We spent this past weekend with many friends in a cabin in Pennsylvania. I’d like to talk about what happened when I took on the dubious role of The Ghost in a game of “Ghost in the Graveyard.”
The idea of “Ghost in the Graveyard” was that just before dusk all the children from the party cabin between the ages of four and nine would be given a tour of the adjacent graveyard. My job was to wait behind a headstone until the right moment, and then jump out and rawr. Ghosts rawr, I was told. You might be thinking this is a bad idea. But I was cajoled by the puppy-eyed twelve-year-old ringleader. This girl made all the parents sign permission slips so there was no mistake what their children would be put through, for crying out loud, so stop looking at me like you could have talked your way out of being the ghost.
So there I was, crouched behind a headstone, waiting, watching the fireflies. And I had this sudden realization: I remembered one of the young neighbors from my childhood who enjoyed frightening us. I remembered him as a bit of an asshole. And then I realized that for these kids – oh my god! – I was going to become their asshole! You know that phrase: I was just sitting there like an asshole? Well it’s a lot like normal sitting, only by the end you’re the asshole. No, I had to shake those thoughts from my head. I couldn’t let down the doe-eyed twelve-year old, and somehow I had to believe this would be alright. Besides, the kids were already their way up the hill, moments from the graveyard. Giving up then would just make me an asshole to the twelve-year old. Yessiree, I was going to be somebody’s asshole tonight.
In they came, and I took a moment to consider my strategy. Should I do something more than rawr? Should I cover my face with my t-shirt? No, that would bare my stomach, and never mind whether that would be effective, I would not suffer that humiliation. I settled on delivering the economy scare. My role was to surprise, not horrify, so I briefly practiced a more subdued selection from my rawring repertoire. They moved their way among the rows of graves, with the ringleader giving them a tour of the different headstones. So I finally bothered to read the name of the couple whom I … whom … there’s no other way to say this: whom I was standing on. Both born in the 1860’s or so, the husband died in 1910, the wife in 1929. I hoped they would be the kind of people who liked the idea of giving kids a scare. Or at least not be so offended as to break through their coffin and the earth to drag me to hell.
Finally the ringleader delivered the signal. That was the moment. I yelled a dinosaur/frankenstein hybrid rawr and slowly stood up from behind the grave. By the time I was able to see the children, they were already screaming and running back toward the house. Honestly, they looked so goddam cute I wanted to eat ’em up. I gave a few extra rawrs for good measure. The accompanying parents (There were parents? Thank goodness. The ringleader really had this figured out.) assured me I did a fine job and that the kids were fine. One sad five year old walked back with me. Why was she sad?
“Were you scared?”
“Are you still scared?”
“Then why are you sad?”
“Because I thought it would be a longer thing, and I want to be the ghost in the graveyard next.”
A sweet seven year old redheaded boy met me back at the cabin. He said. “You scawed me so much, I wan all the way down the hiwl, and I was out-a bweaf!”
In the end, all the children said the same thing. Yes, they were scared at the start. No, they still weren’t scared. Yes, they were sure.
Except the five year old girl. She broke in to a bawling fit twenty minutes later, and I tried to comfort her.
“I was really really scared!”
“But wait a minute, we were fine earlier! Didn’t you say you weren’t scared, and you wanted to be the ghost in the graveyard?”
“I changed my miiiiiind!!”
Her dad insisted she was just overtired and her mom gave her another piece of chocolate. Later that the evening she was happy and huggy and we forged a new relationship the next day where I was “the kissing monster.”
It looks as though I dodged being the asshole after all.