The last time I played kickball–and I mean actually played, vs. stood there counting down the minutes until middle school gym class was over–I was probably 9 years old. The field was my backyard. My teammates consisted of my 7 year old brother, 12 year old sister, and infinite “ghost men,” which were used as stand-ins since we didn’t have enough players to make up even one team.
Thinking back on it, it was impressive that we could create something even slightly resembling a real game of kickball, considering there were only 2 people on one team and 1 on the other. But we had outs, and innings, and we kept score.
Or I should say, to be more accurate, my sister kept score. My older sister was always the team captain, the score keeper, and, most importantly, the controller of the ghost men.
“Ghost man on first!” she’d called out before rolling the ball to my brother. He’d kick it, she’d grab it, and then she’d pantomime hitting a player in the shoulder.
“Ghost man’s out!” she’d call. And we’d be forced to accept it.
That didn’t mean that every time a ghost man got out when, had he been a human man, there’s no way the play would have been made, my brother didn’t argue.
“He’s not out!” he’d scream. “You didn’t get him out!”
“Yes, I did,” my sister would say, and even though I knew my brother was right, that would have to be the end of it–or else, they’d continue to argue until the game unraveled into a yelling match and I decided I didn’t want to play anymore anyway, at which point my sister would beg me to keep playing, since we were all obviously having so much fun.
Adult kickball doesn’t have ghost men, and for that, I am grateful. But adulthood itself sure does, because what else are ghost men, really, but things–thoughts, ideas, opinions–that can’t be seen by the naked eye and yet can influence how a game turns out?
Sometimes, when ghost men show up in a relationship–be it between siblings, friends, or lovers–we act like my brother and we fight and fight to get the other person to see what we do. Other times, we choose to go along with them because we can’t bear to watch the game fall apart. I’m certainly no expert–on relative relations, friendships, or romantic endeavors–but I think a healthy relationship is one in which you both acknowledge the ghost man, understand the other person may never admit he’s safe, and yet agree to respect that view anyway. Cause then the game can go on, and unless we’re talking about one person seeing a grand slam and the other seeing a strike out, is there truly a devastating harm if the ghost man makes it farther than he probably should have?
I mean, we could all use a free base once in a while.