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. That’s a great story. I was your age when Stand By Me was released, and I remember the film fondly.

    Also, I was really creeped out by Ray Brower’s face…though now, it doesn’t quite seem as eerie as it did back then.

    Also, I have the soundtrack on vinyl. So yeah. I’m that old, too.

  2. That brought a tear to my eye. I am a little older than you, and I loved Stand By Me, as well as all of your other work. Stand By Me was a great movie, and you are right, it changes depending on your age. I got to work as an extra with one of your co stars from the movie. I asked him about working on Stand By Me, and it said it was fun working with you kids. Thanks for all your work over the years, Wil.

  3. It’s so odd to have you post this today. Just yesterday, I was reading that they are finally going to release River’s last movie and I teared up reading it (as well as this). I think he was the first actor of our generation that I can remember dying and it still makes me sad. Earlier this week, I saw a picture of the son of one of my classmates. The classmate died in a gun accident before his son was born. That boy looks so much like his father and is a football player like him. I got that same unexpected burst imagining how proud his dad would be.

  4. Beautiful, Wil. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. Oddly enough, his is one of those iconic moments where I remember where I was when I heard he died. Knowing nothing of his lifestyle, I was so shocked. And so sorry for his friends.

  5. “There is this monster in Hollywood that everyone knows about. It lurks just out of view, and occasionally it reaches up and snatches someone … and it got River.” puts it best indeed. You’re sooo Gordie, I think that’s cool. Keep up the awesome writing.

  6. Leave it to Wesley to ruin a meaningful moment :P

    But seriously, that was a very touching blog. Makes me think about other personalities that passed away, like Jonathan Brandis, Corey Haim, etc. Glsa to think about what they’ve given us, but sad to think about how they left us.

  7. Nice Blog. I spent some time last night as I was walking from “SODO” to Lower Queen Anne here in Seattle-a distance of about four miles-thinking about some of the people I had walked with at important times in my past… times that defined me-sometimes them. You and I have both been blessed with friends and co-workers who at times became extended family. It is a gift I am glad we can both share with others.

  8. When I first saw the title on this blog on Twitter it made me glad I had created an adventure with my sister this past weekend traveling from the Mid-west to CA by way of Seattle. We haven’t been close the past 20 or so years. Busy getting married & having kids and such. So it was a really special trip and I was amazed we didn’t have a cross word the whole time.
    Oh the reason for the trip? She lost her hubby this past spring and didn’t want to be home on what would have been their 29th anniversary so we went to see her son.
    Best memory of the trip was watching the two of them sit on a bench looking at the stars – in the same place her hubby had sat 2 yrs before with their son when he moved out there. It was a perfect “misty moment” remembering.

  9. Excellently said, Wil. You made me cry, darn you!

    I’m thirty-four, and with every passing year, I find myself looking back–not necessarily with nostalgia, but with the (still) startling realization that so *much* time has passed, that circles have shifted and changed, that people have passed from my reach (I’m even now trying to find a friend from college, just because I want to say “hello” and hear her snark, again)…and the memories get all the more valuable, because I know I can’t make any more with that person, or in that place, ever again.

    Growing up and moving on (away, apart–) is HARD.

  10. Wil, thank you. Sometimes, it’s just someone who has been absent from your life for a while, but has their own going on – and your paths no longer cross. And sometimes, it’s someone whose path ended abruptly. And we remember them in a way that we also hope they remember us, or at least does honor to the time we shared.

  11. Stand by me= one of the greatest movies of all time!.. ” it’s a .45….. I can see that! BANG! JESUS!!!! one of the best moments of the film haha

  12. I often think of you and River and Gordie and Chris. As sad as Chris’ fate was, River’s was even sadder. But then I also remember that Gordie went on to become a writer.

    And so did you.

  13. Wil,

    I wrote a similar account in regards to friendships for my local newspaper last year for the anniversary of Stand By Me. It’s amazing how our perspectives change as we get older. The lessons we learn from life experience are so important and defining. I can relate very much to the story you told the young son. It’s fun showing films I love to my niece, nephews, and my own children and gaining an appreciation all over again just from the opinions they form.

    The truth in this statement is wonderful. – “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.”

  14. I volunteered at that convention and the one thing i kept hearing over and over was how kind and polite and how interested in these people you were! They feel a real connection to you, and stories like this show that even though they were just another person (family) in line, you took the time to have a meaningful conversation with their son. You just added to that son’s adventure. He will look back on it and remember having that brief adventure with, well, you.

  15. This post brought up memories of my first major crush Tanja Rose, one of my big sisters (by big I mean she is in her upper 50′s and I am 35 almost 36) lives in Berlin, Germany and I went over for a visit when I was 17 and met her we hit it off big time we went on a walk and were talking before I realized 12 hours past and got yelled at by by brother in-law (thankfully now ex) but after my 3rd visit and having a good time but waking up really to chipper one morning and her not so much she asked me to be less chipper and knowing I could not I stepped out not angry or upset just knowing that I could not calm down and did not want to annoy her. She wrote me apologizing for asking me to calm down I procrastinated and a few months later she had a bad break up with her boyfriend and missed her train back to college so she failed a test I have no clue to what went through her mind but the end result was her jumping from the thirteenth floor and her death hit me harder than both my parents combined (my mom died when I was 12 due to cancer and my father died when I was 18 due to falling asleep behind the wheel of a car) I do not know why it hit me harder but it did but this post brought back the good memories as well as the bad for me of that moment and even with the bad I want to Thank you for bringing them back! Oh by the way while we were watching the English version of an STTNG she did say you sounded different than she thought you would from watching the dubbed version. Thank again Will

  16. It is funny how in life we touch so many other people’s lives around us and they touch ours, and we are not even aware of it at the time. We are busy crossing in and out back and forth, just trying to get to the next thing. Your thread crossing the threads of other peoples lives. It is not until you step back and stop looking at it from the thread’s perspective that you see the cloth that our lives have weaved along with all the other threads we touched, and the threads they touched. There is a pattern we all weave, and it is the sum product of all our threads. When you stand back and look at the cloth, you judge it by all the threads that touched, not any one thread. That is also how we will be remembered in the long run. We will be remembered for the overall pattern we weaved. The greatest generation, baby boomers, hippies, yuppies, generation X. Just the cloth that the people of a given time happened to weave by their actions.

