I love live theater. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My sisters were active in high school productions, and I went to every performance of every show. Even as a child, I realized that theater can move me. It can make me feel more alive. It can teach and entertain me.
Eventually, it was my turn to perform, which really just enhanced my appreciation as an audience member. I love seeing great productions, whether dramatic plays or frivolous musicals or something in between. I love when someone catches my eye from the back of the chorus, keeping me riveted throughout a show. I simply love everything about the theatrical experience. Even though my days as a performer are mostly behind me (unless someone wants to direct "Into the Woods" and cast me as the witch; do you hear me, Universe?) I still love it. And on rare occasions, it is my privilege to see a production that leaves me changed in some way, long after the final curtain.
The most significant show of my life is Rent. But then, you probably already know this. I saved my money when I was in college so I could afford the two-CD original Broadway soundtrack. I wore out my first set of CDs; I kept returning to the music time and time again. It never failed to bring something out of me ... hope, sorrow, belief ... every time, I found a new layer. It spoke to me.
That was 1997, the year I graduated college, started my first "real" job and moved away from my parents' home for good. And during all that transition, Rent followed me. So it's no surprise that when I vacationed with all my old theater pals in July of 1998, we listened to the soundtrack time and time again. That's where my story and Christopher's intersected, and we adopted Rent as the soundtrack of us. We were both "looking for baggage that goes with mine."
We saw the show together three times. A signed poster of the Broadway cast hung on our wall (side note: it still hangs on mine.) We walked down the aisle hand in hand to a single guitar playing "Seasons of Love." It bound us together, in a way. A film version of the show was released in November 20005; it was the last movie we saw together. (How's that for poetic?)
So when my marriage was crumbling down around me, I would listen. "The earth turns, the sun burns, but I die, without you." I know it seems dramatic, but that's how it felt. Everything I believed in was fading. Nothing anyone said could diminish that. It was pain I wasn't sure I could endure, but somehow, I did. I came out the other side and found the light again. I didn't lose my dignity. Many "someones" cared, and covered me with love like a blanket. And eventually, I woke from the nightmare.
And still, I'd listen. Sometimes it bolstered my mood. Sometimes it helped me sink into sadness. But it always spoke to me. So in December of last year, when I learned it was coming back to Chicago, of course I wanted to go. I wanted to connect the show with something else; something lasting; something other than Christopher. So I called Patrick, and he and I got tickets for the two of us and Ed.
Last night, we hopped on the El and made our way to the Oriental Theater to experience Rent together. It was magical. Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, who originated the roles of Roger and Mark on Broadway, returned to their roles in this company. Rapp has only gotten better with age, and his performance last night was shockingly beautiful. Sitting in the theater - dead center, first balcony, great seats - with my boys, I couldn't have been happier. We laughed, we cried, we made new memories.
And in one particular scene, during Life Support, the participants share their thoughts about living with HIV and AIDS, and one character speaks of not feeling well, and being afraid. He sings:
"Look, I find some of what you teach suspect,
because I'm used to relying on intellect,
but I try to open up to what I don't know,
because reason says I should've died three years ago."
and the cast answers back:
"No other road. No other way. No day but today."
And it hit me. That's what I felt like, three years ago. No, I wasn't sick, there was no illness (except for the virus I like to call Love) but I did sorta feel zombie-like, wandering through life, praying for the pain to stop in any possible way. So I'm sitting in the theater next to my best friend, who has been at my side in one way or another for almost 30 years, and I hear those words - "reason says I should've died three years ago" - and the tears come.
And they don't stop.
Patrick takes my hand, lets me cry, and I'm transformed once again by this show. No day but today, indeed. No matter how much it hurts, no matter the loss, we've got now. And getting through now sometimes brings you to something awesome.
I wouldn't trade my now for anything. Yes, I'd live through the marriage and the divorce again if it meant I got to have today. It ain't perfect, not by a longshot, but it's perfectly mine.
If you're reading this, you have, in one way or another, been instrumental in my surviving the last three years. So I'll take this moment to say thanks ... for every time you've listened, all the love you've poured upon me, and everything we'll experience together in the future.
There's only us
there's only this
forget regret, or life is yours to miss
No other road
no other way
no day but today.