Melanie Santiago & Christopher Sarachilli
They grew up a few hundred yards apart in tiny Bristol Borough and knew many of the same people but didn’t meet until they took the same Italian class at Arcadia University.
Chris, an English major with Italian heritage, made a presentazione in Italiano on the magic of ricotta cheese, then shared the ricotta cookies he baked with his aunt’s recipe. Melanie, an Italian and psychology double-major, had previously decided that his commitment to the Italian language would make him an ideal group project partner. Those delicious cookies made her also want to be his friend. After class that day in 2013, she asked for more cookies and they had their first extended conversation.
Talking to each other became the best part of class. Melanie sought more talking time. She knew the building where Chris had his earlier class. “I would be there around that time and happen to run into him so we could walk together,” she said.
Chris thought these run-ins were happy coincidences.
“I thought she was absolutely beautiful and funny,” said Chris. “I also thought she had no interest in me.”
Melanie had to hint harder. As they walked together after class one day, she casually asked Chris about his plans for the rest of the day.
“I think I’ll go back home for a little bit and maybe get some lunch,” he said.
She looked straight at him. “Oh, that’s interesting,” she said. “Wow. Cool!”
Chris took that hint. “Do you want to go get some lunch?” he asked.
They walked down Easton Road, stopped in a thrift store to try on funny hats, and discussed the short stories they were reading in class over slices at the Pizza Box. Their next walk about town led to a kiss. When winter came and long walks were not a comfortable option, Chris invited Melanie to the house he shared with roommates. “He made some really good spaghetti,” Melanie said. They’ve been a couple ever since.
“So much made me fall in love with her,” said Chris. “I appreciated very much her love of Italian and that she spoke it so beautifully; this is the way she commits herself to things. Also, I loved how much we laughed together, how I could be extremely silly around her and completely myself. I had never experienced that before.”
The cookies, the pasta, and the meals that followed definitely made Melanie feel cared for, she said. “Even though we were as broke as you can get as college kids, he found a way to make really delicious meals for us,” Melanie said. Melanie is of Puerto Rican heritage — her parents grew up there and Melanie has spent a lot of time there. She really swooned when Chris asked her mother, Maribel, for tips on making mofongo and other Puerto Rican foods that Melanie missed.
“Chris is incredibly smart. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he will figure it out — it doesn’t matter what it is,” she said. “And on top of that, he’s the nicest person — he literally helps old ladies carry their groceries.”
Now 29, Chris works in marketing and communications for Temple University’s College of Public Health. Melanie, now 27, is an autism case manager for Special People in the Northeast, commonly called SPIN. She also teaches dance to kids and teenagers at Stepping Stone Dance Studio in Bristol.
For most of their post-college relationship, Chris lived in South Philadelphia and Melanie, in Bristol. They spent weekends going to the ballet or out with friends in Philly or hanging with their families and watching The Great British Baking Show in Bristol. Then in February 2020, they got the South Philly apartment where they still live.
One day early that March, Chris took a day off to collect breads and cheeses in the Italian Market and plan a picnic. When Melanie came home, they went to the Wissahickon and found a pretty spot where they could watch people, and, more importantly, the people’s dogs.
“Look at that dog!” Chris said, knowing that Melanie, who has been known to cry over the cuteness of a stranger’s dog, would turn away to find the pup.
When she turned back to Chris, he offered her a ring.
They were engaged on Monday. By Friday, COVID-19 had shut down the world. Within weeks, the couple had gone from seeing each other on weekends to being together 24/7.
A wedding at internet speed
They did not want to wait out the pandemic to be married. The city granted their self-uniting license by Zoom. The paperwork arrived by mail. Melanie’s brother, Jose, and Chris’ brother, Michael, witnessed their signatures.
Glad to be married, Melanie and Chris still wanted something that could not happen in May of 2020: to say their vows and celebrate with family and friends.
It was so them
On Sept. 4, 2021, the couple re-wed in a multilingual ceremony conducted by Journeys of the Heart officiant Stephen Workman and attended by 180 friends and family members. “There are members of my family who don’t speak English, and members of Chris’ family who don’t speak Spanish, so it was important that the entire ceremony take place in both languages,” said Melanie.
Workman surprised the couple with a few words in the third language they love: “He opened the ceremony in Italian, and then went on to explain that he did so because it was the Italian language that had brought us together,” said Chris.
During their vows, Melanie promised Chris that first and foremost, they would continue to be best friends always. Chris promised her that she would continue to spend every day in as much laughter and happiness as they had for the previous eight years.
The reception was held in a ballroom with stained glass windows and a giant statue of Ben Franklin at the Masonic Temple. The couple’s bilingual DJ, Al Wepa from TWK Events, played a mix of English- and Spanish-language tunes, including the English/Spanish version of “Stand by Me” for their first dance. Instead of favors, guests received desserts — old-school Italian cookies and guava pastelillos. “It was like, ‘Here we are, in a box,’ ” Chris observed.
The couple honeymooned in Cabo San Lucas, but all did not go as planned. “The day after we arrived, there was a hurricane,” said Melanie. It was not the relaxing week they had in mind, but they were glad to be OK.
The couple plans to redo their honeymoon with another trip, perhaps to Japan, where they had planned to go for Chris’ 30th birthday until COVID-19 intervened. Melanie hopes to earn a doctoral degree in occupational therapy. And Chris and Melanie are seeking to expand their family with a dog of their own.