Hump Day Crush: A Game of Manhunt

It usually got cooler there quite a bit sooner up in rural New York than it does around here, so old memories are triggered at times they don’t actually correspond to. Heck, by the time October rolled around, we were often already well acquainted with our heavier jackets.

That odd temporal shift of memories crops up at odd times. Lately, when I catch just the right breeze and see the sun setting, I remember many a night spent with friends up North. This is one of those memories…

It was the end of summer just before my sophomore year in high school. As usual, I was hanging out with my cousin and her friends in the little community that we lived in. When I hung out back then, it was usually either with them or with my buddy T. It was a lazy late summer night, the slight chill of fall was just barely creeping in. The sun was still setting late enough to spend a lot of time wandering around before it was too dark to see.

And when it became too dark to see, well, that’s when the real fun always started.

On this particular night, that fun didn’t involved drinks or drugs–a sad rarity in this crowd. No, on this particular night we were up to something much more my speed.

Someone, most likely Mike (one of the local boys who would very soon after end up on my cousin’s parentally imposed “Black List”–making my job as an alibi even more important), suggested we play a game of manhunt. Being young and bored, we all readily agreed.

For anyone who doesn’t know, manhunt is basically a glorified version of “hide and seek” with a dash of “capture the flag” thrown in. You split up into two teams. One team hides, the other seeks. Some other variations include home-base rules similar to capture the flag, but we weren’t that organized.

There weren’t a lot of us, but we were already split kind of evenly along gender lines. There were me, Mike, Jason and Dan on the guy side (that was only half of what the group would eventually be… and all but me would end up in trouble at some point in the future) on the guys’ side. On the girls’ team were my cousin, Jodi, Jody and Marcella (as time went on, more names would get added to that list, too… though at any given time half of them wouldn’t be speaking to the other half). We sent the girls out to hide first.

Now, I grew up in a very rural small hamlet of a small town nestled comfortably in the woods. My particular hamlet was, long ago, a private gated community. The gates were gone long before I was born and any exclusivity had gone soon after them. There were groups of houses close together, but there were also overgrown vacant lots and long swaths of genuine forest that had yet to be developed. In order to be “found” you not only had to be spotted, you had to be tagged. For our game of manhunt, we had set the boundaries to a moderate sized area that included a good mix of these different terrain types. The good news was that since it was the end of summer, most of the seasonal residents had already gotten on their way south for the impending winter. This made their yards fair game for us.

It seems that back then I spent a lot of time hiding with this group. Especially after my cousin was forbidden to be around most of them. See, these were the “bad boys” of my little piece of woods. They were the stoners, the drunks, the general juvenile delinquents. They were also members of a couple of families with reputations stretching back at least to my parents’ generation–maybe further. In a small town, when your family has a reputation, be it good or bad, you’re pigeonholed from the day you start school until you either graduate or break the mold and make a name for yourself. This generally seemed to apply more to guys than girls, though I can think of my parents giving me a strange look when I mentioned the last name of female friends–but that only happened twice, and they weren’t even from my hunk of woods.

In fact, most of the girls that were ever part of that group were imports of some sort. They either came from outside of our hunk of woods or had just moved there. My cousin fell into the latter group, as did Jodi and Jody. Marcella, on the other hand, was local. She lived right down the road and around the corner from on the other side of the woods from where were hiding and seeking that night. I was pretty good friends with her older brother (who would later go on to turn down a film gig with Disney in favor of finishing high school and later become a broke, gay, cabaret actor), so I had known her for a few years. We’d all ride our bikes together. Come to think of it, she was the one who stopped short in front of me once, causing me to run into her, throwing me backward off my bike and bouncing my head on the pavement something good (who needs helmets? Not me…).

Somewhere along the way, though, Marcella went from being the not-quite-annoying little sister to a pretty cool young woman. And at some point that summer, probably during those long nights we all hung out together, I got a bit enamored with her. By the time this game of manhunt rolled around, I was in full-out crush mode. I clearly remember being very happy that she came out that night. I remember how the light of the moon added silver highlights to her dark brown hair. How her slight accent carried across the cooling air, sometimes mingling with the chirps of the crickets and frogs into a natural symphony of indescribably beauty. I remember how the sweater she wore that night felt when I touched her arm, convincing her to stick around for the game.

Nothing, of course, would ever come of that crush. I was quite happy when she stopped hanging out with the group. I like to think that kept her from getting sucked in to the muck and mire with some of the others.

The game was on. The girls were hidden and we were hunting for them. It was dark, but I’ve always been at home in the dark. I can see in the dark better than many other people, or at least I could back then (kind of funny when you take into account that what everyone else was eventually smoking is supposed to increase night vision…). My best catch that night was a double. Slinking around the corner of a house, sticking to the bushes and deep shadows, I heard people talking a little down the hill, in the middle of the yard. I circled around, confirming that it was, indeed, two of the girls hunkered down behind the one bush in the middle of an open yard. At one point, they had almost seen me–I had accidentally rattled a bush as I passed by it. When I came up behind them, they were still discussing if they had seen anything or not. As I tapped them both on the shoulder at the same time, I told them “You really have to be quieter.” They jumped straight up and almost screamed.

After the women were rounded up, it was they guys turn to hide. We scattered and found our places. I set myself up in a small clump of trees, just across from my uncle’s house (which we were using as a starting point). Mike would later tell about how he shimmied up onto a neighbor’s roof and nearly fell off when he tried to move from one section to another–right before he was spotted and tagged. Dan had gotten himself underneath a car or boat that had been battened down for the season–he was found and tagged, too, but not without a chase through a briar patch. Jason, I’m not sure where he hid, but he was chased through the same briar patch Dan was. Me? They never found me. Even with all of them looking. I’m just glad I was hiding close enough to hear them call off the game. It was satisfying. Though not quite as much as the time I hid on a bench, in plain sight, with a bright light shining down right over my head–that was priceless. I think I even waved at some of the “hunters” when they walked by.

That was a good night. Probably one of the overall best I ever spent with that group. Definitely one of the most sober, too. I don’t think there was any alcohol or weed consumed by anyone that entire day. It may have been the last day like that. All my other memories of that crew, especially once a few other people were added, all involve them in a drug and alcohol induced haze. They weren’t fun drunks, either. That would have been entertaining. As it was, it was just sad and depressing.

But that night. That one night. That was a good night.

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