These days, I’m not the same. I’m athletic and confident. I’m successful at work. I can look in the mirror with more admiration than doubt. And although I’m single and approaching my 40s, I hope to be a decent dad someday.
When I was younger, I grew up in the wrong valley. I was happy and bright-eyed and sensitive - but the valley pooled into anger. It gathered clouds at its base. It was a place of mistrust and aggression, and I didn’t belong there. For that reason, I had no real friends.
So I turned to books and I turned to video games. I replaced the valley with a landscape of dreams. And although I had no one to share those dreams with, I felt happy and at home there.
But there was one person. His name was Shane.
Shane lived a few hundred miles away, and he was the son of family friends. He lived where I was born, but we had moved away when I was young.
Shane was older than me by a few years, and when I first met him I must have been 9 or 10. To my surprise and delight, he loved fantasy and science-fiction books like me – and he also loved games.
We became pen pals. I can still remember my excitement when Shane’s yellow envelopes would arrive at the door, detailing the latest books he was reading, TV shows he was watching, games he was playing. I would always write back immediately, sharing my own endless enthusiasm for the only things that brought me true joy.
I can still recall him sharing news of a mysterious game called Chrono Trigger that was in development across the oceans, and showing me a tiny picture of it from a magazine. I remember him sharing a love of Alien, and of Stephen King, and especially Terry Pratchett.
But there is a deeper memory, rooted in my brain.
I am sitting in Shane’s house on the floor, and he boots up his Super Nintendo. I can barely contain my excitement. I didn’t own a Super Nintendo – I had a Mega Drive. I could hardly believe it. Someone else loved games like me. Someone else belonged in the landscape of dreams, and not the valley of doubt. I wasn’t alone.
The game was The Legend of Zelda: A link to the Past.
That moment remains one of the happiest and safest of my childhood.
Shane and I only met less than ten times, at a guess, and I don’t know how many times we wrote letters to each other. Perhaps it was just a handful over a few years. I don’t remember.
Although we stayed in touch as we grew into our late teens, Shane was a few years older and became a young man and left home just before I reached that stage.
In my own late teens, I received word that he had died of an asthma attack, in his early 20s.
People were surprised at how much I cried at the funeral.
And, honestly, I am surprised at how much I am crying while writing this.
Although it’s been 20 years since your death, and our connection was brief, I still miss you Shane. And I want to say thank you for the brief glimpse of brotherhood and companionship you gave me as a young boy.
Whenever I play Zelda now, you are playing alongside me. I hope you reached your own landscape of dreams.