Halloween

“Fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.”
-William Golding, Lord of the Flies

I’ve always loved dressing up. Many hours I’ve spent pulling my mother’s old prom dresses, fake furs, and jewelry from a large vintage trunk and wearing them around the house or dancing in the living room (at age 8 I even donned the flowery sheer overlay of my mother’s engagement party dress—sans chemise—with a pair of Cabbage Patch roller skates and a headless broomstick and headed outside. The mailman greeted me with polite adieu). So it only makes sense that when Halloween rolled around, I looked forward to dressing up for the world to see.

However, Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. Yes, candy is awesome, but candy doesn’t have to be obtained from the front doorsteps of strangers. Part of it could be that I am a horrible door-to-door salesman, and the association with selling magazines, Girl Scout cookies, and asking for donations for charities are all tied up with my memories of going door-to-door dressed up in a costume.

Or it could be that I’ve always hated being afraid. The idea of making another living thing feel afraid makes me a bit nauseous, one reason I am against hunting, and to think other people get a thrill out of striking fear in others makes me dislike other people. I avoid slasher flicks and movies where people are killed for the sake of being killed like the plague. To summarize: I don’t mind a bit of Halloween fun, but creepy, rapey, horror vibes are not for me. Fear can hurt others, and the lasting effects can be life-long. That said, I do have good memories of the upcoming day.

One of my favorite costumes to date was dressing up as Jasmine from Aladdin. Women empowerment be damned, I felt good pretending to be who I considered the prettiest Disney princess. We’d found the perfect teal outfit with puffy pant bottoms (it was all one piece—no bare midriff for this modest first grader) and headband hot glued with a turquoise jewel.

I believe that was the same year that we went to some kind of retirement home where all the senior residents had been lined up in chairs with buckets of Sweet Tarts, Dum Dum suckers, and other hard candies. My twin sister (princess-with a turtleneck), older brother (Superman), and I walked down the line with a few other children, and reached in the buckets to take a piece of proffered candy with a meek “thank you” in return. I picture all the chairs as a mustard yellow color, and the room being somewhat beat-up, but I’m sure it wasn’t. Some people commented on us being cute, and one woman had taken the time to wrap Kleenexes with permanent markered eyes and mouths around Blow Pops and make ghosts. That made quite the impression. But what I remember most was the woman who sat there and said loudly, “Why do we have to give them candy? They should be giving candy to us!”

She went on to grab one of our buckets. It might have been my brother’s because he went on to give her some of his while the neighbor of the somewhat-grouchy-but-validly-questioning woman chewed her out. I believe I left crying, confused by a mixture of 1) humiliation for parading around these people who didn’t really care but were tired of staring at their communal television and 2) guilt for taking their candy.

When we went out for the actual Trick-or-Treating, we stopped at houses in our neighborhood, and then drove around town to other areas where my parents knew other families. We stopped by a house that had many people leaving it. As we climbed out of the conversion van, a man with a hockey mask stepped toward us and pulled the starter on a chainsaw in his left hand. Screaming, my mother’s solution was for us to run TOWARD the house, away from the man. We did, and what ensued was something worthy of a B-movie or a kitschy sitcom. We stepped onto the porch and rang the doorbell. Someone reached up and grabbed my brother’s foot underneath the railing. He kicked the attacker, and a woman opened the door and welcomed us to grab candy from a ten gallon cauldron. On top of the pile was a hand that moved and crawled over the candy. My sister and I, repulsed, refused to take anything, so my mom grabbed packs of gum, tossed them in our bags, and we tried to leave. Once we reached a porch, my sister’s crown became entangled in some low-hanging cobwebs, and it bounced there in midair just out of our reach. We screamed, probably crying by this point, and my mom untangled it, and we raced for the van. I believe the chainsaw man had realized our utter fright by this point, so he didn’t chase us. Or maybe he was a dick and he did. A lot of the evening is a blur in my mind with stand out images of horror.

Today, this memory is more humorous than scary to me, but I do remember refusing to chew the gum we got as our “treat” from that house. If I remember correctly, my sister and I dug it from out of our buckets, tossed it in the front of the van and said we wouldn’t touch it again.

My mom, a bit shaken with the whole experience herself, said, “Fine. Your dad will take it.”
And he did—even after he had heard the story—which made sense to me because my dad was fearless. Chewing the gum that may have been touched by a fake hand didn’t faze him one bit.

