Notes: This is Kyla’s last article as the Managing Editor for the Grind, and is an excerpt from a long essay where the author goes a little too in-depth on her experiences with grief in her life and what has led her to this exact moment in time. For now, enjoy her hyperfixation on “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
It’s fall, Thanksgiving break 2021, and I am watching “Tick, Tick … Boom!,” the Jonathan Larson semi-autobiographical rock musical turned into a (actually good) semi-autobiographical weaving of traditional film with rock monologue music accompaniment. It’s my first time watching the film, and as I am admiring my hypothetical husband — Andrew Garfield (as Jon) — singing for the first time on camera, along with the 1990s set design, my mom hands me a mug of hot cocoa.
“Go to sleep after you drink this,” she says. “You go back to Stanford tomorrow.”
“Okay.” I don’t look her in the eyes and just take a sip. Yum, it’s creamy.
She raises her eyebrow. “You better. I don’t want to deal with you tomorrow if you’re grumpy.”
“Yeah sure,” I say, waving her away from my spot on the couch as I pull my blanket up to my chin. There’s no way I am going to bed. I am halfway through the movie, and I haven’t even gotten to the musical number “Therapy.”
Many minutes pass, and I turn off the living room lights. I do get to “Therapy,” with Andrew Garfield and Vanessa Hudgens’ silly and bizarre facial expressions juxtaposed with Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp in a screaming match that Shipp walks out on — a break in their relationship.
And I get to Andrew Garfield finally writing the Act II musical number that temporarily relieves him of existentialism and makes his workshop showcase a success, only for no producer to call him to put Superbia on- or off-Broadway and his agent breaking the news that he needs to write another musical.
I get to Garfield running into the office of his friend, a character played by Robin de Jesús, and begging for a job in marketing, explaining that he’s spent years writing this musical, that he can’t do it anymore, that he is almost 30 and nothing significant has happened in his life and he is running out of time.
I get to de Jesús’s character revealing that he has HIV, soon AIDS, and he has a year to live as the pandemic sweeps New York, him, and his friends.
I see Garfield fall apart, run through Central Park, question his entire world and the fairness of it all, until the boom goes off and some birds in the park fly and he realizes he needs to be there, present, for his friends and for all that he needs to write. There are still so many questions he still has for the world that he is living in.
Andrew Garfield is still alive and thriving. He also made an appearance in the latest Spiderman movie. Jonathan Larson died in 1996, before he turned 36, before he asked all his questions and before they were answered. He and Susan never got back together.
Not much of this has happened to me. Like at all. I don’t live in New York, let alone on a plane. I am not almost 30. I can’t compose music for my life, I’m not a waiter nor have been one, and I never met Stephen Sondheim. I don’t really know what to do with it all. But I do have ambitions that destroy me and the world around me. I want to do something with the time that I have, and I always feel like it is running out. And with that, I feel like I am constantly losing people around me, alive or dead.
Maybe that’s why I am crying by the end of the movie. Why I fell asleep on the couch instead of finishing packing, and subsequently had to stuff everything into my luggage in the morning while my parents yelled at me to hurry up. (Why didn’t you do this yesterday? they whisper with the temper that strikes me.) Why I later bought a vinyl record of the movie soundtrack and let it spin on my record player for all the seasons afterward every time I felt I was spiraling, that time was coming out from under me.