Katie's version

The backstory here is that in the summer of 1997, after finishing my freshman year at McKean High School, I was feeling the lack of creative outlets available at my new school- after all, I had just graduated 8th grade from Cab Calloway School of the Arts, where we not only had a couple of different chorus options, vocal and drama classes during the school day, but also two musicals a year. Public high school was decidedly... well, different.

So, at the end of the summer, I auditioned for two different musicals at local community theatres. Both were going to run around the same time, so I'd only be able to do one. I was hoping it would be The Wizard of Oz at Delaware Children's Theatre. If you know me very well, this makes perfect sense : ) The other I'd never heard of, but was told was a stage musical version of Miracle on 34th Street and it was being directed by a kid who graduated Cab Calloway 2 years ahead of me. Also, our formal vocal teacher from Cab was accompanying the auditions, and my McKean High School guidance counselor was choreographer for the show.

As it turned out, I did not make The Wizard of Oz but instead was offered a chorus/ensemble role in Here's Love - sounds a little too cheesy to be true, huh? Well, believe it or not, that's what the show was called. I attended the first read-through in late September, but it wasn't until a Saturday afternoon rehearsal on October 11th that the director asked the cast (at least all those in attendance) to sit in a circle and say a few things to get to know each other. Incidentally, this is usually one of my least favorite activities, but I don't specifically remember dreading it this particular time. 

Out of all of the introductions, I mostly remember a skinny guy wearing a t-shirt for the then-popular movie Twister (ha!) Someone, I think, asked him if he was in the movie- he said he was- for some reason a bunch of the kids in the group believed him, and at least to my recollection this must be why they all gravitated toward him from that point on for entertainment when we weren't rehearsing. Later that afternoon we took a break, and apparently tradition at the Wilmington Drama League during breaks was to run directly next door to the McDonald's. The director, only 17 himself, was quite concerned with looking out for the younger kids wanting to go, so he enlisted a responsible adult to accompany them. It was evident that the few girls my age were considered old enough to chaperone ourselves, but not necessarily a handful of 9-12 year olds. So, as is his selfless, easy-going nature, Jeff volunteered. I'm not even sure he was getting any food.

While waiting in line at the slowest McDonalds on the planet (yes, it's been documented over many years and countless Drama League volunteers!) Jeff began some small talk with a quiet, red-headed girl. He asked me where I went to school and discovered that just recently he'd attended a football game at McKean. He said he was just there to watch a friend play in the visiting Dickinson High marching band and I told him I wouldn't have been there because I never went to any of our football games. Way to kill the conversation! I don't honestly recall what else we may have talked about, but I don't think it was much. 

And, I guess it's a pretty lame end to the story, but I also don't really remember what happened subsequently to this conversation to make me feel that I just had to be around this guy as much as possible. But, so it was. Perhaps it was his outwardly friendly nature, and the quite genuine interest in what I had to say. Whatever the case, I was quickly finding reasons to chat online, get rides to rehearsal, and hang out together with other cast-mates afterwards.

That twist of fate marked the beginning of a very long run of involvement at the Drama League for me, and obviously a much, much longer run of chats, meals, rides, hanging out and general getting to know a guy in a silly t-shirt.

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Jeff's version

Katie and I met on October 11, 1997. It was the end of an already-significant week. On Sunday night, I purchased my first new car. On Monday, I finished a week of running the local movie theater, where I had been working part-time, while the general manager was away. On Tuesday, I started training at my first full-time job. The rest of the week was uneventful by comparison until I attended my first rehearsal for "Here's Love", the Christmas musical at the Wilmington Drama League. A 17-year-old friend of mine named Jeremy was directing, which was a big deal because the organization had never handed over the reigns of a full-length musical to a director that was so young. Jeremy was incredibly excited and talked about it for months ahead of time. I told him early on that if he needed any help with anything, I would be there. Shortly after the read-through, he took me up on my offer. He needed some extra guys who could sing and dance to fill out the ensemble. So on the morning of Saturday the 11th, I arrived at the Drama League as the newest member of the cast.

The cast was filled with people of all ages, including a number of children. On a break, some of those kids wanted to run over to the nearby McDonald's for some food. Unfortunately, the theatre is not in the nicest part of town, so it was a well-established rule that younger members of the cast were not allowed to leave the building without a chaperone. In my continued effort to do whatever was needed, I volunteered and announced to everyone... young and old alike... that anyone who wanted to go to McDonald's could come with me. Probably about seven or eight people followed. I wasn't even getting food, so I waited back by the little stand with the straws and napkins and such for everyone else to finish. As it happened, the first person through the line was a cute redheaded girl named Katie who came back and joined me after getting her food. She seemed a little shy, so I struck up a conversation by asking her where she went to school. It just so happened that even though I was fresh out of college, I had just been to her high school two weeks before to see an old friend who was playing in the opposing team's marching band. It was a loose connection to be sure, but it gave us a starting point and we ended up chatting casually about her school and other subjects until the rest of the crowd all had their food and we returned to rehearsal.

Nothing happened immediately after that. To be honest, I wasn't even thinking about dating Katie. She was several years younger than me and it made a much bigger difference at that age. But at some point she gave me her AOL screen name, which led to chatting outside of rehearsal on occasion. The situation started to change on Friday, November 7th. My friend Jim, who was also in the show, had volunteered to work in the cloak room with me for a performance of "Death Trap", another production at the Drama League that immediately preceded ours.  But he changed his mind at the last minute and accepted an invitation to an opening night showing of Starship Troopers instead. I gave him a hard time all day about abandoning me, but I couldn't change his mind. So after work, I headed home to get changed and then drive over to the Drama League alone. Even though I didn't have a lot of time, I did take a minute to check E-mail. Katie saw me on-line and decided to say hello. I told her the quick version of what was happening mostly as a means of explaining why I couldn't chat, but instead of letting me go she volunteered to take Jim's place. Surprised and grateful, I drove over to to her house and briefly met her family before we headed to the Drama League together. Part of the deal involved in volunteering is that you get to watch the show for free, so in a sense that turned out to be our first date. I think Katie might have seen it that way, but I honestly didn't. The idea of any kind of relationship still hadn't crossed my mind. 

We ended up seeing a second show together the following weekend. I honestly don't remember exactly how that happened. It may have been another case of Katie being free that evening and me having nobody else to go with. The weekend after that, we attended yet another. It was a production of "Grease" that included my brother in the cast and we were sitting with my mom and my sister. That one felt a lot more like a date to me. I still made no attempt to define our relationship and neither did she, but things were clearly starting to move in that direction. We ended up getting together the following evening, an outing that included a visit to the radio station where Jim worked at the time. Our friend Francesca, who was also in the show, was keeping him company while he programmed the overnight. At one point, the girls went into another room to talk about something private. It was clearly about me. Meanwhile, I expressed my mixed feelings to Jim. I had some initial misgivings, particularly a nagging concern that our age difference would be met with widespread disapproval.  But at the same time I couldn't help but feel attracted to Katie. She was then and still is the most beautiful person I know. With everything up in the air and undefined, that night was really awkward and I knew I wanted to do something about it right away. The next day was November 23, 1997, and I was supposed to drive Katie home from rehearsal. However, I insisted that we deal with the ever-increasing awkwardness of the situation first. I was incredibly nervous to the point where I was almost afraid to speak, but somehow Katie saw past that and was willing to take a chance. So was I. And with that we took the first small step on a long and wonderful journey together.