When I first picked up I picked up Stephen King’s Different Seasons from the grocery store, it might not have been the summer of 1959, but it meant something just as important. The film, and the novella, spoke to me in a way that very few things have since. I developed my own little fandom around the actors, memorized every last line of the film, and dreamed of finding the kind of friendship Gordie, Chris, Vern and Teddy had. When I couldn’t find friends in the tiny New England town my parents had moved me to, I found it in Stand by Me.
It’s funny the life lessons that ensue, though. Right during the height of my Stand by Me fandom, River Phoenix died of a drug overdose, and I was left to ask the same kids of questions posited by Gordie. With Phoenix’s death, my little twelve-year-old world didn’t make sense anymore. The facade came crashing down, and it became abundantly clear to me that my heroes were just people. People who make very real, very fatal mistakes. And, perhaps most importantly, people for whom I truly did not matter.
It turned out to be a very important lesson. Different Seasons was a springboard for other books, followed by The Stand and a myriad of others (somehow I read King before Tolkien, which probably explains a lot). And like Gordie (and Wil), I didn’t just read: I wrote. I wrote myself out of that town, out of that pain and into a place where I made my own heroes. Now I can proudly call myself a writer, a geek and, thankfully, someone who avoided the mistakes of some of her childhood idols.
Twenty five years after the film was released, it still holds remarkably true. People grow up, change, turn away. People fail you, and you fail others. But self-realization — knowing what you are truly capable of and embracing that in spite of all odds — is the greatest gift you can bestow on yourself. It’s not just a lesson that geeks need, it’s a lesson that everyone needs.