Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.
My wedding reception was supposed to take place at the end of this month, March 28. We were going to have a simple celebration. We’d eloped in a courthouse in October. Now we were going to spend about $5,000 buying dinner for 150 people at our favorite breakfast restaurant, a spot with shabby-chic décor known for blueberry French toast and lines out the door on the weekends. Breakfast for dinner would be a nod to the first meal my new husband cooked for me when we started dating.
I was exuberant in December as I started to get RSVPs from all over the country, thrilled that friends and family would be together to celebrate our marriage. I hadn’t seen some of these people in years. I felt so lucky that they would be in one room, a gathering I expect to happen just once in my lifetime. Plus, I’d been feeling isolated and much less social than normal. In addition to being a new wife, I was a new mom. Our daughter was born last July. I was looking forward to feeling special.
We’d had one moment of panic in February, unrelated to the coronavirus. I’d been meaning to follow up with the venue; I hadn’t heard from them since I’d initially booked the place. Then I got an email wishing me well, saying the venue assumed we’d gone a different direction for our celebration. When I called, I learned they had mixed up my phone number; unable to follow up on our reservation, they had booked someone else for the same night. I had to talk quickly and remind them we’d spoken first. After the call, I poured a gin and tonic—light on the tonic—and tried to stop myself from shaking. It was a close call. I expected to laugh about it later.
But then by March 9, things were escalating with the coronavirus much faster than I thought they would be. Seattle, which is not too far from us, was starting to shut down in the face of several deaths. A writing conference I’d long looked forward to was postponed; when I called to cancel my flight, it was hours before I could speak to someone. A friend from Oregon texted to say she was nervous about coming to the wedding. All the while, I texted with another friend whose wedding is set for Easter weekend. Our texts went from “it’s still on” to “we’ll hand out masks.”
I confessed in therapy to feeling sad that our wedding was now something for our friends to worry about. “So many people manage to celebrate their marriages without a pandemic,” I said. I thought about all the weddings I’d happily attended, worried only about bees or whether I could last in my heels. I couldn’t shake the idea that my wedding would be like Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour’s in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, interrupted by terror and evil. I kept thinking about the hologram in the movie version, telling dancing guests that the Ministry of Magic had fallen and the followers of Voldemort were on their way. I knew the coronavirus wasn’t personal, but it felt personal.
It was our grandparents who decided it for us, in the end, on Wednesday. They are all in their 80s, and they didn’t want to make the trip from California. I didn’t want to encourage them to. I hated the idea that our beautiful celebration might cause people we love to die. I also hated the idea of a wedding celebration with a reduced guest list, filled with more conversations about the coronavirus than joy. I didn’t want to have a wedding that involved social distancing.
We had an easy time canceling the event, which we did on March 11. My photographer and the venue were gracious and happy to let me reschedule at my convenience “after all this is over.” Though it’s hard to even think about when that might be. Will we still be dealing with this in the fall? Next year? We contacted our guests, who understood and even thanked us. I opened a bottle of sauvignon blanc and sobbed into my husband’s shoulder.
The choice, it turns out, would have been made for us anyway. On March 15 our governor, Jay Inslee, instructed restaurants (including the one where we planned our reception) to close to the public until March 31 (at least). Gatherings in our state are limited to 50 people or fewer. I’m waiting for the news that my friend’s celebration, still a few weeks out, is off, too.
I’m doing my best to stay inside, cook selections from my pantry, and not endlessly scroll through social media, all while taking care of an 8-month-old. I have no guarantees that we’ll still have a chance to celebrate our marriage with all our loved ones. There are no guarantees that all our loved ones will make it through this. Just two weeks ago, we went to a meeting with the restaurant to finalize the menu, which was going to include smoked salmon Benedict and a cake made of cheese wheels. It feels like it’s been years since then.