Taking Back The Date
Wednesday, April 26 2017
Dates are important.
And while this isn’t a knock on mutually agreed upon dinners out together or largely unappetizing wrinkled brown fruit, these are not among the dates in question. Consider instead the intimate pairing of the name of a month with a number less than or equal to thirty-one.
A Date is a marker in time, the indexing of important memories and events, a framing of both the linear context of our lives and cyclical natures of our years. Dates are persistent, arriving once every year to remind us what we should be thinking about or remembering. With the exception of leap-year-rebel February 29th, Dates, and their associated meaning, will confront us annually, without fail.
There are wonderful dates. On October 25th, my son celebrates a birthday. On December 24th, we keep an eye out for Santa Claus.
There are less than wonderful dates. On January 20th, I am reminded of the passing of our family collie, Chester. On September 11th, our nation mourns a tragedy.
Sometimes dates can feel like an unwanted guest, moments in time that you wish you didn’t have to revisit. So often you may be having a great day until a persistent rapping upon your front door calls out and when you answer it, there’s that Date again, back and looking to reminisce.
And so, for better or worse, we ascribe to Dates a great deal of power in our lives. And yet, we are not powerless against the relentless confrontation of meaning that such powerful Dates carry with them.
Though the month and number will remain, it is not impossible to change the Date.
Jeff Scola met Katie Marvinney at work seven years ago.
She was from Cleveland, he grew up outside of Worcester, and they both landed positions at EMC in Boston, starting the same summer.
“I was definitely interested first,” Jeff remembers. “But we would always hang out in groups. So I kept trying to whittle it down. If we went out with a group of ten people, next time maybe I’d shoot for just five people. Then four, and then three, and then all of a sudden, boom, she was on a date with me and she didn’t even know it!”
“Yeah,” Katie laughs, “I eventually said, ‘Okay I’ve got to give this a try’.”
Today she’s glad she did.
In September of 2015, after five years of knowing each other and having dated for three, the two decided to take things to the next step and move in together. Things were great. They worked, laughed, ate pad thai and watched everything that HBO had to offer.
Jeff and Katie lived happily together in that apartment for six months.
And then came February Fifth.
February Fifth was destined to be an unwanted guest, the kind that wouldn’t be leaving them alone any time soon. An awful Date. Just terrible. One to be forgotten if possible.
At work, Jeff had just gotten his new goals for the year, and he was stressing out. The goals were directly correlated with what his earnings for the year would be and, at the time, it felt overwhelming. When he arrived home later that day, there was February Fifth waiting for him.
“It was such a shock. Katie had a healthy lifestyle. She ate well and exercised,” Jeff remembers. “You don’t expect breast cancer at twenty-seven.”
“Starting that day, the whole year was tied up in chemo and radiation,” Katie adds. “It felt like all of 2016 was hijacked.”
February Fifth was a Friday that year. Katie spent nearly every day after that in the hospital. Jeff did as well. He didn’t miss a single treatment. It was exhausting for both of them and one day the two decided to get away, even if just for a few days. They left town, wanting to get far outside of the city, to clear their heads and try not to think about how hard things were.
They drove to Stowe, Vermont to stay at the Edson Hill, a gorgeous historic inn. It was perfect, simultaneously rustic and modern. Up on a hill overlooking the mountains and the town below. It was just what they needed.
It was also overbooked.
They were more than happy with their alternate accommodations, but Edson Hill stuck in their minds, even as they drove back to Boston. Katie had fallen in love with the inn and, even once back in the city, insisted throughout the following year that they had to go back.
While the year to follow was difficult, interspersed among the endless rounds of chemotherapy, the surgery, and the shaving of Katie’s head were a few beams of sunlight shining through some of the gloomier vistas.
She and her coworkers successfully raised thousands of dollars for local charities, one of which Katie ran a 5K for while in the the midst of chemotherapy. As a result of this, Katie got the attention of some Boston-based corporations, even leading to her being featured during a Red Sox game. Although begrudgingly at first, Katie also agreed to participate in a philanthropic fashion show, in which she brought down the house when she dropped her hood and proudy revealed her shiny bald head. The crowd went wild.
