So here’s a story. And it’s a bit about grief. And it’s a bit about a show called Hamilton. And it’s a lot about how they’ve become intertwined in my life lately.
Last month, I had to say good-bye to one of my best friends—a tiny, almost ten-year-old rabbit named Spike. Spike and I have been together for most of his bunny life. I adopted him to save him from going to a shelter. I knew nothing about rabbits (I barely knew they were pets) when I went to meet him, but when I held him for the first time, I knew he was mine. I think he knew it, too.
Spike moved in before I got married. He lived with me before my husband. My apartment basically became a bunny obstacle course and Spike had free reign, but mostly he just followed me everywhere. I made plans based on being able to feed him at his regular times (he was a creature of habit), I shortened trips so he wouldn’t spend too much time alone, and when I got some devastating news earlier this year, he snuggled and kissed me as I cried. I’m not lying when I say he was my best friend. He was my everything.
Spike loved the musical Hamilton. I’m sure you’re wondering how I know this. You’re all, “Sam. Don’t be silly. He was a rabbit. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t rap along. He couldn’t shout ‘and Peggy’ at the appropriate moment.” But I knew. I knew without a doubt.
I learned this one night in January when a loud noise outside our building completely freaked him out. And for the life of me, I couldn’t get him to calm down. He thumped for an hour. Talking to him softly didn’t help, he wouldn’t sit still for pets. Even a snack only tore him from his terror for the seconds it took to eat it. I knew he liked music and singing, and as I’d been listening to the Hamilton cast album on repeat for months, I spontaneously sang “The Schuyler Sisters” and “Wait for It” to him—the first songs that came into my head. And he calmed RIGHT DOWN. He let me pet him and he was fine after that. It was as though nothing had happened and he hadn’t almost lost his mind only moments ago.
So Hamilton became the thing we played for him when we went out, or when he seemed antsy. And when he started having stomach troubles, it became what I played for him when he wasn’t feeling well. Then, the weekend I knew I was losing him, it was what I played for him to keep him calm as I said goodbye. On his last night, I sang it for him “One Last Time” with tears streaming down my face and my throat so choked it hurt to get the words out. I knew I was taking a risk. That I was tainting a show I loved with awful memories. That I might never be able to hear this incredible music again without breaking down. But all that mattered was Spike and keeping him happy and making sure he knew he was loved in whatever time he had left. I don’t regret this choice. I’ll never regret this choice.
I haven’t listened to that cast album since Spike left me. I took it off my iPod so I wouldn’t even accidentally put it on. I bit back tears when it showed up on all my social media feeds all the time. And I dreaded the fact that I have tickets to see it again in NYC in December.
It wasn’t just Hamilton that reminded me of Spike. It was everything. The lettuce section in the grocery store made me bawl like a baby. Every time I would find a piece of hay stuck to a piece of my clothing, it would feel like a stab in the heart. And the vastness of my apartment without the bunny obstacle course taking up residence wasn’t something I wanted to acknowledge. If I couldn’t deal with daily life, how could I ever play the music he loved so much again? How could I ever hear the songs that kept him company as he slowly faded away? Maybe it was time to consider selling those December tickets. Because grieving and listening to “It’s Quiet Uptown” live is just a recipe for disaster.
Then something happened on my way home tonight. I had a song stuck in my head. A really familiar song about guns and ships, with a rap I’ll never master no matter how hard I try. And I hummed along. And then I moved onto “The Battle of Yorktown.” And when I got home, I re-downloaded the Hamilton cast album and put it on my iPod. You know, just in case.
And then, as my hand hovered over the “play” button this morning, I realized something:
I think I’m ready to listen to Hamilton again.
Because, although it will be sad, there will be happy moments embedded in there. Like watching him flop during “Satisfied” or stretch out when “Burn” came on. Hamilton didn’t take my friend away from me. It gave him peace when he needed it most, and it will comfort me now, when I need it most.
So, thanks, Hamilton, for being there for Spike, and for being there for me. I look forward to getting reacquainted. As long as you’re okay with a few tears.