it’s about looking back at those adventures, and remembering the people who had them with you

“I love Stand By Me,” the girl said. “I watch it all the time.” She put a picture of me and River, taken just after Gordie fires the gun behind the diner, on the table in front of me. I smiled at her as I slid it toward myself and spun it around.

“That’s awesome,” I said. “I’m very proud of it.”

I uncapped my pen and asked, “Who is this for?”

“It’s for me,” she said. She couldn’t have been more than 20. Younger than Stand By Me. Younger than Star Trek. Younger than both of my sons. I don’t often feel old, but at that moment, I did.

“…and what’s your name?”

“Jessica.”

“Okay, Jessica,” I said. I dedicated the picture to her, signed my name across Gordie’s t-shirt, and gave it back to her. “Have a great weekend, and thanks for your support of my work.”

She smiled and walked away. While I waited for the next person to come up I took a drink of my water. I was feeling a little sick to my stomach. It was Saturday afternoon, and I would succumb to the flu in about 5 hours.

The next person wanted me to sign something from Big Bang Theory. “Can you write ‘Game over, Moonpie’ on it?”

“I’d love to,” I said.

“I love it when you’re on that show!”

“So do I. I’m really lucky that I get to keep going back.”

He asked me about Jim. Everyone wants to know what he’s really like. “He’s amazing. He’s kind and brilliant and generous and one of the most talented comedic performers I’ve ever known. I’ve learned a lot from working with him. No, he’s nothing like Sheldon.”

I coughed and sanitized my hands for the nth time that day.

A family came up, and asked me to sign their Stand By Me DVD. They’d just showed the movie to their young son for the first time.

“What did you think of it?” I asked him.

“It was good until the end,” he said. I felt his parents tense up, like maybe he was insulting me or something, but I asked him to elaborate. “Because it was a great adventure but then it was all about Chris dying and I just didn’t like that.”

I nodded. “You know, one of the reasons Stand By Me has been so important to so many people for almost thirty years is that it’s different when you watch it at different ages.”

I looked to make sure he was following me. He was, so I continued. “When you’re young, like I was when I made it, it’s about going on an adventure with your friends and finding out who you really are, like what’s important to you when your parents aren’t around. But when you’re a little older, it’s about looking back at those adventures, and remembering the people who you had them with. I bet you’ll like it for different reasons if you watch it again when you’re older.”

“Okay,” he said, in that way kids say “okay” when they don’t want to listen to grown-ups talk about stuff anymore. I smiled and opened up the DVD to take the paper insert out of it.

I can’t remember their names, but I wrote it to them, above Gordie’s head on the left side of the cover. Then I signed my name, and had to choke back an unexpected burst of tears.

I’ve signed tens of thousands of pictures and things over the last 30ish years. Most of those pictures are from projects where I’ve been part of an ensemble cast, like Stand By Me, Star Trek, or Toy Soldiers. When we sign these things, we usually sign near ourselves and leave space for everyone else to sign over themselves. (I can always tell who was first o some pieces, because their signature tends to be huge and across the middle, and the rest of us sort of crowd into smaller and smaller spaces.)

I’ve signed thousands of Stand By Me DVDs over the years, and I’ve signed even more pictures of me and River behind the diner after Gordie shoots the gun. It wasn’t until I had this DVD in my hand, and the thought of remembering people you had adventures with in my head, that I realized I will never have to leave room for River to sign his name on any of them.

He left us twenty years ago. We’re quantum entangled for the rest of my life because of work we did together portraying a friendship that has managed to matter in multiple ways to multiple generations. I don’t think of him as often as some would expect, but when I do, I remember the sixteen or seventeen year-old kid who had his whole life ahead of him, instead of the 23 year-old I hadn’t talked to in five years because our lives were so different.

I blinked hard a couple of times and hoped the nice family in front of me didn’t notice the cloud that had passed over me. I gave them back their DVD, and thanked them for waiting in my line.

They thanked me and walked away. I watched them go, and turned back to see a picture of Wesley Crusher being put in front of me.

