As a writer of the dark stuff, it should come as no surprise that autumn is my favorite season, October my favorite month, and Halloween my favorite holiday. As soon as the leaves change color and begin to fall, it’s time for the coat to go on and for long walks in the woods.
In my youth it was no different. In school, it was the one time of the year in which it was okay to have portraits of slavering monsters festooning the classroom walls, pumpkins wearing expressions comical and malevolent lined in rows on the long tables beneath them. We bobbed for apples, and played games all day instead of learning anything of value. Even our teachers seemed infected by the Halloween spirit and dispensed candy to the sweet-toothed students with all the fervor of kings tossing coins to the poor. We were allowed to come to class in the costumes we intended to wear for Halloween. There were competitions for the best. Then, once school was out, we walked home, watching the younger children whose trick-or-treating was confined to daylight hours (out of fear of monsters both very real and dangerous), and discussed the best neighborhoods to hit for the most amount of candy. Every year, it was pretty much the same.
Until the last one.
I was thirteen, and aware that I was toeing the line of being too old for trick-or-treating. From what I had seen, once you passed a certain age, your idea of what constituted fun began to change. For some, this meant tormenting the younger kids with eggs and flour and water balloons, or toilet-papering houses. Or worse. For others, it meant staying at home watching horror movies with their parents and handing out candy, often with a look of regret that they had outgrown the privilege of being on the other side of things. I probably belonged to this latter category on the night I decided to go trick-or-treating for the last time.
I went alone, as my friends had decided that this was the year that they were going to retire from the nightworld, a decision that disappointed me greatly. I was unwilling to relinquish the feel of the one night in which I got to play the monster, and in truth, I think I was afraid of the greater implications of being too old to trick or treat. If I was too old for that, what else was I too old for? Christmas? Riding my bike to the old abandoned house at the end of the neighborhood? Writing love notes to girls I had crushes on? It was as if, in taking off my mask, I would be taking off the face of my childhood, and the thought depressed me. So, to hell with it, I thought, and off I went—a dime-store Dracula with a cape, capsules of foamy blood syrup in my mouth, and a talcum-powder pallor to my skin.
But almost immediately, I knew things had changed. The younger kids had already gone home, and there were fewer kids my own age roaming around by the time I stepped out into the night. The air smelled different, the electricity gone, and as I went from house to house the people who opened the door to me seemed less enthusiastic, less engaged by the ritual, as if they too had grown exhausted of the pretense, or perhaps, were just nonplussed by mine. It was a season for children, after all, so what was I doing here, an adolescent, too old for it all, holding out my bag with a forced grin on my bloody mouth and nothing to say?
As the night went on, it became evident that I had been fooling myself. The streets were dark and empty, the spirit I had grown to cherish gone, already carried home in the hearts of the younger children, with none reserved for me. In getting older, I had given up the right. And as I pondered this, a slump-shouldered vampire heading back to his crypt for the night, I was set upon by four tall monsters, teenagers toeing their own line of grown-up responsibility as their twenties loomed on the horizon. I weathered their assault of eggs, flour, and water balloons without complaint until, howling and hollering at the moon, they moved on in search of another victim.
I remember standing there for a long time outside a house in which all the lights were off—a sign for you to move along, please, no candy here—chewing a fistful of gummy worms as cold egg yolk slithered down the back of neck, and realizing that no amount of denial would ever change the fact that it was my last Halloween.
But again, I was wrong.
When I got home that night, sullen and miserable, my mother looked at me, grinning, and told me to go get cleaned up. After a shower, I felt better, and the night ended with me and my mother sitting in the dark watching horror movies on television while we shared the candy. This, I realized, was my Halloween now, and as much as I tried, as much as I lamented the loss of the spirit that had characterized the Halloweens of years past, I couldn’t find reason to complain about it. It was, as a matter of fact, just fine.
It was the last Halloween only in the sense of celebrating it as a child.
It was the first Halloween for the adult I was becoming.
Nowadays, when this time of year comes around, I still feel something of the old magic. There is an equal amount of fun to be found in making it fun for others. I love when the costumed children come around and being one of those people who does leave the lights on, does open the door and spoils them with tons of candy. And my girlfriend and I have made something of a big deal, not only about Halloween, but the whole season. Starting on October 1st, we begin to decorate the house with Gothic candles, skulls, lights, and various bits of Halloween paraphernalia. We watch horror movies and read horror novels all month long.
I love this time of year, and have realized that it’s only ever the last Halloween if you let it be. Eventually, of course, time itself will give you your last Halloween, but even then, even when we’re ushered quietly into the realm of the spirits, Halloween night will still be ours, and like that kid too old to trick-or-treat, we’ll simply be doing it in our own way on the other side of things.
- Should You Go Trick-or-Treating This Year? (laughablog.wordpress.com)
- Trick or Treat: Penn. Regulators Offer Tips to Avoid Halloween Hazards (insurancejournal.com)
- Theme Thursday: Halloween (and why I didn’t get a degree in nursing) (cloudywithachanceofwine.com)