There was a football game on television, and it was the last game of some famous player. After the gun had sounded, the man stood on the field, and other players shook his hand, but he stayed on the field, even after that. The announcer, a former player himself, said, “He realizes this is the last time he will ever wear that uniform” and I think the announcer was right. The player likely went into the locker room and undressed for the last time as a professional ball player. It was over. He knew it would be one day, and that day was today and that moment was now.
I cannot tell you the last game of hide-and-seek I played. When we were kids we played this game hundreds of time, and there were only so many places to hide, but it was always exciting to look for those who were hidden, and it was even more exciting to hide so well you were not found. One day, many years ago, I was in my last game of hide and go seek. I never realized that I would never play again. There were no handshakes or goodbyes. I simply never played again.
There was a group of us guys who played tackle football from the time we were kids until long after High School graduation. But again, I cannot tell you when the last game I played. We were already feeling the effects of aging, even in our twenties. The human body was not repairing itself as quickly. We were larger, and had more mass, hit harder, fell harder, and it was still great fun, but now everyone had a job, or a family, or both. One day, I walked off the field and never went back. There is no record of me every being there except for what you are reading.
As a child, one of the big events was to go to a store with your parents and be allowed to wander the toy section. That’s pretty much gone now, with cell phones and laptops, and Amazon. Kids can find anything they want without leaving their rooms. They will never have their moment in time where they find some hidden gem in the back shelf of an old store, and they’ll never have to ask a clerk how much something costs. We had rabbit’s feet and steel canteens. We had cowboy hats and metal toy guns in leather holsters. We ran and played even on the hottest Summer days because we had no idea that it was “too hot”. There was no such thing. It never occurred to us.
There was a spring day, not even a warm one, but we went to Sowhatchee Creek in Early County to look at the raging flood waters. There had been several days of hard rain and the creek at the old mill was well out of its banks and the water was roiled by the rocks of the old mill. There were dares and counter dares, but no one really wanted to or thought it was a good idea, to swim the creek.
I went in suddenly, and one of the girls yelled my name, and the second I hit the water I knew I was swimming for my life. But I was a teenager, and panic didn’t know my name, and I knew if I swam as hard as I could I could beat the creek, and slowly, I did. It pushed me back, but I kept enough going to make the other side. I could see the other guys looking at me with that look; they weren’t going to try it. I had to get back, of course, and that was a little scarier because I knew what was there, but I did it. Back at school, the story spread quickly, but one of the boys who had been there said the water wasn’t really that high. His girlfriend, of all people, said, “I didn’t see you out there in it” and that was like getting a trophy of sorts, when a girl would complement you, especially over her boyfriend.
I haven’t swam in a creek in years. Honestly, with the chemicals they put on crops these days I would be scared more of what’s in the water than the water itself.
What we don’t realize as kids is that one day we’re going to wake up and realize that we’ve grown apart from people we once saw as part of our everyday lives. The Temple brothers, the Cleveland’s, the Kelly’s, Stan and Phil, and all the other kids I spend years with are now scattered out like seeds from a dandelion. Even if we were all together in the same place at the same time, what would we talk about? How long could we keep a conversation going about the way things once were?
I remember a young girl I fell for, and fell for in a big way. This was way past the time of hide and go seek, or was it, really? We get behind the wheel of a car and we do not realize that only a decade or so separates this rite of passage from all of our games and playing and friends we loved as small children. The first time the key is turned the world turns with it. All the miles that we put on bare feet and bicycles are gone now, forever, the tracks no longer existing in the soft earth. Now, the line of demarcation is clear and undeniable.
We kissed for the first time in a car, she and I both very young, and we made love in that car for the first time, and suddenly, we were adults, in an adult world, and there were consequences to our actions and feelings. Sex was great but what happened when there were kids? She and I broke up and one day I found out she was married and had a daughter.
I don’t remember the last time I kissed her. I don’t remember the last time she and I held one another. It was decades ago, really, and I’m very likely a photo in a school yearbook, and the feelings that once burned like a signal fire, now play hide and seek with my heart.