If you walked by the library the night of the wedding, you would have seen a woman in a bridesmaid outfit having a cigarette on the steps overlooking the bus stop.
It was her sister’s wedding, and she had stepped outside to smoke, a habit she’d promised to break heading into the new year. This was before weddings became controversial and 100 people inside without masks on became unthinkable to most reasonable people. A few years ago, she was standing outside the library, shivering as she broke her latest resolution.
There used to be something very metropolitan about walking by the Providence Public Library downtown whenever it was hosting a big event. Inevitably, there were always people spilling out onto the street, and at most of the events, you got the sense that you could wander right in and join the fun if you really wanted to.
I’d love to tell you I’m the kind of writer who carries a notepad on them at all times, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Instead, I have to make mental notes whenever I pass by a conversation on the street, and hope I still carry those soundbytes with me by the time I get home at the end of the night.
Looking back over things I’ve jotted down on a Friday or Saturday night in the city, it doesn’t appear that I was out and about the night she stood on those steps smoking and wondering whether she should do the drive back to New York the next day or throw herself a Providence vacation and spend a little too much money staying at the Dean and playing tourist in the town she grew up in.
While she was standing outside, another guest at the wedding approached her and struck up a conversation. She was a friend of the groom’s, and she also was experiencing that special kind of anxiety most of us haven’t felt in a while. The kind where you’re at an event, because you sort of know the person the event is for, but that flimsy acquaintanceship lands you among hundreds of strangers, seated at a table that ends up becoming something of a parlor game where everybody tries to get to know each other before giving up and focusing on picking apart their stuffed chicken.
She asked if she could have a cigarette, and after lighting her one, the two of them talked about the wedding, how stressful the whole thing was, what other weddings they’d been to recently (three and five in the previous year alone), and what would happen if they didn’t go back in. They weren’t the types to bail on anything, but something about their chemistry made them want to refine their focus in that moment to each other and only each other.
Upon consulting my notes, it appeared that night I went to my beloved Boombox and sang Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” and, knowing me and my extremely limited vocal range, I was probably very off-key and wildly enthusiastic nonetheless.
They opted to skip out on a reception that was already dwindling down to the last few drunk people of the night, but she did swoop in quickly to give her sister a kiss on the cheek and whisper in her ear, “I just met this girl, and I think I love her?”
They considered stopping by Boombox after seeing the microphone hanging down over the entrance, and if they had, it’s possible our paths would have crossed, but instead, they went one more stop down on Washington Street and wound up in Stable, where they shared a drink, and then another, and then another.
After closing the bar, they kept walking around downtown, buzzed on alcohol and spontaneity and kismet, because it was abundantly clear that they had wandered into that rom-com trope of a wedding meet-cute, and it was so adorable, they found themselves laughing out loud for absolutely no reason, but when it happened, both knew why.
I don’t know how late I stayed at Boombox that night, but I definitely didn’t close the place down. Apparently somebody decided to sing “Piano Man” in a clear violation of karaoke guidelines, and I ran up to Thayer Street to get Antonio’s Pizza before heading home.
They grabbed pizza as well, but neither one of them remembers from where. In fact, there isn’t a lot they remember about the night they met each other, which is unusual for people who consider themselves soulmates, but even romance can’t withstand post-wedding exhaustion and mixed drinks.
The next morning, she did not head back to New York, but instead, asked for late check-out at her hotel so she could spend a few extra hours in bed with this woman she just met. They spent the day together in Providence, which turned into several days. Four months later, she had moved back to Rhode Island, and moved in with her fellow wedding guest. A year after that, they had their own wedding, but this one was small and intimate and far outside the city at an outdoor venue in South County.
The day they got married, I was at a wedding myself, and I find that detail interesting. How one life can run alongside another life, especially in cities where you’re always walking by people falling in love or falling out of love or meeting for the first time or saying good-bye or eating pizza or deciding what song they’re going to butcher at karaoke.
I was at a wedding having the time of my life as they were seated in front of her sister, who was giving a toast, and relaying the story of how her sister came up to her at her own wedding reception and professed that she was in love.
“And I’m thinking she just had too much to drink,” her sister said, ready to raise a glass. “But it turns out she was right. Meanwhile, I met my husband at a hockey game.”
Even now, if you go for a walk downtown, there are still people you can pass on your way to wherever it is you’re going. There’s still the opportunity to bump into an old friend, or share a light with someone who could end up being the love of your life.
Serendipity isn’t what it used to be, but it’s not completely absent. For many of us, it’s just waiting patiently for the days of weddings at the library and chance encounters to make a comeback.
Once they do, maybe we’ll be more apt to start a conversation or go for a walk with someone who makes us want to act out of character.
A city like Providence can surround you with so many people you’d love to meet and risks you could take, provided that when it asks if you agree to check them out, you say–