Have you seen the show “Stranger Things?” It begins with a group of oddball kids playing Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s. That was me and my buddies — without the demogorgons.

Ron, Matt, Edwin and I were great friends in high school and beyond, getting together almost every weekend to play our favorite game, Dungeons & Dragons. This role playing game kept us out of trouble — we didn’t party, drink or do drugs. Instead, we poked our noses into rule books, stormed goblin strongholds, explored dangerous dungeons and built steadfast friendships with one another.

Matt and his brothers comprised half of our gaming group and his welcoming parents allowed us to use their basement (and share their dinners) with a group of adolescent misfits. Matt is now a successful database administrator.  

Edwin was kind, thoughtful and the brains of the bunch. His math skills were enough to both impress and perplex me, but his elevated intelligence meant he was often bullied. He now has multiple master’s degrees and a successful career.

Ron had a tough go at life. At 17, his father informed him he would be moving out of town with his wife, leaving Ron with two weeks to find a new place to live. With help from Matt’s parents, Ron found shelter and later an apartment and a place to call his own. He went to college and had a successful career at Boeing for 30 years. Last year, he retired early at the age of 55 and moved to Wyoming with his wife and son.

I was always working hard to keep up with my friends. Dungeons & Dragons  forced me to become a reader and strengthen my math skills. It also helped me gain self confidence.

Through the years, some of us drifted apart. Matt and I still game together, now with his sons, and Edwin visits every once in a while. Earlier this year, Ron was hiking in the Big Horn Mountains when he had a medical emergency. Although life-saving measures were attempted, he died at the scene. 

We hadn’t spoken to Ron in a few years, but the news of his passing was a blow to me. Was it just more bad news in a year filled with it, or was it something more? It bothers me that his wife and son are now without a father just at the juncture where he could spend more time with them in retirement. It’s also disappointing that I won’t get the chance to thank him for accepting me all those years ago when I was the anxious, quiet kid searching for my voice.

Missed opportunities sometimes define our lives or create voids in them, while the sadness of loss seems to galvanize the past into nostalgic memories of better times. How many people have experienced this same sense of loss with a family member or friend during the pandemic? How many regrets have blossomed from the multitudes of passings?

The appreciation of my formative years will always hold a special place in my heart for my three dungeon-dwelling friends. I will make sure to let Matt and Ed know that their friendship has made a lasting difference in my life. Do you have a longtime friend who needs to hear from you? Maybe now is a good time to give them a call.