I hated hide and seek as a kid. Until I was nearly twelve I had this irrational fear of the game. When I was six, my brother, sister, and the neighbor kid, Jacques, were playing between our two backyards. I wasn’t hidden well – I was inside our doghouse – but they still never found me. And so I was left for nearly five hours. By the time I went in, they’d eaten all the afternoon snacks, and I was pissed. So, I developed this intense dislike of the sport.
I was better at in those days, though. Hell, there’d be times in kindergarten I would burrow myself so deeply in the darkest corners of that playground I couldn’t be found for two hours. I’d get in tons of trouble, but it’s still nothing next to when I glued Ashley to her chair that year. That was followed by rigorous testing of my psyche, social capabilities, and to see if I was just genetically daft.
Turns out, I began being an asshole at a young age.
I wasn’t too much of a handful. My buddy Dolphin (yeah; this kids’ parents named him Dolphin… says the guy named Cletus…) and I would play with army men on little playfields, throwing cars at them as if they were scud missiles. This was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War still had some legs. And Russian surplus was finding its way into the Persian Gulf, which hadn’t escalated into a full conflict yet. Plus, with a mother working at a VA hospital, you heard some stories. My mother once recounted how my story of Mustard Gas Sam got her called into the principal’s office. I say it was the best illustrations of the entire second grade year – and, with a better understanding of spelling and grammar than half the class.
Back to point: Hide and seek. It was around my first endeavor in Hammondsport I discovered the nighttime iteration of this. Not the back-of-a-Volkswagen kind; that would be later, and in the front of a ’91 Mazda Protégé while I was barely into high school. No; this was through the town park with over a dozen friends, playing capture the flag before Halo bastardized the concept for an entire generation.
See, in those days, there was a literal ‘flag’ each team would have. You would try to get it, and each person ‘captured’ by the opposing team would be held at a ‘prison’. In the versions we would play, the team with the largest number of allies still free when they captured the flag would win. So, you’d have to free as much of your team as you could, before making a run for their flag.
These games would start at dusk, and frequently one game would go well into midnight. Hammondsport had no real curfew, as it only had a few dozen children living within town limits, and most of them were out with us playing. I remember at least twice a ‘chaperone’ came along: my brother’s friends. Instead of the usual expectation of high-school cool kids drinking alcohol and being a menace, I think each one took exceptionally sick delight in chasing down 10 to 14 year-olds, slinging them over their shoulders, and running for their respective prison centers. This would, in turn, force the older kids to have to bail out the younger ones in order to play.
Honestly, it was brutally fun. An entire summer passed like this, with one game involving thirty or so people around town. I’m sure if live-action role playing (LARPing) had been bigger thing in that neck of the woods, the entire town would have been into it. On nights when not as many people could play town-wide CTF, we’d hold smaller matches of hide and seek. We’d play in houses, backyards, places where we could reign in the field a little, without making it too tight.
A year or so down the road, my Aunt caught onto this. My Aunt was probably the coolest relative I had growing up, and it’s for one very simple reason: she didn’t treat us like kids. She did a good job of letting us reach that conclusion on our own, but I think, ultimately, she liked letting herself be a kid for a while, too. I would have never developed a love of chocolate, pepsi, creative bargaining in monopoly, or standup comedians without her.
The first night, we counted down and killed all the lights. It was a madhouse. Maniacal laughter filled each room as a chase would ensue. At times, there were as many as ten people running around, hiding, giggling, and scrabbling in the dark. I would often try to scare the bejeezus out of the seeker whenever they got right next to my hiding spot, and while they were recovering, make a run for safety. Adaptive situational skills – let’s add that to the list of things I learned there.
For all of its fun, though, I can remember one of the last times we played. I was running with my hands in front of me, trying to escape the seeker, and I ran fingers-first into someone’s face. To be specific, it was my Aunt’s. I couldn’t tell right away, and when we did turn the lights on, it looked like I got her in the eyes. As far as I can tell, she was fine within a few days of that, but it was something we never really went back to.
It’s a horse I wanted try riding again, though. Shortly after turning twenty, Rae and I thought a life in Florida would be an interesting experiment. The weather was nice, despite my owning a lovely 1993 Eagle Talon with no working air conditioner in 113 degree weather and hundred percent humidity. The sand was a brilliant white, and the water was always cold and icy blue, which is nice because sand that white was hot as hell. The nightlife ended around five o’clock – wait, that’s not a positive…
So, one night after work, I decide to hang out with some of the lads. Rae was attending school on the other side of the state, and sitting around the house was depressing. I mean, the Latin rhythms pouring in from the parking lot’s assorted cars in varying states of disarray and repair was consoling, but ultimately, only because of the attention I spent being irritated at it around two in the morning.
So, I go after work. We’re in the one park I didn’t even know this city had. And we played hide and seek. This began at ten and went until nearly three in the morning. No beer, nothing creepy or public-orgy-sex-party about it. Just played hide and seek in a city park until three in the morning with other early twenty-somethings.
There’s something comforting about just letting yourself get out of your own damn way. Seizing opportunity. Being lost in a way that you think is so damnably clever, yet this person still comes along and knows you well enough to find where you’ve been hiding. This isn’t just a game: it’s the way humans work together. Constantly we shift from night into day; we have attitudes of a seeker, and others, of a person waiting to be found.
Ultimately, it doesn’t ever really matter which you want to be, until you just get out of your own way, and go on having fun while living life.