  17. This is a wonderfully nice piece that illustrates how much your ability to write and portray what’s in your head, going on around you and make me feel like I’ve been there with you and River. I first saw Stand By Me while I was a sophomore in college and it was out in the theaters. It has always struck a chord with me.

  18. Memories of our lost friends are funny that way… Sometimes their memory’ll tap you on the shoulder and make you smile. Sometimes it’ll sucker-punch you in the gut and –for a moment– tear out your heart. Either way, it’s them saying hi.

  19. It’s been a day of loss for me and so your post expressed a bit of what I’m feeling just now. Thank you for that. Some feelings are always just around the corner waiting to ambush you, aren’t they?

  20. I remember the first time I watched Stand By Me, I didn’t enjoy it. I was too young to really understand what was going on. I watched it again a few years later, and enjoyed the story, but it still wasn’t one of my favourites. But, I watched it again just a couple of years ago and I was sad when it was over. I would just like to say thank you for being a part of my life, even though you don’t know who I am and will probably never meet me (because I can’t afford to travel to conventions…), and thank you for continuing to be in my life (via TableTop, The Big Bang Theory, The Guild, and everything else)!

  21. I just want to say it was a pleasure meeting you this past weekend. Your story is very touching. I was 9 when “Stand By Me” was released and remember watching it with my friends. Great movie! This was my first time meeting the TNG cast and it was an amazing experience. I got to meet some great people. I did not truely appreciate Wesley Crusher’s character until I was older. You are amazing and I watch “Big Bang Theory” because of you. THANK YOU!

    1. 20 years already? and at 33 that’s hard to choke back. In the years that passed every time I saw SBM on the TV I often thought how ironic it was that art dictates life in many ways, it makes us realise how important those lasting memories are, because in a sudden there could be a time when no more memories can be made. Thanks for sharing Wil.

  22. I heard about River’s passing as I was on my way to work in my first year of teaching, and I know THAT because I remember having to try to explain to my students what happened and I remember which students they were.

    And that’s how I know it was 19 years ago. And I still don’t understand it myself.

  23. Great post Wil! So true about looking at things differently as we get older. There are quite a few movies that I have watched recently that I realize I didn’t quite get, or see the depth in them, when I was younger. My husband is not as big of a fan of Stand by Me as I am, but a couple times recently he has mentioned how true it is about never having friends again like when you’re twelve.

  24. Amazing perspective, thank you for sharing it. We’re about the same age, I think, and I have a 15 year old daughter who’s so like me and yet not. I keep trying to express to her that same idea about an experience meaning different things at different times in your life, and she’s very good at nodding her head in agreement but… it’s just one of those things, I guess, that you have to wait for true understanding. Another lesson from adulthood. Thanks again~

  25. Very well said sir. Thanks for that. I’m picking up the phone right now and calling an old friend I haven’t seen in years. That was just the kick in the butt I needed.

  26. I linked this in a post to my facebook account and a couple of hours later learned that one of my dear friends from my youth is fighting for his life today. Seems so much more poignant to me now. Thank you for your beautiful words, Wil.

    1. I watched Stand By Me for the first time when I was 15 years old (waaaay back in 2002) and it has been in my Top 5 movies ever since. I love it. I can recite every line and always do so, to the great annoyance of whoever might be watching with me. I used to have the movie on DVD but my ex-husband sold it behind my back (because he’s a DICK. Always jealous because you’re WAY hotter than him, Wil. And I had no trouble telling him so). So now I watch the VHS that I recorded off of HBO so long ago. I still cry at the end and I probably always will. Stand By Me: greatest movie of the 1980′s!

  27. Great story. Some of us feel strong familiar emotions when facing an absence, an omission of inhabitants in our lives that has a permanence that was unexpected, is uninvited, and will always seem unfinished. I have one of those, too, though I haven’t had that whiplash remembrance in a while. In fact, I was a security guard at a place a few days ago at a run-down garbage transfer depot, similar in scope to a place where I and a few friends use to inhabit as teenagers, for years, in our off time, weekends, or summers. The loss of one of those friends, having visited this new place that was an obvious likeness of the old, was vague, and nearly imperceptible. I could dredge up some version of regret, but I know I’ll feel it soon. After I reminisce about the good times for a while. Good story, Mr. Wheaton.

  28. Wil I became a fan of yours in 1987 a year after Stand By Me was shown on HBO, Cinamax and Showtime. I remember it like it was yesterday. I fell in love with the movie. Nobody wants to watch the movie with me cause I know it pretty well and can read along the movie. LOL. I also have Different Seasons which has the THE BODY as I’m a very huge fan of Stephen King. I think Rob Reiner did a great job in having Gordie as the focus instead of Chris. It’s still one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time.
    My top 5 favorites are: Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, The Goonies, The Monster Squad and Newsies.

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