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Anthony Romeo Headshot

Growing Pains

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To say that the life of Robin Williams affected only those in my age group would be incorrect, to say the least. But for 20-somethings like myself, the passing of our most memorable and iconic comedian is a blow to the childhoods we'll now never be able to reclaim. And in looking at the filmography of this legendary man, it's eerie to see the ways in which our journey to adulthood wasn't merely informed by his career, but truly led by the man of a thousand voices.

In 1991, Hook was a gigantic movie. I was 7, and I, too, felt that I lived in a world where I never wanted to grow up. The world was fantastical and full of promises to keep, dreams to chase and evil men to dispatch. All we needed was to believe in ourselves, in the promise of youth and childhood and we'd be just fine.

1992 gave us Ferngully, Toys and the iconic role of the Genie in Aladdin. Three movies that further showcased the incredible and incomparable range of the genius that was Robin Williams. These movies helped me understand our responsibilities to the world around us and the importance of our own freedoms. At 8 years old, these are invaluable concepts.

1993, of course, gave us Mrs. Doubtfire. As my parents worked through their own divorce, I learned the all-too important lesson that humor could help us make it through to the other side of a storm. It also taught me that families could exist in all shapes and sizes, which my husband and I remind ourselves daily as we begin the adoption process for a family of our own.

1995 provided Jumanji in theaters, and I loved every minute of it. It connected so deeply with me, because at its heart it was about a boy who had been forced into adulthood too soon and found himself in a world where he needed to learn how to live life as a man, not just for himself but for others.

In 1996, when I was 12, and started feeling the peripheral tendrils of same-sex attraction sneaking around inside my head and heart, Robin Williams starred in The Birdcage. It gave voice to all of the questions inside me, made me feel that maybe I wasn't too strange, or too weird, or too alone. In giving away a piece of himself in that role, Robin Williams helped me find myself.

Good Will Hunting was deservedly praised by critics and movie-goers in 1997. I saw an older, bearded Robin Williams. I was growing up. Learning was important, but learning that people had faults and flaws that informed them was of even greater importance.

In 1998 came Patch Adams. Laughter. Just laughter. It's enough, and it's everything and it's healing. And sometimes laughter is the thing that bridges the gap between sadness and whatever comes after sadness.

I have never met Robin Williams, his family, or his friends, but I'm among the millions and millions who were lucky enough to be given a piece of him over the years.

We've spent so much time taking and taking every generous gift that Robin Williams has laid at our feet, that we forgot to remember to say thanks. And so it goes, for those no-longer-children around me, that we've lost another star from our childhood skies, and that our collective night is a bit darker and a bit quieter without the light and grace that we were blessed to have for so long, and had so well. But the lessons we've been lucky to learn from him should stay with us for as long as we can carry them, until we can give them away to other people.

"You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you, Peter Pan."

Growing up is hard. But with the right people, it can at least be funny.

So thank you, sir. A million wonderful, grateful, and tear-stained thank you's. You were enough.