“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.