And yet Jeff looked at the calendar and knew who would be soon be coming for dinner. February Fifth. But, instead of being confronted by the difficult memory that marked the first anniversary of Katie’s diagnosis, Jeff took matters into his own hands.
“A few weeks before, Jeff had said that he wanted to start a new tradition on February Fifth, aside from just remembering how hard that day and the following year had been,” Katie says. Jeff, remembering how much Katie had loved it, decided to book them a night at Edson Hill. The inn was full for Friday and Saturday, but they could take them on February Fifth, which was a Sunday.
Super Bowl Sunday.
(Historical Note: For fans of the Atlanta Falcons, February Fifth would remain a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.)
“I was like, it’s the Super Bowl! We can’t be away for the Super Bowl! The Patriots are in it. We can come back!” Katie says. They were alone, seated outside by a the warmth of a crackling fire. “But he said, no, it’s a special weekend, a special day. Let’s just stay.”
“So all weekend, we had been trying to figure out what we could do, some tradition to make this February Fifth special. I asked him if there was anything that he wanted to do between now and when we left Stowe. He said ‘I have a couple things in mind’, which was the first time he had indicated that there was anything that he wanted to do on this day. That’s when he took the cup of coffee out of my hand and said ‘I want to take the day back’.”
“Then he got down on one knee and said some, well, very nice things,” Katie says, downplaying the sincerity and honesty of this moment.
“I was nervous, trying not to give anything away,” Jeff remembers. “I was just terrified. But it was perfect. It couldn’t have worked out better.”
And just like that, February Fifth went from a day to be looked upon as tragic, to a day to be celebrated and looked forward to. The dedication, love, support, sacrifice, vulnerability, strength, and perseverance that these two individuals have shared form the backbone of a relationship destined for greatness.
I’d put money on this one, folks.
“When all of this happened, we weren’t engaged yet. He didn’t sign up for this just as much as I didn’t sign up for this, but he really didn’t sign up for this,” says Katie.
“You were stuck with me at that point,” Jeff says lovingly.
“No, you were stuck with me!” Katie kids him back.
“Well, we’ve definitely got the ‘in sickness’ part of our vows out of the way,” says Jeff. “Now we get to move forward with the ‘in health’ part.”
“If we can get through this, we can hopefully get through anything,” Katie adds.
So far, that’s looking to be true.
Katie, just a couple of months after finishing radiation, recently completed the Boston Marathon, all twenty-six miles of it. Jeff, meanwhile, is currently transforming himself into a boxer for Haymakers for Hope.
“She’s definitely my inspiration. I don’t know if I would have kept it up after the first couple of weeks if I hadn’t been thinking about what Katie went through.”
“For Jeff to be there every day...” Katie says, trailing off. “He didn’t miss a treatment. Jeff is very active and goes to the gym every day, so for him to put that on hold and focus on me meant a lot. I’m so happy that he’s able to focus on himself again and get back in shape---”
“Wait, how out of shape was I?!” Jeff says, feigning incredulity. “Seriously though, we feel lucky. When people look at what we went through last year, we might not seem lucky, but we are. It puts everything in perspective. We don’t sweat the small stuff as much. She has to go run 10 miles. I have to go get punched in the face for three rounds. But you know what? We can. We just feel lucky to be in a position where we are able to be doing this.”
And while Katie is cancer free, Jeff remains concerned.
“My biggest fear right now,” Jeff says, “is that on fight night, she is going to hop in the ring and throw haymakers of her own like DON’T TOUCH HIM!!!!”
“I might!” Katie laughs. “He’s been such a rock for me. He’s stayed so strong through all of it. And I know he will be during the fight on May 18th.”
Just another Date for Jeff and Katie to smile about when it comes calling each and every year.