Hi. I’ve posted this on LiveJournal before, but never here on Oh Honestly, Erin.
There are some standard cultural traditions that I avoid like the plague. For example, having ‘Happy Birthday’ serenaded to me. It makes me want to unzip my skin and climb inside my body cavity. I never know what to do with myself while locked in this thirty second predicament. Where do I focus my eyes? Do I mouth the words along with everyone? Do I laugh, smile, cry, fellate a candle? Where do I put my hands!? I cannot explain this phobia, but my mom is clearly to blame for the one regarding dressing up for Halloween.
It wasn’t always a disaster. In fact, I used to enjoy it.
Exhibit A: Erin as a bunny in Kindergarten:
Notice how carefree I was. I’m undeniably thrilled that it’s Halloween and I get to dress up and be pretty. But this was back when Halloween was pure and simple—before my mom caught wind of the costume contest at my elementary school. Children from each grade can win a prize for the most creative costume? Who knew?
By the time second grade rolled around, my mom had morphed into Pageant Mother: Halloween Edition. Choosing my own costume was no longer in the cards. While all my friends were running amok in Kmart, fingering racks of synthetic Snow White capes and vinyl witch masks and probably inhaling 567,872,536 incubating germs left behind by the hundreds of people before them who breathed inside the masks, my role was to sit idly on my ass while my mom tapped into her creative genius for the perfect costume, year after year. I wanted to contract viruses, too, goddammit. But my mom would remind me that there was real life fame and fortune on the line, and since I was only eight, I still had faith in her.
My first homemade costume wasn’t all that sufferable. I have a vague recollection of wanting to help and having my fingers slapped. (Oh my god, I totally do this to my kid now. I have become my mother.)
Though I was shy, I secretly gloated behind my crayon tophat as everyone shrieked about the coolness of my costume. Other kids paraded around the elementary’s parking lot wearing their generic Made in Taiwan costumes, but I was the real deal, yo.
That year gave me my first taste of Halloween costume greatness. I was the winner from my grade, hands down. I remember clutching my prize (a real life silver dollar!) to my heart and beaming knowingly at my mom—we were on our way to big things, I could feel it in my immobile torso. If we had been given the opportunity to recite an acceptance speech, I would have dedicated my winnings to her.
The excitement of the costume contest came to a crashing halt that evening. It was nearly time for Trick or Treating, and I realized that I didn’t have a real costume. You know, real as in ‘practical.’ Real as in ‘I will be traversing great lengths for the sake of candy and this fucking mummifying cardboard box is slightly invasive, can I get a leotard and some mother bitchin’ fairy wings?’ My mom, when I brought this to her attention, scoffed at me and said, “Yes, you do have a real costume!” Next thing I know, my arms are in the air and she’s shoving the Crayola box over my body. This is not the sort of costume that a child wants to wear while on a hunt for candy; my range of motion was limited. My step-dad rose to the occasion and pleaded with my mom that it was going to be a serious buzz kill for me. But don’t get it twisted, this isn’t the heart-warming moment of the story where the girl realizes that her step-dad loves her and decides to call him “daddy” for the first time. His concern was thinly veiled selfishness; he was attempting to save himself from the inevitable whining in which I was about to unleash like tiny verbal firecrackers. I remember hearing my mom respond with, “Yeah, but I want the neighbors to see.”
My shuffling got me down half of a block before I had to head back home, thanks due to cardboard chafing. That was the lightest load of candy any child over the age of five has ever obtained in history, with the exception of those getting hit by a car, kidnapped or only having a palm to put it in. And it was all my mom’s fault.
By the time third grade rolled around, the Crayola catastrophe was a far off memory. Figuring the ambitions of my mother was a one time deal, I asked her to take me to the mall so I could pick out my next costume. My request was greeted by a look of horror, and she said, “I’ve already started working on your costume.” Oh. We’re doing this again, are we? Goodie.
One would think I would have a say in my own ghouly accoutrement, but all of my ideas and helpful suggestions of butterfly wings and fake blood were shot down. I was, after all, only a kid. And it was only my costume. This one would prove to be the single most over the top costume of my elementary school’s history. (I did extensive research. And by that, I mean I assumed.)
Notice how I’m gazing longingly off in the distance. I think I was devising a plan to steal He-Man’s sword and slash my way out of the sandwich board costume.
The traditional parade was a bitch, as this latest costume proved to be a proverbial thorn in my side. I had to take tiny baby steps, because walking with too much zest caused the cardboard to bounce off of my knees, running the risk of dislodging some of the game pieces. It was during this panoply that I discovered what it’s like to be chased down by the paparazzi. Not that I knew what paparazzi was back then. I had cameras being shoved in my face by a bevy of soccer moms and lunch ladies.
I won again, this time grudgingly. Another silver dollar. That novelty was being stretched thin. My strongest memory of that day was being divided: on one hand, I was elated and lapped up every last drop of attention that was tossed my way because I was no longer an only child and had to resort to destructive behavior to get even a glance in my general direction back at home; but on the other hand, I was embarrassed and wanted to go home and cry in bed.
I returned to my classroom after enduring another photo-op with the principal, and I couldn’t help but sense resentment from some of my peers. A handful of them had even retired their standard super hero costume fare for the likes of Coke cans, a skyscraper, and french fries. They were all clustered together on one side of room, sulking over their failed efforts. But then there was the other half of my classmates who were happier of my win than I was, and wouldn’t cease pawing at my costume. Here, have it. It’s all yours.
By the time I got home, I had put the horrors of Monopoly behind me. This time, my mom relented and I had a backup costume for Trick or Treating. I had to make up for the last year’s debacle, and the painful memory of it made possible my desire to cover extra territory. It was at this young age when I grasped the concept of heaping large amounts of chocolate and caramel into my system to temporarily numb depression.
Apparently I was doing too much indulging, because I became fat. Fortunately, by the next year, I was too busy worrying about weighing more than 85% of my class than stressing over my stupid grandfather clock costume. Suspiciously, there’s no picture of that year’s effort, and I think the fact that I was trumped by my classmate Mike’s grape guise may have something to do with it. To this day, my mom insists that it was about (PTA) politics. I was relieved to have the heat taken off me. Mike’s costume was killer, yet oh-so simple. A purple sweat suit with purple balloons pinned to it. Genius. My mom still goes off about how he didn’t deserve it. “What did that take? Like, five minutes to pull off? I had worked on that fucking clock for a week!” The grandfather clock really was a crappy costume, though, and I didn’t know the meaning of constricting until that year’s sheath of cardboard was shoved over the shaft of my newly plump body. Divine would have had an easier time sausaging into her evening gowns.
Oh, how I longed for a drug store costume. Imagining how comfortable a plastic Rainbow Brite smock would be was the only thing that held my sanity in place during the ritual romp around the parking lot.
My mom, still feeling the blow of defeat from the previous year, pulled a “phoenix rising” and came back with this one:
It would turn out to be her swan song, and she was rewarded handsomely when I reclaimed my title. I won a real dollar bill that time, which I believe went right into my mom’s purse.
Of course, people who didn’t know me then always express genuine concern with the fact that I’m so into October and all of its creepy overtones yet so blase about dressing up. Well, NOW THEY KNOW.