65 thoughts on “it’s about looking back at those adventures, and remembering the people who had them with you”

  1. Damn, Wil – that nearly had me in tears. Very moving post.
    I’ve been meaning to watch Stand By Me again lately – haven’t seen it since ’89 or so – now I plan on watching it tonight.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Cheers!

  2. At 36, my older sister just had her first and only child two and a half months ago. She named her son River, mainly because of River Phoenix. I thought you’d like to know that in some places, in some ways, he still lives on. :)

  3. The first time I met you was at the Phoenix Comicon and even though I thoroughly enjoyed you as Wesley Crusher I appreciated your work in Stand By Me a little more. I didn’t have anything for you to sign so I stood in line sheepishly (you were my first celebrity comicon table meet ever) and got out “I just wanted to thank you for all your work and I really appreciate everything you do” and barely keeping myself together. You should my hand and I totally botched my roll versus being star-struck. After rushing away slightly embarassed I thought back about what you had laid out on the table that day: Wesley photos, Star Trek photos, and a plethora of Stand By Me merchandise, most of which with River on them. After reading this post I kinda got something that I missed that day: when you’re at the table signing Stand By Me stuff you aren’t just doing that for you, you’re honoring River and in a way signing for him as well.

  4. My Dad and I watched Stand By Me a couple of months ago… He almost never watches any show for more than a few minutes (he’s not a TV guy) but we watched the entire movie in mesmerized silence even though we’ve both seen it so many times. He and I talked about how still so touching yet different it was for me now than it had been when I was young, closer in age to the boys in the movie, and how it was for him, being closer in generation to the boys in the movie. The years pass but this movie doesn’t seem to age. If you’re ever in Toronto, he and I will have to come meet you and get our dvd signed.

  5. Hey Wil,

    I really like this post. I think you are right about the way that Stand By Me has a different impact on people of various ages. I saw the movie the first time in August of 1986 on the day before my freshman year of high school. Somehow I got my mom to sign the note to let me go to a rated R movie, and I ended up going by myself as my friends were all getting ready for school. I had only seen a brief preview of the movie, so I had no idea what it was even about. I sat back in the big chair in the Laurel Movie Haus (small Montana town with lots of Germans) and had as profound a moment as a 14 year old kid could have. You are right that it to me then was about the journey and the friends, and about doing something that had meaning. It was funny and scary and sad and spoke to me then like maybe nothing really had. I walked home the 10 blocks thinking about leaches and pistols and Chris disappearing at the end. I got another note and went back the next night and saw it again.

    Now I am far beyond that kid, and my own kids are getting to be old enough to take their own journeys. I just turned 40 and the line from the end of the movie couldn’t be more true, “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.” The younger me had such a hard time believing that Gordie and Chris and Teddy and Vern wouldn’t always be as close as they were then. But time does tick by and as much as Facebook wants to make us think we can all be friends forever, it isn’t true. There are moments that we look back on that have meaning, but more times than not the people who were special then, are no more real to us now as are the characters in the movie. There are exceptions, but not many.

    I do think that the journey is still something that I want to do. I want to go out and do something that lets me stand up to injustice and when the bad guy asks if I am going to shoot all of them, I can answer, “No, Ace. Just you.” I like that, and it still inspires me.

    Thanks Wil.

  6. That was, and still is, one of my most favorite movies. I still have the original old school vhs tape that I had received as a gift for Christmas because I rented it so much from the local movie store. It got me through a very difficult time, I watched it daily for over 2 yrs. I have since introduced my kids to it. My son, who is now 16, has enjoyed watching both Stand By Me and Toy Soldiers and he owns a copy of the latter. River was a wonderful actor and I was saddened to hear of his passing. He’ll always remain in my mind as Chris from Stand By Me. Just as you will always be Gordie and Wesley. I was just thinking of this movie the other day and, as you said, how things mean different things to you at different points in your life.

    Hanna

  7. It’s fascinating how many lessons come back to the same lesson: appreciate everything you’re doing at the moment, and who you’re doing those things with.

    This is the one solution that will prevent the most regret. It won’t stop the pain of not being able to enjoy those things, or those people, again. But at least you’ll know you appreciated them properly while they were there.

    Keep writing, Wil.

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