Circling Back to ‘Les Mis’

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In 1991, while my husband Matt and I were college students and still just friends (who had grown inseparable), he had an idea for a fun thing to do on a Friday night.

The idea was inspired by his love of the musical and book “Les Miserables.” Matt excitedly told me on the phone that his plan involving listening to the “Les Mis” soundtrack at Putah Creek.  A small creek winding its way through the edge of the UC Davis campus, lined by sloping grassy banks.

After a stop at the market, we ended up on a grassy bank with a boom box, a couple cassette tapes, a liter of root beer, a carton of vanilla ice cream, a spoon and two plastic cups.  We agreed that this was the perfect way to spend a Friday evening.

We were in complete denial of the romantic tilt our evening held.

After finishing our root beer floats, we lay on our backs on the grass, looking up at the sky listening to the music and talking about everything and nothing.  He suddenly asked if it would be OK to hold hands.  Each of us stretched an arm, our hands clasped. The conversation continued to flow.

A little over a year later, while eating breakfast with Matt and my parents, the waiter brought over a dish upon which sat a scroll with a gold ribbon.  I opened the scroll to see the poem Matt had typed. He had taken the song, “A Heart Full of Love” from Les Mis, and rewritten it, inserting our names and changing phrases and words that were relevant to us.

At the bottom: “Will You Marry Me?”

I was 21.

Of course I had a lot to learn. Life isn’t all root beer floats and roses.

In June, when we heard “Les Miserables’” 25th anniversary tour was making a stop in LA, my mom invited us to go.  This time we would also take our 13-year-old son. We had been listening to the music all month leading up to the show.  Payton knew the story and all the music.  His facebook posts reflected his excitement.

As much as adults take pleasure in whatever it is they are doing, there is even more pleasure in watching your child enjoy it.  I turned my head away from the stage during some of the best scenes, just to steal a glimpse of Payton’s face.  I thought of the intensity and awe upon his face several times in my mind’s eye just so the neuron paths would become well paved and easy for my memory to access in the future.

During “Heart Full of Love,” I elbowed my husband and we looked at each other, smiled and nodded.

It was one of those times in life where you feel old in a good way.

“Les Miserables,” is a dark story.  Human suffering, physical and emotional pain, death. But it is also a love story.  It encompasses humanity.  Moral dilemmas. The need for freedom.  A revolution.  Innocence lost.  The will to survive.  Falling in love.

A couple of times throughout the show the audience melted away and I could for just a second imagine being at Putah Creek.

Tonight, we will have root beer floats with dinner.

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  1. Jill!!! I never knew that last piece of the story! We were listening to Les Mis in the car today, and it is a complete Pavlovian response thing for me…The first two seconds in and I was crying…on the freeway! I love the sweet story of your love story, and while it is a dark tale, it IS about love, romantic love, mother’s love, sacrifice, and above of, the power to overcome. Thanks for sharing a great family story!