Neil was a boisterous, obstinate geek from Maine whose CD collection consisted mainly of Lord of the Rings soundtracks, Enya-esque harp and voice orchestrations and Jethro Tull. It wasn't a stretch to imagine he played D&D, but we never talked about it. Folks our age didn't. It was like being gay in the 1950s. There were secret rituals, handshakes and signs one undertook to covertly alert one's fellows of his preference. The normal folks couldn't spot the signs; they would never know. But if they did, it would not be pleasant. We grew up in a time when normal people didn't understand roleplaying. Feared it, and sought to destroy it. Where I grew up, Dungeons & Dragons was banned by civil ordinance, and playing it was a crime. You just didn't admit you played, even if you did.
I got to know Neil over the course of the following months, and when the summer theater closed up, we moved together to a new gig, teaching technical theater at a local college. It was only there, after almost a year, we finally spoke of gaming. And only then, by accident. He'd asked me to hand him a screwdriver, and I did, explaining off-handedly that it was my favorite. That it was +2 to awesome.
"Ah-ha!" he shouted. "I knew you played!" He laughed, and then showed me his dice. They were purple and opalescent. Glittering and strangely dark. They fascinated me. He had multiple sets, he said. He bought them like candy. We talked for a long time about dice, about gaming and about life. Slowly, we became friends.
Ultimately it wasn't the whiskey that convinced me to leave the house and go to Neil's to play with his friends. It was the dice. The idea of them sitting idle for another year shamed me. The idea I'd pass up a chance to do something I loved, and looked forward to, because of nerves and anxiety. I decided I was better than that, picked up my dice and drove the 15 or so miles to Neil's house.
Just getting there was a hair-raising experience. I'd been in New England for over a year, but I still wasn't used to the way New Englanders drove their cars. Quickly, aggressively, rubbing fenders like NASCAR drivers. They didn't blithely float across lanes, expecting you to get out of their way, like L.A. drivers. No, they assumed you wouldn't get out of their way, out of spite, and actively took steps to disabuse you of that notion. Driving in New England requires focus, skill and a skin thicker than the mounds of snow plowed off the highway. It took me two years to master it.
By the time I found Neil's house, my stomach was in knots, my hands were shaking and I was desperate just to get out of the car. Unfortunately, getting out of the car was what I was most afraid of. It was a lose-lose scenario. I double-checked the address, took a deep breath, clutched my dice and opened the car door.