I’d been to Montreal before. A few times actually. The time I remember best was in 2003. I’d just turned 11, and I spent a few weeks there with my mom while she did a production of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia with Opéra de Montréal at the Place des Arts.
I remember there was a kind of yogurt I really liked at the grocery store that we didn’t have in the States. I remember that it was March and that it was so cold we didn’t go outside often. I remember that I got days of the week underwear, all in French.
I watched rehearsals. Watched the show. I sat in my mom’s dressing room and drew each of the characters in their costume in a ruled notebook. There was a guy in the cast named Aaron. He got hooked on my Nancy Drew CD-Rom computer game after he played it with me a few times. He helped me learn my lines for the school play back home in the living room of our corporate apartment hotel room.
The apartment was sparse. A basic kitchen just to the right as you opened the door connected to the living room with a window that overlooked a gray courtyard. There was a TV. An arm chair. Maybe a desk. A pull-out couch where I slept, probably with one of those terrible spare blankets hotels keep at the top of the closet. The stiff kind that are practically Styrofoam. To the left were my mom’s bedroom and the bathroom. I would sit and draw on the floor by the window that looked out at the courtyard. I kept my clothes in the drawers under the TV. I saved the fancy plastic cups my favorite yogurt came in and drank water out of them when I wanted to feel fancy.
A few weeks ago, The Phantom of the Opera North American tour traveled by bus from Boston to Montreal. I’d bragged to my new cast mates and my boyfriend who was coming to visit that I had found the cutest Airbnb of all time. It had a balcony and big, bright windows. “And it’s so close to the theater.”
The bus ride was about five hours plus a few breaks. One for lunch. One at the border. One in a McDonald’s parking lot. In those five hours en route to Quebec the apartment I’d been so proud of booking unraveled into a last minute cancellation due to what the host claimed was water damage but what was most probably a busted scam. He owed back rent and was renting the place illegally, one review I wish I’d seen sooner claimed. It was my first try at booking my own housing on tour and it had fallen to pieces. The bus stopped, the door cranked open, and I was in Montreal with two large suitcases and nowhere to stay.
As I stepped off of the bus, though, I noticed something unbelievable. We had pulled up and parked right in front of the hotel where I’d stayed with my mom nearly fifteen years earlier. I recognized it right away. I peered in through the lobby windows. It was the same. I knew this building and I knew this street the way you know things you haven’t seen in a long time, full of nostalgia and disbelief, wanting to tell everybody but knowing it won’t feel as big to them as it does to you.
I called the AirBnB host; he was a lying, scrambling asshole. I was about to park myself in a friend’s living room to buy time when our assistant company manager walked up to me with a hotel room key in his hand.
When we travel, we have the option of finding our own housing in each city or booking a room in a hotel arranged by company management. I had accidentally forgotten to cancel my company housing reservation when I’d booked the shitty AirBnb months ago. It was a mistake turned stroke of grace. I had somewhere to stay.
And it was in the building right in front of me. The same place I’d been a kid on a pull out couch drinking water out of recycled yogurt cups. The very same place.
When I got up to the room and opened the door, I burst into the weird tears you cry when you’ve been swept through a stressful situation by sheer serendipity. They were also the weird tears you cry when you see a place you haven’t seen in fifteen years, a place that you didn’t miss but that you were fond of. My apartment was absolutely identical to the one we’d stayed in when I was a kid. Everything around me seemed borrowed from my past. I’ll never remember what our room number had been back then, but this one was its match exactly.
The synchronicity of it.
And this hotel miracle was not the first synchronistic moment I’ve encountered since joining the tour in August.
Just before flying out to start rehearsals, I found out that at my parents’ wedding the organist had played a song from Phantom, a part of their wedding day story I had never in my life heard.
In Winnipeg, my second city, I discovered that one of my cast mates was the brother of someone I’d known as a kid. A little boy who’d done a show with my dad in Houston when I was ten. His name was Taylor; I was in love with him; we used to ride our Razor scooters around the hallways of the opera house, and I wore a brand new floral spaghetti strap dress from Limited Too and convinced my parents to let me shave my legs for the first time so that Taylor might think I was cute on opening night. We did not stay in touch. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Taylor in all those years. Sometimes I would remember him, hope he was doing well, and now I’m 25 and his LITERAL BROTHER and I are onstage together eight times a week.
In Boston, my third city, two elementary school friends I hadn’t laid eyes on since childhood reached out and came to see the show.
In Ottawa, where we are now, I ran into a cast mate by chance at a bookstore on our day off and while chatting by the check out we put together that we had attended the same suburban Pennsylvania public high school, missing each other by a few years.
We’ll be in Philly for Halloween, and I realized recently that the big Halloween party most of the cast is attending is being held at the place where I had my senior prom.
And very often I’m performing on stages on which my parents have also performed. Though that’s not so much synchronicity as it is kooky inevitability when going into the same field.
I don’t know if these synchronistic things will keep happening. If they do, I don’t know if I’ll get used to them, if they’ll start to feel less unbelievable. My life seems to be circling back on itself. Sweeping up memories and shaking them to life. Taking me to cities I knew as a kid. Putting me in hotel rooms I’ve stayed in before.
In Montreal, there was a man with red square-frame glasses. His name was Pierre. He was working with wigs backstage on our tour.
I was certain that he had also worked wig and makeup on The Rape of Lucretia in 2003. He did my mom’s makeup. He put on her wig. I remember sitting and watching her transform, listening to Pierre talk about dresses Renee Fleming had recently worn. I remember him taking us to an antique auction were my mom bid on and won a truly ridiculous brass lamp shaped like a little girl holding a cat.
One day backstage at Phantom, as Pierre was pinning in my wig, I got up the courage to ask him if he had in fact worked on The Rape of Lucretia in 2003. He took a step back, holding me by the shoulders at arm’s length. “Oh my god,” he said with a thick French Canadian accent. “Are you the little girl?”
I smiled and told him that I was.
He remembers me. He remembers me sitting under one of the production tables in rehearsal, lying on my stomach with my chin in my hands. He remembers worrying that the show’s subject matter was too much for an 11-year-old, that it might be disturbing for me to watch my mother be brutalized and then kill herself onstage. I realize now that this was a very reasonable concern.
One of the most painful things about growing up is discovering that the big moments of your childhood were probably just normal moments to all the adults in attendance. When I was little, gigs were huge, formative adventures. Each one was so distinct, experienced and remembered in full detail. And now, from the perspective of my own career, I know that sometimes gigs are just gigs. Shows go by quickly. Names and faces are forgotten.
Your childhood feels enormous and magical to you, and the privateness of that is lonely somehow.
That’s why I was nervous to ask Pierre if he remembered me. That’s why it was so special that he did.
I count it in the list of synchronicities.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says that synchronicity is not to be ignored or written off as coincidence. She says that it is the universe letting you know that you’re on the right train going the right direction.
Joining this tour was a real plunge into the unknown. I don’t know if these synchronicities are signs. I don’t know if they’re nothing. But the idea that they could be some kind of cosmic bread crumb trail, some version of the present sponsored by the past—I like that idea.