“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?”
“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.