It was October 31st, 1999, circa 7 PM. I was in eighth grade, and the new kid at school. There I sat at the dining room table, wearing my Halloween costume and waiting for a call from the (new and tenuous) friends who had promised to trick-or-treat with me. They had said they’d come get me at 6:00, but there had been no contact all evening. My mom was both furious and heartbroken on my behalf, and she knew there was nothing she could do - it’s not like trick-or-treating solo with my embarrassing mom was going to make my nascent eighth-grade social life any better.
The 1999 episode wasn’t even particularly scarring in and of itself - it turned out that the one girl in the group who I did truly hope was my friend and not just pretending had no idea that I’d been ghosted (ha!) and felt terrible about it. She is still my best and oldest friend (Hi Gabby!). That night never fails to come to mind, though, when I think of the way my Halloweens have tended to go throughout my adult life. That year was my last as a trick-or-treater - subsequent years brought Halloween parties, social expectations, and the anxiety-inducing concept of the sexy costume. Sexy costumes were certainly never my thing in the awkward years, but even later, as a grown-ass and supposedly-more-secure adult, I struggled to feel like I was striking the right balance between clever, humorous, creative, and attractive. One year, at a Halloween party in Los Angeles that I attended with my brother, I was dressed as a flapper girl and actually kinda feeling myself for once. A young woman wearing a Daria costume, seemingly à propos of nothing, called me a fat bitch - angrily and to my face. It was frankly more puzzling than hurtful in the moment. I’d never met this person in my life; neither, as it turned out, had my brother or his friends. She was asked to leave the party, and she did, but that was the end of the night for me, too. There was a part of me that has always remained convinced that she was speaking the unabated truth that a complete stranger is free to speak at a Halloween party where everyone’s inhibitions are on the low side. I was twenty-eight years old, and I was an awkward eighth-grader all over again. Having put in a good-faith effort to enjoy the holiday, I felt like it had roundly rejected me. I think that was the last year I made any sort of effort to don a costume.
I am ready now to own the fact that I am not a fat bitch; I am just not really into Halloween. And, I do not care. I’m not going to claim that it’s entirely because of these fairly minor social dings that happen to be associated with Halloween; I think it’s just not my thing. Every year, I feel like I SHOULD be excited, I SHOULD be coming up with a costume. If I ever get a great idea for Halloween, it comes to me sometime in March. Briefly, I feel a spark of motivation. “I should get that Janet-from-The-Good-Place costume ready now so I will be a funny-but-understated Halloween person come October, not to mention PREPARED instead of running to the costume stores at the 11th hour and paying top dollar with all the suckers!” I congratulate myself on having such a productive thought. The next thought, of course, is that “I have better things to do in MARCH, of all the months!” And so of course I do nothing. Idea from March, it was nice knowing you. Around mid-August, when Halloween candy starts appearing in place of beach toys at CVS, I think, “RIGHT! This would be a good time to figure out what to be for Halloween! Quick, think of something!” The idea-well, of course, is bone dry. I try to care, and yet I cannot, and it becomes a struggle between performance anxiety and inertia. I know that Halloween is a joyous, festive, let-it-all-out holiday for so many, and I see how much fun they are having. I SHOULD want to participate. I just…don’t. Someone recently challenged me to excise the word “should” from my vocabulary, to recognize how little it serves me. To see what happens when I replace “I should” with “I want to.”
This year, here’s what I want out of Halloween: I want to look at other cute kids’ costumes and say “aww!” and not feel bad that their costumes are homemade and my kid’s costume is from TJ Maxx. I want to relish how much my kid loves the costume I took her to pick out at TJ Maxx, just as much as I enjoyed the rare delight of telling her, “you can have WHICHEVER ONE YOU WANT, so GO TO TOWN!” I do not feel bad about that choice - it was the best afternoon the two of us have had together in a while! I want to put out a bowl of candy on the front porch at bedtime and tape a sign over the doorbell saying “DO NOT RING!” I want everyone else to have a great Halloween if that’s what they want. I am not here to tell you how to Halloween! As long as you stay away from hurtful cultural appropriation and shitty pranks that destroy property, I want you to do you! And I want my kid to do her, too! I want her to be excited about Halloween in growing ways, on her own terms, year to year. Maybe her enthusiasm over the coming years will make me want to participate more actively, but if it doesn’t, I’m sure I’ll still find a way to be embarrassing to her.