Halloween has never been a favorite day of mine. As a little kid I was unsettled by the fake tombstones and cobwebbed skeletons that adorned my normally pleasant-looking neighborhood. Even now, I don’t understand people’s fascination with death and gore, like the current zombie craze that affects some of my coworkers. I have lived through experiences where I felt like a zombie. Remembering my own face colored in various shades of bruise, blood leaking from my nostrils, or the corners of my mouth after surgery, and remembering just how awful it felt, both mentally and physically… I just don’t understand the appeal of pretending to be undead.
Masks are also unsettling. The frozen expression, even if it is a jolly one, hides the real emotions and intentions of the person wearing it. Even characters at theme parks have given me an uneasy feeling and I never rushed to be photographed with them. Who knew what kind of creep was lurking under that cheesy grin and oversized head?
Surgeons wear masks. The second surgery I ever had in my life was on October 30th, 1980. I was only 4 months old at the time so it is unlikely that I consciously remember any of it, but I wonder sometimes if my aversion to Halloween comes from being in the hospital over that time. Undoubtedly the children’s ward was decorated for the occasion. Or maybe my aversion comes from the simple fact that every time I saw people with their faces covered by surgical masks, I was having an unhappy experience.
When I was really young, I enjoyed dressing up like a princess or a ballerina (which sadly I can’t seem to find pictures of!). In the snapshot above, I’m wearing a homemade scarecrow costume. (Thanks, Mom!) Not once did I want to dress up as something frightening.
As I’ve mentioned before, my technique for surviving at school was to blend in as much as possible. While Halloween could have been a really fun time for me to experiment with crazy costumes or even disguise myself completely, I almost never did this. By 4th grade, Mom had apparently grown tired of making homemade costumes and instead bought me a cheap clown costume. It was a hideous one-piece polyester affair, with a wire hoop in the seam between the pants and the shirt which made it look like I had huge hips. As I was just entering puberty and beginning to feel even more self conscious about my body, this was not the greatest choice. All day I bumped those awkward hips on chairs, desks, fellow students – you name it. By the time I boarded the bus home (where I had to turn sideways to make it down the aisle), I was ready to burn that stupid costume and never dress up again.
As often happens in childhood, the thing you hated and passionately swore you would never do again is soon forgotten about. The next year, I dressed as a witch, complete with a long black wig, green face paint and a fake nose. It was the first costume that really disguised my true identity and let me blend in with the other kids.
In 6th grade, my middle school put on a Halloween dance. Everyone was to go in costume. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be caught dead going to a school dance, where I envisioned myself sitting alone on the sidelines as everyone else had the time of their lives. However, remembering the anonymity of last year’s witch ensemble, I decided to check it out. I dressed as a fortune teller in a dark dress with a sparkly shawl and the trusty black wig. I wore false eyelashes and bold lipstick. At the dance I hung out with my little group of friends but as I walked among the other students, I held my head high and once again felt liberated from my usual bumbling, apologetic self. Some kids even peered at me and wondered who I was. “I sit behind you in algebra!” I said to one girl, who had apparently been unaware of my existence until that very moment. After the dance (at which there was little to no actual dancing), I was high on adrenaline from having just accomplished a social milestone- my first school dance- without having felt ostracized or awkward or even a little bit self conscious. The power of a costume!
Fortunately as I’ve grown up, I have learned to be much more comfortable in my own skin, helped by little bits of “costume” that have been added along the way, like all the surgeries that have reshaped my face, the dental work and artistry that created my smile and the makeup I wear to accentuate my eyes. Most everyone has some means of improving their natural looks to make themselves presentable.
I’m still not a big fan of Halloween, though!