CRANSTON, R.I. -- Someday, Alana Smith and Joseph Dolle will exchange marriage vows and wedding rings.
Someday, their loved ones will be able to celebrate with them and toast the happy couple.
Someday, after 11 years together, Joe and Alana will be husband and wife.
That day was supposed to be today, March 27, 2020.
They had saved for two years and planned every detail -- the venue, the hotel and shuttle for guests, the colors, the flowers, the music and meals, the save-the-date invitations that went out months before. They would fly out to a honeymoon in Mexico and then return to their jobs, their home, and finally start a family.
All they wanted was to get married. It took years for them to be ready.
They had 12 days to go. And then the coronavirus pandemic upended everything.
* * *
They were just 21 when they met through friends in 2008. Joe lived in Long Island, New York, and Alana was in Coventry with her family. They spent most of the year talking on the phone or over Skype, just as friends.
That November, on Black Friday, Alana was in a bad car accident that broke her collarbone and left her out of work. Around the same time, Joe’s parents filed for divorce.
Their conversations grew deeper as they shared their grief and worry, and they leaned on each other more. “The most trying times brought us together,” Joe said.
In March 2009, when Joe’s sister was having a Sweet Sixteen party, he decided to invite Alana to come to New York and be his date.
After all those long-distance conversations, it was the first time that Joe and Alana were really with each other. She says she knew Joe was different from some other guys she had dated when she got off the bus in New York. He picked up her luggage, put it in the trunk, and then walked over and opened the car door for her. It was a simple gesture, but it immediately told her something about his character.
And, as she spent time with Joe, she saw his attentiveness, his compassion, and his “really big heart.” He’s genuine and traditional, in a way that reminds her of her grandfather.
“The way he is with me, I feel like I’m his queen," she said. "He’s a very good man.”
For Joe, their conversations are what led him to fall in love with her. And then, on the night of the party, she walked into the room, and Joe was bowled over. "She’s got the makeup, the hair, the dress -- My God, she’s gorgeous,” he remembered. “That night, I don’t think I asked her to be my girlfriend. I just walked up to family members and said, ‘By the way, that’s my girlfriend.’”
Alana overheard him and smiled. “What was that about?”
“I said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re amazing. Would you like to be my girlfriend?’”
She did. That was that: March 13, 2009.
* * *
Over the next 11 years, they juggled school and work, moving in together, first in New York and then in Rhode Island, where she has a large extended family. They saved up for a house in Cranston, knowing they wanted to raise a family. In September 2018, Joe proposed on a beach in the Dominican Republic, kneeling inside a heart that was carved into the sand.
As they planned a wedding for 150 guests, Alana took the lead. They chose the venue, the music, the caterer, and the centerpieces; sent out invitations, selected pink and blue colors to represent spring, and picked the date, March 27, because it was an affordable time of year, close to their anniversary, and would be easier for their elderly relatives than a sweltering hot summer night.
A few weeks ago, Alana had her last fitting for her wedding gown, a champagne-colored, beaded, long-sleeve dress that she fell in love with at Alexandra’s Boutique in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was hearing about the coronavirus spread in China, but wasn’t concerned.
“It never even crossed my mind it would spread to us,” Alana said. “No one’s thinking something’s going to make it all the way from China to Rhode Island. We’re the smallest state.”
And then, it was here. The first case in Rhode Island was reported March 1, when a vice principal from Saint Raphael’s Academy in Pawtucket tested positive after a school trip in Europe in February. By March 13, there were 14 Rhode Islanders who tested positive.
Alana and Joe grew worried and called their families. There was no way around it. They had to cancel.
“I was so close, it really devastated me. You wait so long,” Alana said. “I had my last fitting, I had everything ready. Then Joe and I sat down and made a hard decision. It was for the best.”
Still, it hurt.
* * *
How hard is it to postpone a wedding? Ask one of the many couples who are now competing for dates in an uncertain future.
“I feel like I’m replanning my wedding,” Alana said.
