Illustration by Stephanie K. Birdsong
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Here and Vow: Flight Interrupted

A seeming long-distance separation becomes a magical trip down the aisle.

The time it took for Patrick Bei to learn whether Renato Elui had accepted his marriage proposal was roughly equal to the time it took to board an international flight, take off, and reach cruising altitude.  It was September 10, 2015, and Renato was gazing wistfully out the cabin window, having just taken his seat for a flight from San Francisco to São Paulo. He’d completed his master’s degree in international business at the San Francisco campus of Hult International Business School, his student visa had expired, and he’d had no choice but to purchase a one-way ticket home. He didn’t know when he’d next return to the States, and he’d just survived a tearful airport good-bye with his boyfriend Patrick.

The two first laid eyes on each other the previous year when Patrick, then 33, walked into an Equinox locker room to prep for his workout. “I saw Renato, and you know how, in cartoons, a character sees something they love and their eyes turn to hearts and their tongues roll to the ground? Honestly, that was me,” Patrick recalls. “I stood there and looked at him for what was probably an awkward amount of time. And he didn’t give me the time of day—he didn’t even notice me.”

“I did notice that he stared,” laughs Renato, who was then 24. “It was awkward. And I pretended not to give him two seconds that day. But when I saw him again a few days later, I thought, OK, I have to give him some attention.” They started talking, and the relationship quickly flourished.

Several months into it, however, the couple was forced to face the uneasy fact that Renato’s student visa would soon expire. Just before it did, they went to Las Vegas for a few days, and “toward the end of the trip, we got really emotional,” says Patrick. “We didn’t want this to end. And I realized I absolutely cannot live without this individual next to me for the rest of my life.”

Back in San Francisco, as Renato packed for his trip back to Brazil, Patrick bought a Someone in San Francisco Misses You greeting card and slipped it secretly into his boyfriend’s backpack.

While inside the plane awaiting his departure, Renato received an urgent text in which Patrick fibbed that he had left his passport in Renato’s backpack (this seemed plausible because they’d had their passports with them on their recent Vegas trip). “I told him I’d already stored my bag, but would check as soon as I could.” Patrick urged him to get Wi-Fi on the plane and message him as soon as he’d looked for it.

People who are coming know us really well, and they know we’re very picky—so they have really high expectations.

Once in flight, Renato retrieved his backpack from the overhead bin, discovering Patrick’s card. “It said that this time apart would be hard, but he could not live without me, and he wanted me to be his best friend, his partner, and his other half—and then he asked if I would be his husband. I had already been crying, because I was leaving, but then I started to cry even more. I was like, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I messaged him, yes of course, and the people next to me were like, ‘What is wrong with this kid? He won’t stop crying.’”   

Renato returned to San Francisco a few weeks later, learning from a lawyer that it could be a year before he got a green card, during which time he couldn’t work legally. The couple agreed that the easiest route would be to marry immediately, after which Renato would return to Brazil and apply for a green card through the US Consulate. “We decided to get married legally, and then plan a big [wedding] day calmly,” says Renato, “knowing that by then I’d get the green card,” says Renato.

The following Friday, October 23, 2015, they tied the knot at City Hall in Patrick’s hometown of Sonoma. A small group of friends and Patrick’s family attended, with Renato’s mother participating via FaceTime from Brazil. The pair spent their wedding night at the Fairmont San Francisco, where Patrick’s parents had gotten married. “We were very rational about it,” says Renato. “We think of that as our legal marriage, which it was for us, and the wedding we started planning after is for our friends and our family.”

As for that big wedding, Renato had some very specific ideas. (“He’s definitely the groomzilla,” laughs Patrick.) “I always pictured an outdoor wedding,” says Renato, who decided they should marry at a California winery. He scouted locations online, and one winery especially caught his eye. “He emailed me a link to Chateau St. Jean and I said, ‘I know that place—I’ve driven by it a million times,’” recalls Patrick, who soon visited for a tour and completely fell in love with the property. “Chateau St. Jean was everything I always dreamed of,” says Renato. “It was the one. It was the first thing we decided on, the first contract we signed.”

With Renato based in Brazil and only able to visit California occasionally, the couple found the planning process a little bit stressful. But the plans soon began to come together. The couple set the guest list at 160 and planned a 4:30 p.m. ceremony in the vineyard, with the reception to follow. Four months before the wedding, Renato received his green card and relocated permanently to San Francisco, which made for a much smoother lead-up to the wedding.

When last we interviewed the couple, just a week before the big day, they sounded mostly calm. Patrick still had to write his vows. (“It’s fine, I have it all in my head—I just need to get it on paper.”) And Renato’s anxiety was of a nonspecific variety: “People who are coming know us really well, and they know we’re very picky—so they have really high expectations for the wedding. They’re expecting something fabulous, chic, top-notch.”

He took a deep breath and added: “Which it will be.”

(Read about Patrick and Renato’s wedding here.)