The Night We Watched ‘Stand by Me’ and I Cried

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by Matthew Lafleur |

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About five years ago, I packed about three DVDs before my buddy and I left for a weekend at a fishing camp. We didn’t plan on watching many movies, I just brought them in case we got bored after the sunset and the bayou mosquitoes chased us indoors. When that happened, we selected the 1986 movie “Stand by Me.” I expected to turn it off about halfway through, either because we were tired or would simply lose interest.

After all, I was very familiar with this movie, since it seemed to air every weekend in the 1990s. Plus, my high school English class read and discussed the novella “The Body” by Stephen King, on which the film is based. So the memorable scenes like the train chase, the junkyard dog, the leech attack, and even the barf-o-rama were so familiar to me that they were almost boring.

I didn’t expect to be overcome with emotion in the final scene that night.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12,” the main character types as he finishes recounting that childhood memory. “Jesus, does anyone?” Then Gordie leaves his bulky mid-’80s computer and the credits roll.

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“Oh, s**t,” I yelped, shocked, as warm, fat tears fell from my eyes like unwelcome guests at a dinner party. Why was I crying? In front of my good buddy? Over a story I could almost recite by heart?

My friend heard my curse and turned to look at me, crying over the movie. And he laughed at me, as a good friend should.

Maybe by reflecting on that event years later, I can better understand why those emotions unexpectedly hit me then.

Like most successful stories, “Stand by Me” caused me to see myself in the protagonist, Gordie Lachance. Our French last names and the desire to be a writer at a young age were obvious comparison points to begin with.

The story of a journey by four preteen boys in search of a missing corpse confronts the trauma that Gordie and his friends faced independently: Gordie’s insecurity at never feeling good enough for his parents’ love; Vern’s simple and naive worldview; Teddy’s love/hate relationship with the memory of his abusive father; Chris’ desire to be better in a town that perceives him as no good.

I realized my own coping with a debilitating, progressive disease was the trauma I was dealing with at their age. I could really place myself in those characters’ shoes.

(How’s that segue? Nailed it.)

When I first saw the movie, Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) was only a slight inconvenience, even in 10th grade, when my class studied the novella. Nowadays, FA is the most significant factor of my day-to-day life. I am disabled; I can no longer hide that.

I can still recognize the boy I was at 12, but in many ways my challenges have made me a very different person. Same as those four boys in the movie. And the same as you, reader. We are not the children we once were.

Maybe the moral of “Stand by Me” isn’t to make the audience sad that the world changes, but a reminder to hold onto our memories as precious. Remembering where we come from is important for a fulfilled life.

I’m grossly more disabled than I was at 12, and I don’t hang around the same friends as back then. I tend to blame FA for both.

But maybe I’m more than a victim of FA. Maybe FA isn’t the sole reason life’s seemed to change since then, even though it’s an easy scapegoat.

After all, most people’s trajectories change from the time they are 12, FA or not. Our lives may be suddenly altered by a rare progressive disorder, family dynamics, societal expectations, or whatever circumstances suddenly come our way. Like Gordie and Chris. Like Teddy and Vern. Like Matt.

Maybe all we can do is cherish the wispy shades of our youths and smile. I’m not alone in having bittersweet memories of being a kid. All we can do is press onward and hope we’ve learned how to be better than we were.

The traumas we’ve all faced in our past don’t make us victims, but overcoming them makes us heroes.

I cried at the end of “Stand by Me” that night at the camp because nostalgia made me feel defeated. But I’m not a victim of the past. I hope that learning from it makes me a better person now.

Jesus, doesn’t everyone?

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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