1776. New York City.
That first day in New York, Aaron Burr was overwhelmed by Alexander Hamilton’s exuberance, for university, for, oddly, being fellow orphans, for the war. Burr smiled wryly and gave the best advice he had, in so many words: calm down, young man. Be more careful in how you present yourself. He knew it was hopeless, that the man in front of him was full to bursting with what he had to say, and would say it. Still, it was worth a shot. Despite himself, Burr was warming quickly to Hamilton, whose passion and intelligent burned brightly for all to see. It was almost like knocking back a couple of shots, to be near him. Burr knew from the start that Hamilton was a young man to watch, and oh how he did.
Over the next 30 years Burr would see Hamilton rise and rise, letting nothing keep him from his goals. He might have noble words to cover up raw ambition, but Burr knew Hamilton was more like him that the immigrant would ever admit.
Burr was honest to himself about his ambitions. He truly wanted the best for the fledgling country, but he also truly wanted the best for himself: the power to help shape it. And if that was such a sin, then would God and Hamilton forgive him, for Burr did not see it that way.
1780. A Winter’s Ball.
The candlelight was bewitching, and Burr felt the tension in his body and mind soften as cares about the war drifted and he focused on the women in their wonderful frocks, and then he saw Hamilton, in his best, somewhat worn dress suit, and his breath caught in his throat. Alexander Hamilton’s eyes gleamed hungrily in the flickering pools of light; they were on Angelica Schuyler, socialite and envy of all.
Burr could not fully determine what he felt, except that he saw at once how appealing Hamilton was to all, and he had thought he was able to see through such posturing. Perhaps not always, then. He swallowed hard and dragged his eyes off Hamilton, leaving Washington’s secretary to entrap more foolish folks with his honeyed tongue. Burr had ladies to enchant himself; he might not be as natural at it as Hamilton, but Burr had been blessed with quality good looks, and a nicer suit, too, damn it!
1781. My dearest, Theodosia.
Theodosia was the most beautiful woman Burr had ever met. It wasn’t that she was the most physically attractive, but that her smile matched with her mind matched with the way she seemed to fit in all the empty spaces in Burr’s life made him feel more whole than he had since before his parents died. Yes, that made her the most beautiful woman on earth. He looked into himself and wondered why he was the only out of all the men after her she had chosen. He knew he was handsome and smart, could be charming, had found success in the revolutionary cause. But so had many other men, more exciting ones. Ones like Hamilton.
The one night, instead of placing her face on her chest to open the corsets, he laid her head on his chest and said, “Let’s just rest, Aaron. I always feel safe with you. You’re steady,” and her voice was so tender he felt tears rise quick to his eyes. He wrapped her in his arms and closed his eyes, let her soft breathing lullaby him to sleep.
The Election of 1800.
Burr fumed for weeks, unable to get that bastard out of his mind for even a moment’s waking thought. How could Hamilton dare to accuse him of moral defect! How dare the man tell him how to conduct his affairs of politics! How dare he…. It was time to speak his mind, time to be forthright and take action, to maintain his honor, his final link to his parents, his name.
1804. Weehawken, New Jersey.
Oh, if only he could see into the mind of the (finally) quiet Hamilton. If he could tell what the man would do when they got to the end of the count. Burr was prepared to take blood for this, felt the rage boiling in him, a poison he needed to lance, but he also was a poor shot and not relishing the idea of a murder. He just wanted wanted Hamilton to yield, for once in his life! He stood still and steady as Hamilton examined his gun and straightened his glasses, then met cool eyes and counted. Why would Hamilton prepare so carefully if not to shoot to kill? Burr prepared himself to do the same.
Just at the last moment, Hamilton threw his arm up and thew away his shot. Just as Burr realized, his shot hit Hamilton in the ribs, and he emerged victorious, but only in the most technical of fashions. He survived, but he paid for it. Oh, how he paid. He knew immediately, Hamilton crumbled and was taken away by the doctor and his second to die, that he was destined to be remembered as the villain, the Judas.
After his stroke, Burr had trouble walking and spent most of his days reading and writing in his journals. His eyes were beginning to fail him and his joints ached on waking. He knew he was entering the wintertime of his life, and he was not quite ready to go gentle, but felt too tired to have much of a choice. Some mornings when he was strong enough, he would go out to the beach and sit, watching the waves pull in off the North Shore, looking towards the New York mainland, and Weehawken.
On the last morning of his life, the air was crisp with the first hint of frost. Burr drank his coffee on the porch and watched a small boat bob up and down a couple miles off shore, remembering that July morning three decades hence, when he had felled his friend, his enemy, that constant thorn in side. He wished with all his might that Hamilton could be there. He was sure Hamilton would not be mellowed with age, but still fighting, still writing, with the same beautiful, sharp eyes. He wished they could share a cup of coffee and reminisce. But he had made his choice that morning in New Jersey, blown Hamilton away, and his dear Theodosia’s were both gone, too, and he was on his way out.
He was to be the villain in America’s histories, but remembered at least. It was little comfort, what good was fame to strangers yet born? He missed his wife, his daughter, his friend. He had found living a long life not to be victory, but a steady increase in isolation as familiar faces left for the grave.
Oh, to go back to New York, to that first day with Hamilton, to those nights in the pubs and tents, cold and hungry and filled with comradely and the willingness to do anything to win independence! He missed the heat of Hamilton’s words, in paper and flowing from his mouth in a seductive stream. It had not taken long to realize his grave mistake, no, his mortal sin, that July morning. But there was no way to take back his shot. He had had to live with it, and at least he had gained the hard-won wisdom of such folly. In his age, he had let himself be more open, at least with the people he loved. He had found a measure of peace in that change, but it could not erase his past mistakes. Burr knew it would be unfair if they somehow could.
Burr sipped his coffee and watched the boat, wondering where Hamilton was now, if perhaps soon they wouldn’t be reunited, or if Burr was destined to go to that other place. May God have mercy on my soul, on our souls.