Horrifying or the joke of a people willing to give others a cheap thrill, I still don’t really enjoy the concept of the modern day Halloween. But traditions give us holidays, and I like holidays because of their traditions. Like many holidays, Halloween is just another time when I appreciate my family for all they are. When I think of children who don’t have the support and explanations I had as a child, I wonder how I got so lucky. Because of my fam I can tolerate a grump, scream and cry with them when frightened, and laugh about it all later. Fear then becomes a thing of the past, only visited again, once in awhile, in dreams.

An Ode

“I had decided early on that if I couldn’t dress elegant, I’d dress memorable.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

Scoliosis. It’s a word resonant of the mouths of snakes that slivers down the spine and stays there, tangled and permanent. For years of my adolescent life, I felt hounded and haunted by it, and though everyone has her or his own story of discontent with pubescence and coming of age, we oftentimes are too absorbed in our own shells to realize that the majority of the outside oyster doesn’t really give a crap. But at the time, it doesn’t seem that way.

So, for the two and a half years of wearing a back brace through junior high and high school, I tried to hide the fact that I was tightly bound in plastic from buttocks to boob. Several petrifying moments occurred including sneezing during a read-through of a play in seventh grade and the Velcro straps that cinched my brace together severed their secured connection and exploded open (luckily my sneeze was just as loud as the ripping Velcro the and the extra large t-shirt I wore didn’t expose the loose brace to the untrained eye). Or in eighth grade, walking down the steps that passed by high school study hall (seniors and all!), and just sat down when my legs gave out for no reason, my very hip-to-the-max navy and red “Scholastic” bag that held my algebra books tumbling down next to me. The latter had nothing to do with the brace, but it added to my mortification.

Luckily, I had someone at my side who could reconnect my Velcro and laugh about the dork who had fallen on the steps. Having a twin sister (identical? Maybe. We look a lot alike, but have never done the blood work), who is in many ways much stronger than I, changed everything. Looking back at my life, I know it is because of her that I ended up with any sort of confidence whatsoever. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees has a protagonist, Taylor Greer, that reminds me of my sister for many reasons. Not for the fact that Taylor is from Kentucky, a bit rough around the edges, and a tad too trusting of strangers, but rather I sense my sister because Taylor is strong, honest, and resolute in what she knows is right. I see Sarah, and that’s what is memorable to me. She was and still is the wick to my flame, the Green Knight to my Gawain, the Louise to my Thelma, the Tony Wonder to my Gob. Admittedly, we’re both introverted at times—me the more—but when we’re together, it’s like all is right with the world, and even the stupid things I mumble are funny because she makes them seem that way.

The quote that prefaces this musing, when Taylor references the way she dresses in bright colors to make herself stand out next to the other girls’ plain and boringly expected tans and light pinks, reminds me of Sarah’s and my childhood. We had our fair share of matching sweats (mine in teal and Sarah’s in pink), dresses, and windsuits (me-purple, Sarah-pink, once again). 90’s fashion was ostentatious at times (you dressed us well, Mom! Don’t think this is a criticism!), but we were memorable not for our bright colors, but for our alikeness, our same faces. So when we wore back braces and wore large clothes to cover up the hard body Tupperware, it didn’t really matter. We couldn’t dress “elegantly” as our peers did, but we were still memorable because there were two of us. At a certain time, we both probably resented this. I don’t mean we took each other for granted or anything, but we liked to be recognized as separate entities, separate hearts and minds. A select few—mostly family, friends, and our volleyball coach—did this anyway. Now that we live in separate towns, I wish more than anything for someone to call me “Sarah” or “one of the twins,” just to have the taste of what it means to be memorable once again. I don’t dress “elegantly”—and who knows what “elegant” means on a day-to-day basis?—but being memorable has a new meaning for me now, and it is something I must find on my own.

Having lost the back brace to a storage room in my parent’s house and traded up (not necessarily willingly) to titanium rods in my back, it is always easier to find clothes that fit when Sarah is with me. No matter what voice has taken control of my head that day or how I may vent about my physical attributes and put myself down, Sarah brings me back to Earth with a call of logic or a complaint of her own about herself, which I am quick to deny, just as she is mine. Knowing I can call her up and tell her anything oftentimes gets me through a less than peppy day, and though I don’t necessarily believe in ESP, I know so much of what I feel in life mirrors what Sarah feels. And remembering that is greater than any outfit I could put together.

It is nice to say I have grown more confident in who I am despite my deformity, occasional adult acne, and larger than average derrière, and I have accepted these things. Time and age can change so many wanton beliefs of oneself. But ultimately, people change us the most. For me, the best part is getting up in the morning and knowing that somewhere, not especially far away, someone who looks a lot like me is up too, ready to take on the world.