The $35,000 wedding that they’d planned and saved for is becoming a whole lot more expensive.
Their venue, Lakeview Pavilion in Foxborough, Massachusetts, could give them two other dates this year: the week before Black Friday, which is impossible for Alana, who is an executive manager at Macy’s in North Attleborough, or July 31, when a Taylor Swift concert at Gillette Stadium has all the hotel rooms in the area booked.
Because Alana and Joe were forced to cancel within two weeks of their wedding, and Lakeview Pavilion offered them other dates this year, they couldn’t get their $6,000 deposit back.
So they picked July 31, and now are scrambling to find other hotel rooms for 65 guests, plus shuttle buses. And those buses are likely to be shuttling back and forth to hotels in Rhode Island -- the closest they can find.
“There’s nothing left open. Everybody is running into the same issue. The vendors aren’t available,” Alana said. “I worked so hard to research and find people I connected with for my day, and now I have to try to find someone in four months when it took two years.”
Everything in the wedding business costs more in the summertime. Even the honeymoon they’d planned for Unico, Riviera Maya, Mexico, will cost more.
What do they do about the invitations that have the March 27 date? Do they spend more money and start all over again? Do they spend money on a new guestbook with the new date? Do they spend money for a new date on the favors?
All the decisions that they’d put thought and care into are back on the table.
“You pick your month. You pick your day. I said to Joe, ‘I feel like someone is picking my anniversary.’ I cry about it, I’ve had a meltdown about it. Now, I’m just taking it day by day.”
More money for the wedding, on a date they didn’t pick, during a time that they hope the country will be safe again for celebrations. But there is no certainty.
“Joe has been my rock through this. It’s caused a strain for us. He has a what-can-you-do attitude, and I’m like, this is not happening to us,” Alana said. “Every day he tells me, ‘don’t worry, we will have our day.’ Our family said, ‘it means a lot to us that you put our health before your wedding day.’”
People tell them this will be a funny story to tell their children. Alana and Joe are both 32, and can’t wait for that day to come.
“We just want to have our family,” Joe said. “We’ve been together so long, and she wants to wait to have kids post-marriage, but we’re itching right now. I want little ones running around.”
* * *
As recently as a few days ago, Alana and Joe were talking about having a small wedding at home, just with immediate family, and holding a reception later for everyone.
But most of Joe’s family lives in New York and New Jersey, where the coronavirus spread is the worst. It’s not safe for them to travel during the pandemic. And it’s not safe for Alana’s grandparents to leave their home in Rhode Island.
They don’t want to have a wedding without the people they love. And if there was any wavering, orders from Governor Gina M. Raimondo for visitors from New York to quarantine themselves for two weeks settled it.
The wedding was truly off.
Alana took today off anyway. She knew she’d be emotional. Joe, who just started his new job a few months ago, is working from home so he can save his two-week vacation for their eventual wedding and honeymoon -- whether it’s July 31, or some other date in the future.
So today will pass quietly. They have no real plans. Alana suggested watching movies or getting takeout, but Joe still hoped he could make the day special.
They may not be getting married, but the turmoil over the past few weeks had brought them closer together, Joe said. “We’re here together, and we still like each other,” he said.
If this were just a regular Friday night, he would take her out some place nice for dinner, but now there’s nowhere to go. Maybe they would go to a beach to watch the sunset. Or make cookies together. “We’ll just be there and enjoy each other’s presence,” he said.
Then, on Thursday, Joe remembered something. During a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, five years ago, to celebrate the anniversary of their first date, they’d stopped at a small winery and bought a bottle of ice wine. They told each other that they’d open it when they got married.
Over the next five years, as they moved from New York to Cranston, the bottle went with them, unopened.
Alana had forgotten all about it when Joe reminded her about that bottle of wine, and their promise to each other. She searched until she found it, dusty and waiting on a shelf. She placed it in the refrigerator to chill.
So it’ll be just the two of them today, on what would have been their wedding day.
They will uncork the bottle of wine, raise their glasses, and toast to their love.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org