Heather had shared with me that she planned to see Les Mis twice, once on opening night, and a second time on what she thought was to be closing night, on the second Saturday.
"I'm bringing a special guest," she said. "Someone you haven't seen in a long time."
I didn't push it, but my brain was whirring a hundred miles an hour trying to figure out who it might be. As the weeks and performances flew by, I became somewhat convinced it was Mom who would be joining Heather for that Saturday night show, though I sometimes drifted toward Susan (Heather's Mom) and Katherine (sister-in-law). Then she threw a wrench in the works.
"I didn't say the special guest was necessarily coming from out of town."
She fed that clue to me the day before the guest was the arrive. That caused me to rethink everything, and I began to imagine someone closer to home either making the trip across town or up the highway from Edmonton. In the end, I was convinced that it was Graham who was going to show up unannounced wanting to see the boys in their first production.
We got home from the show that Friday night, shortly after 11 pm, and Heather was still awake - no surprise, as it was a weekend. What I didn't realize is that she had had quite a busy evening, and had planted a surprise for me of which I was completely unaware.
I got up the following morning, one week ago today, a little later than normal as my body and mind were exhausted from many 18-hour days in a row, running from work to the theatre. I heard a noise when I was in the washroom, an unfamiliar clunking, which caused me to think that Ben must have gotten up already. I came out, wandered into the kitchen and saw Mom sitting at the dining room table.
It was such a powerful moment: my brain frantically trying to process what I was seeing, my heart bursting with surprise, delight and love. I had been completely bamboozled and I was so grateful.
I checked in on a Dylan several hours later, letting him know that "our special guest had arrived." His eyes lit up, and he ambled up the stairs almost immediately. His reaction was beautiful. He let out this epic sigh of satisfaction and embraced his mémère.
Ben was less demonstrative, but enjoyed the visit and was proud to give mémère the grand tour of the stage and set after the performance that night.
Our time together was short but rich, and Mom was able to see the show twice. She was there when the curtain dropped for the final time, after the encore on closing night. It had been quite a journey from the auditions back in September to singing rehearsals in December to the six weeks of putting it all together in the New Year. The emotions were free flowing, with many people, including myself, weeping openly.
That final performance was special; no one could deny it. There was an energy, a heightened awareness that this was our last hurrah, the final time we would sing those amazing songs and play with that extraordinary group of people.
Dylan and I were in a number of scenes together. In every other performance, we quietly stood on stage left waiting for our entrance for the "Attack on Rue Plumet", both facing the stage, lined up behind Norm Sutton, our neighbour, just out of the view of the audience. On this last night, I turned around and gave Dylan a big hug. In many ways, that was our special moment, a private acknowledgement of the gift we had been given in being able to be a part of this production, together.
It was a whirlwind of activity when everything was done: actors getting out of costume, taking off make-up, handing in their body microphones, cleaning up their dressing rooms. Mom sat with Ben out in the back waiting area as Dylan and I finished up. I passed several young members of the cast as we made our way out, crying openly, despondent that the journey had come to an end.
Ben was sitting silent, next to Mom, looking as sad as I have ever seen him - two big tears coursing down his face, one on each cheek. That image will be cemented in my memory forever as a reminder of what Les Mis meant to all of us.
And while Heather wasn't part of the show, she spent an afternoon helping out with some costumes, including doing some work on my character's apron, which made it feel to me like she was there in spirit, every time I crossed from the wings into the playing area, becoming Monsieur Thendardier, the "Master of the House".
I've been involved with many productions over the years, many groups of disparate individuals who coalesced into cohesive ensembles and put on great shows. But there was something special and unique about this particular experience. Perhaps it was the story, imbued with themes of forgiveness, second chances and infinite grace? Perhaps it was the family factor that enhanced the emotional arc of the journey? There were lots of connections: father/son(s) - 2, mother/daughter - 1, husband/wife - 2, and a set of brothers.
Jonathan Bowers, a member of the acting ensemble and one of the brothers, wrapped things up beautifully in his submission to the Epilogue, a collection of personal reflections from over half the participants who chose to share their thought on my blog.
It would be truly impossible to describe or to put into words the bond we've all shared through an experience like this. The only way to truly understand would be to experience it for yourself. That final moment before we went our separate ways to prepare for the final show is one I will never forget.
For my part, I'll take away fond memories, unforgettable acquaintances and new friendships. Sharing in all of your struggles, challenges, triumphs and failures, has been one of the greatest pleasures and honors I could ever ask for. There are so many tales to tell from this journey that I wouldn't even know where to begin telling them all.
But every beginning has an end.
The inn won't open today.
The barricades will no longer be built.
The guns have fallen silent for the last time.
My friends, my friends, don't ask me what it all was for.
We already know.