"Hey, how are you doing?" she said. "My name is Jennifer."
"I was a little surprised," said Rudy, a U.S. Army sergeant then stationed with the Old Guard ceremonial unit, which attends burials in Arlington National Cemetery, among other duties. "There were not many occasions when a girl came up to me to start conversation, and I was a little intrigued." Rudy, now 26, said Jen's friendliness put him at ease. "I wasn't nervous or uncomfortable."
Jen, now 28, was soon intrigued herself. "He was really easy with conversation, and he was attentive," she said. "If I needed a drink, he went and got it."
At the end of the night, Jen and Rudy exchanged phone numbers. "I just wanted to see him again," Jen said. "I called him the next day, and we met up for brunch or lunch or something." For the rest of the weekend, Jen and her friends and Rudy and his did things together. Jen says she didn't stop smiling the whole time.
Rudy called the day after Jen returned to Philadelphia and said that he wanted to see her, but that his unit was traveling for the entire month of September.
This, Jen figured, was a brush-off. She was wrong.
That October, Rudy showed up on a Chinatown bus. Jen showed him her city. They began traveling to see each other as much as they could. He met her family, and she met his, in West New York, N.J.
How does forever sound
Rudy didn't want to spend his entire military career in a ceremonial unit, and in late 2009, he learned he was receiving the transfer he had asked for to Fort Drum in Upstate New York.
Rudy knew that meant he would deploy to Afghanistan in 2010. There was something he wanted to do first.
At the end of a long workday in January 2010, Jen opened the door to her West Philadelphia apartment and screamed. There was a man in her kitchen!
Half a second later, she realized who it was. Rudy — who had told her he was too busy to travel to Philadelphia that weekend — held a big bouquet of multicolored roses, and had spread petals around the room. He was down on one knee.
"I told her that I loved her," Rudy said, "that she'd make me the happiest man by marrying me — and she said yes."
Rudy wanted to pick out a ring together, and they did the next weekend.
On Valentine's Day weekend, Jen picked up Rudy at 30th Street Station. The ring had arrived, and as soon as he saw her, he put it on her finger.
About six months later, Rudy deployed. Jen downloaded Skype on her computer and mailed her man a headset with a microphone.
"She sent me snacks, body wash, and baby wipes," Rudy said. "We'd be out of base for weeks and not able to shower. Those baby wipes were a godsend."
Rudy called when he could. And Jen kept a daily journal for him. Rudy came home in April 2011, and Jen gave him the journal. He comes to Philadelphia roughly every other weekend, and plans to move here after his October discharge to pursue a law enforcement career.
It was so them
On one of Rudy's recent trips to the city, Jen's boss married the couple before 120 guests in the Mayor's Reception Room in City Hall.
Jen's bouquet was wrapped with her great-grandmother's gray-pearl-and-gold rosary. Jen's mom, Kathleen, and every woman in her family has worn or carried the rosary on her wedding day.
At the ceremony, Jen told Rudy that even though they have always dated long distance, it was never hard for her to stay together, and that's when she knew it was special. She vowed to redouble her efforts to learn Spanish, so she could better communicate with his mom, Damary, and stepdad, Miguel. Rudy and his family moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was 9. Jen also promised to frequently make pumpkin spice pancakes for breakfast.
Rudy told Jen he loves her because she stood by him and supported him, even when she knew he would be deployed for a year. He promised to support her both emotionally and professionally, since her happiness is his happiness. And he promised to cheer for the Eagles — so long as they weren't playing the New York Jets.
The couple's reception was held at Lloyd Hall, the city rec center at the top of Boathouse Row, overlooking the Schuylkill.
Instead of numbers, the tables bore pictures of Rudy and Jen's favorite Philadelphia landmarks, including Tony Luke's, the Reading Terminal Market, and LOVE Park. The candy bar included Tastykakes and Philly soft pretzels.
Guests got a taste of the Dominican Republic at dinner, with tostones, fish and chicken cooked Dominican-style, rice and beans, and a tres leches cake. The couple chose a DJ skilled in both American and Latin music.
This was unexpected
Jen figured she'd walk down the aisle herself. "I didn't like the idea of anybody giving me away." But the day of the wedding, Jen thought about how much that walk would mean to her dad, Steven, and decided she could be escorted without being given away. "I pulled him out into the hall and said, ‘All right, Dad, you're on!'?" Not only was it a special father-daughter moment, Jen said, but as emotions washed over her, she was glad to have her dad's support.
Jen and Rudy first saw each other before the ceremony for photos. Jen was nervous walking toward him, but when he turned around and looked at her, he gave her the smile she has loved from the start. "He just reached for me right away," she said, "to give me a really big hug."
Rudy says the couple's first dance, to Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love," was his "moment of realization" that he and Jen had pulled it all off and were now married.
A bargain: The photographer is a longtime friend of Rudy's, and the rate he gave his old pal saved the couple at least 50 percent. Jen found her ivory, raw-silk dress at a sample sale, for about 60 percent off. She had it cut to tea length, and the extra fabric became a vest, tie, and pocket square for Rudy.
The splurge: The candy buffet. Jen really wanted to offer people something a little fun and whimsical.
The day after their wedding, Rudy had to return to Fort Drum. The couple spent the following weekend in Ocean City, and plan to travel to Rudy's hometown in the Dominican Republic sometime after his discharge.
Behind the Scenes
Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia
Ceremony, Mayor's Reception Room, City Hall, Philadelphia;
Reception, Lloyd Hall, Boathouse Row, Philadelphia
Chef Peg Botto, Cosmic Catering, Philadelphia
Adrian "DJ Big-A" Cortes, Mobile Tunes Entertainment, Hammonton, N.J.
Jose N. Silva, J.N. Silva Photography, West New York, N.J.
Juan Torres, Mobile Tunes Entertainment, Hammonton, N.J.
Ann Catania, Ten Pennies Florist & Decorators, Philadelphia
Bridals By Danielle Private Label, Bridals By Danielle, Philadelphia
DIY design and printing by the bride, paper from www.LCIPaper.com