Their big wedding was canceled.
So were the bachelor and bachelorette parties, the honeymoon trip to Switzerland, and the closing on Jessica and Adam’s new Northern Liberties home.
The cancellation cascade happened in a single mid-March week. The next week, Adam’s work hours were cut in half.
The couple — who both work in health care — were not really surprised by the unfurling. Knowing the pain COVID-19 was bringing to so many families, and the risk it presented to some of their own loved ones, they were honestly grateful for losses so temporary. Still, they were sad.
“Just about everything went wrong that could have went wrong, besides health,” said Adam, a 31-year-old health-care administrator at Rothman Orthopedic.
“We needed something happy,” said Jessica, a 34-year-old physician assistant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
The week before the previously scheduled April 17 wedding, Adam noted with disappointment that their marriage license would soon expire. At work the next day, Jessica confirmed she could still get the next Thursday and Friday off, then sent Adam a text: “Let’s do this. Let’s get married.”
Jessica and Adam had met at a 2015 Halloween house party. She found his Richard Simmons costume delightfully ridiculous. He mistook her for a classmate’s fiancee, and was never so happy to be wrong. The next day, they bonded further over copious amounts of pulled pork. From then on, it was time down the Shore or in the mountains, discovering new restaurants and bands, trips to California and Scotland. They soon loved each other, and, before long, loved each other’s families, too.
In 2017, Jessica was set to buy a house when the deal fell through. Three months earlier, Adam had finished grad school, moved out of his friend’s basement, and got a place of his own in Old City that he thought would be a bachelor pad for himself and his visiting buds. Instead, he asked Jessica to move in.
They spent Labor Day 2019 with Adam’s family at his parents’ Longport Shore house. As the couple walked toward the Point, Jessica took in the scenery, allowing Adam to toss something that had been in his pocket onto the sand nearby, undetected.
He knelt where it landed. “What do you think of this seashell?” he asked her.
Jessica pulled out some cotton and found a diamond ring inside.
They celebrated with Adam’s family that evening, and with hers the following day on Long Beach Island.
Wedding planning for a date the following spring began quickly, because they couldn’t wait to start a family.
They soon settled on April 17 at Knowlton Mansion; it was big enough to handle the 230 family members and friends stretching from the whole way back to his high school days at St. Joe’s Prep and hers at Cheltenham High, and none of the other eight weddings they were attending in summer and fall 2020 were happening there.
Everything was set until COVID-19 unsettled it.
One evening, they made a list of the bare essentials they would need to get married. Within days, they had it all:
The still-valid license was already in hand.
Their friend Danielle obtained online ordination, had written the ceremony, and had been isolating with them.
A small Washington Square park, called 18th Century Garden, would make a perfect venue, no decorations required.
Photographer Joel felt comfortable taking photos from six feet away and was happy to man the streaming video that any of their originally intended guests could watch. This included Adam’s parents, as his mom has a heart condition that made even careful attendance too risky.
Adam’s tailor managed to find someone to dry-clean his suit. And Jessica, who wanted to save her white dress for a future day when her parents-in-law could see her wear it in person, borrowed something fancy from a friend.
She had pulled some of the dried flowers she used to create centerpieces for their original reception into a bouquet, but the morning of the wedding, her mom’s friends sent her fresh roses.
As Jessica walked toward the park, she saw that their friends and family members had parked in a line across Walnut Street. Some waved homemade congratulations signs. One couple’s young daughter had gathered fallen cherry blossoms and tossed them into the air for Jessica.
As the ceremony started, her father walked with Jessica toward Adam — in his own, parallel aisle, 6 feet to her left.
Jessica’s parents and siblings, Adam’s brother and his fiance, a few musicians, the couple, and their officiant were the only people within the parks’ gates. Friends left their cars to watch — in appropriately spaced groups — through the fence. In addition to Adam’s parents, at least 60 people watched on Zoom and at least 198 on Instagram. Many wore their wedding best.
From windows above the park, strangers watched and cheered. Silent for the vows, they made joyous noise with pots and pans as the newlyweds left the park. Some people on the street had stopped to watch, too, including one man who captured the moment with his cellphone, and turned out to be the Visit Philadelphia CEO. Jeff Guaracino asked his staff to pull a video together for the couple.
“It was so different from what we had planned, but it turned out to be amazingly intimate,” Jessica said. “It would have been perfect if Adam’s parents and aunts and uncles from Florida could have been there, and if we could have hugged and kissed everyone afterward.”
“I think the takeaway is, you appreciate the people who have always been around you and who support you that much more after something like this,” said Adam.
Since the wedding, things have gone more this couple’s way.
The agent representing the seller of their house found a way to make the closing happen. They are now unpacking.
Adam found contracting work to supplement his regular gig but expects to return to Rothman full-time as non-emergency surgeries resume.
Tentatively, the couple will don tux and wedding dress, repeat their vows, and put their dance lessons to good use with family and friends in hugging distance at the Knowlton Mansion on Aug. 27.
“We still say ‘tentative’ because we are being very realistic about this pandemic,” Jessica said.