Triggers are a funny thing.
They can affect you in a good way that leads to growth. And they can also affect you in a way that rips your heart out. And hopefully also leads to growth.
Tonight, my trigger was a musical.
I have always loved music and musical theater. My family didn’t have money when I was growing up, but I remember my friend, Betsy Curtain, taking me to the closest thing resembling musical theater to me at a young age…a live performance called Ice Capades. It doesn’t even come close to the Broadway shows I’ve been privileged enough to see throughout my life, but when I was a tween…that was magic on a stage to me.
I don’t even remember what the show was, but good lord how it made an impression on me. The dazzling display of artistic performances set to beautiful music. I was sold. And I’ve had a love for live performance art ever since.
When I was in college, my boyfriend lived outside of New York City in a small Connecticut town and we went to see The Phantom of the Opera. On Broadway. With Michael Crawford. There is no more breathtaking performance, I’m sure. I know I saw Starlight Express at some point before that…I think with that same boyfriend, but I’m not 100% sure. And you know what? It was not the most critically-acclaimed show, but I didn’t care at the time. Because it was Broadway and I was entranced.
When my ex-husband and I were newly married, we spent a lot of time going to sporting events. At some point, I convinced him to also come to some events that I loved as much as he loved sports, and we bought season tickets to the Denver Center for Performing Arts. We saw Phantom, Beauty & the Beast, Miss Saigon, A Chorus Line, The Lion King, Rent, and Cabaret, among many others.
He fell asleep in Miss Saigon. He really disliked Phantom. But the one that hurt the most was Cabaret.
There is a song in Cabaret called “It Couldn’t Please Me More (The Pineapple Song)” and it made such an impact on me. It was a beautiful song between two people in love and the love they demonstrated when one gives the other the simple gift of a pineapple.
Not long after we went to see Cabaret together, my ex-husband had a business trip and I called the concierge of the hotel he was staying in to arrange to have a pineapple waiting for him in his hotel room when he arrived. It sounds sweet, but it was actually a huge pain in the ass. Try explaining to a concierge that you want to pay them to go to the local grocery store and purchase a whole pineapple as a welcome gift. It was an ordeal, to say the least. But the concierge came through in time and it was waiting for my then-husband, along with a loving note.
When he called me later that night, he said, “Thank you…for the fruit…???” Clearly not remembering the song from Cabaret or the effect it had on me during the show. Not to even mention the underlying, deeper meaning.
It’s okay…I thought at the time. I feel things deeper than most people and maybe he just doesn’t understand what it all meant to me. But it stuck with me.
He was still bewildered several years later when I burst into the ugly cry as the animals marched down the aisles of the Broadway theater where we watched The Lion King again…this time when I was four months pregnant with our first-born child. He assumed it was because I was pregnant and the hormones were raging. Maybe. But to me, it was more about the moving experience that musical theater has always been for me.
My ex hated Rent — I honestly don’t think that’s too strong of word, even though I still hesitate to use it. But I have since seen it with a few of my favorite humans. One right before the pandemic locked us down and twice since then streaming it as the tears coursed down my cheeks and the actors sang about “no day but today.”
Last summer, when we were all feeling confined to our homes, I eagerly anticipated the release of the movie version of Hamilton. I was familiar with all the music since my teenage daughter had listened to it for years, and I couldn’t wait to watch it online with the guy I was seeing at the time. But before we had the chance to, he broke my heart.
I was so sad that I wouldn’t get to experience it with this man who shared similar tastes and passion for music. He had seen it live already, and I looked forward to enjoying it with someone who knew how passionate and excited I was about it. I was so disappointed that it wasn’t going to be the big event I wanted it to be. It felt like something special and momentous that should shared…
But when the time came, I had to let go of creating an Event (with a capital E) out of it and accept that it could be just as special when I watched it by myself. Just like I have for the 777 more times I have watched it since last summer. (Okay, I don’t really know the exact number of times, but my son would probably say it’s more than that.)
Fast forward a year, and tonight, I found myself watching In the Heights alone. Something I had anticipated for several months after a friend of mine insisted it was an even better Lin-Manuel Miranda production than Hamilton. I had so hoped to be sharing that experience with someone I cared about. Someone who loved musical theater liked I did and who perhaps might enjoy the love I felt for the story and the songs just as they did.
And when I realized I would be watching it alone, I tried not to feel triggered. I tried to embrace it as something special I could do for myself, with myself, and not discount the passion I was feeling for the beautiful storyline about the people of Washington Heights, love, chasing your dreams, and…of yeah…the unbelievable music that was the soundtrack.
But I did get triggered.
I wanted to enjoy it for myself, by myself…but I wished that I was sharing it with someone who meant a lot to me. A best friend or a guy I was crushing on or even just someone who loves musicals as much as I do. (And I just chuckled to myself when I realized that if I had David Rose from Schitt’s Creek as a best friend, NONE of this would be an issue, dammit!)
But here’s the thing…
When it ended, I still loved it.
And I might have even agreed with the friend who said it was even better than Hamilton. Even though I would have bet good money before watching it that I would never believe that in a million years.
I still cried the river of tears I would have cried if I had watched it with someone…but BONUS — no one was laughing at me or making fun of me for crying as much as I did.
And it occurred to me that when my ex-husband was falling asleep during shows and I thought I would have enjoyed it more if I watched alone…now I had that chance.
Do I wish I had watched it with someone I cared about? Absolutely.
But I didn’t want to wait to watch it, like I did last summer with Hamilton. Or wait on someone else to tell me when they were ready or that they chose me to watch it with.
I chose myself and I watched it when I wanted to.
I’m pretty sure that’s a healthy baby step toward making my own dreams come true.
Even if that dream didn’t look like I thought it would.
And I love that In the Heights was the show I watched tonight for that very reason…sometimes our dreams look different than we imagine they will.
But they can still be damn good dreams.
Now someone please warn my son that the soundtrack he’ll be hearing on repeat during our vacation next week won’t be Hamilton…there’s a new musical obsession in town and he better start working out those eyes he’s gonna roll.
Previously Published on medium
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