mute their microphones.
There was a little chatter on the line. Friends waving to one another from the small boxes on the screen. To my surprise, things were going smoothly. That was when we were all kicked out of the meeting. “This free Zoom meeting has ended. Thank you for choosing Zoom!” said a pop-up notification as the program unceremoniously ushered us out. We learned later that the free version lasts only 40 minutes.
It was time for the rain plan, so to speak. There was a backup Google Hangouts to join, where the stream was still accessible. Meanwhile, another friend, who will remain anonymous, offered their corporate Zoom login and mass emailed the guests.
We decided to stay in the Google Hangouts. Something about it felt like sitting on the bridal side. It was amusing to think there was another video chat with their own personal view, much as there would be different vantage points at a regular wedding.
A customary, “Hi everyone, can you hear me alright?” started things off. Suddenly the backdrop was removed. And people were giving thumbs-ups from their screens. Across a white wall were draped papel picado braided with LED lights. The couple were framed by a fiddle-leaf fig in one corner, and just the faintest glimpse of their hallway.
Christie had her wedding dress on and a bouquet of star jasmine collected from a nearby curb. Jeff in a black suit and floral tie. They were both in the outfits they had picked and packed for Iceland. Holding hands in the center of the laptop screen, Christie’s longtime friend, Jess, introduced the couple and welcomed us to the space. With a fresh ordination from the Universal Life Church just an hour before, she would wed the couple. “Thank you to the guests who are with us in spirit and virtually on the internet,” said Jess. The bride and groom shared a laugh together.
Even through the pixelated view, they looked at one another with a familiar gaze: that half I-can’t-believe-we-are-doing-this and half love and contentment look. The kind that makes your lip jut in solemn appreciation. Someone joined the video late (good, we weren’t the only ones). They were unmuted and, taken out of the moment, I was saved of bawling. A recompense, which didn’t last long.
The couple exchanged their vows. Christie remarked on Jeff’s ability to comfort and make her laugh, on how he’s first to reconcile when things are difficult. From their living room, she said how at home she feels with him.
Jeff noted these uncertain times, promising a life of understanding and respect. He shared how grateful he is for Christie’s ability to relax and breathe and how in safe hands he feels for whatever challenges were ahead.
For a minute we were transported. We were crying, my wife and I holding each other, hand and arm, while we peered into this strange portal to something somewhat like reality and very much our current reality. We cried that stuttered disbelief kind of cry, where you’re happy for your friends who have one another. It felt like a wedding.
Originally, Christie and Jeff did not want a wedding. They had plans to elope, alone together, to a far-away Nordic island where they knew no one. As Covid-19 intervened, they kept adapting: first perhaps a city hall ceremony, then a ceremony online. Suddenly, things looked more like a conventional wedding, albeit online. Jeff said, “in a sense, it was a lovely alternative.”
When folks logged off, the couple stayed on the dance floor. They opened a bottle of wine and danced together in their living room.
“Does it feel real?” Christie said later when I asked them about the experience. “Nothing feels real right now.” Jeff added, “I feel responsibility and love for this person. I would have felt fine saying these things in front of anyone…but when you box it in a certain ceremony like that, it feels like a very real thing happened.”
Finishing their wine, the couple took to Lake Merritt, and a walking path where they could keep distance from others.
As photographers, they took turns snapping shots of each other, when a passerby offered to take some photos on her own phone.
“Harsh light, and we’re squinting, but we’re together,” Christie said of the photos. To stay safe, the stranger offered to email them the photos—another way technology let them stay connected on their wedding day during social distance.
When they came home, a pie was waiting for them. Christie’s family sent it via Caviar, an upscale restaurant delivery service.
Correction: A previous version of this item said that Iceland was not in the Schengen Area.