This Halloween season has been distinctly different for me. I am having a difficult time of it because I lost my mother and aunt earlier this year. Memories keep swirling through my mind of Halloweens past, when Mom took us trick-o-treating as little kids and Aunt Margie (my mother's sister) used to come over to the house and celebrate with us.
My mother had been an actress in many of our church’s theater productions, so she encouraged my desire to role-play all the time, but especially at Halloween. Even when I got older and dressed up, Mom delighted in seeing my costume, though a few years when I was something rather grizzly and gory she would scold me for being too extreme. My aunt always gave me a Halloween card and a little gift (even right up until last year). I think I looked forward to the day so much because they had taught me early on that this was not a day of fear but one of magic and delight.
When I was a teenager living in Queens, New York, my friends and I dressed usually as derelicts or zombies and went around the neighborhood with cans of shaving cream and a dozen eggs stuffed in our pockets. After an evening of bombing buses with eggs and zapping fences, doorways, and parked cars with shaving cream, we would embark on the long walk up the winding hill to Cypress Hills Cemetery to visit the site of Harry Houdini’s grave. The legend was that Harry had promised his wife if he could find a way to come back he would do so on Halloween at midnight. Over the years, we encountered numerous goblins and ghouls congregating at the gravesite, but the famous magician’s spirit never materialized.
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday and even long after some of my friends hung up their costumes for what they thought was forever, I celebrated the day with fervor and passion. During my undergrad and grad school days, a good friend had a Halloween bash every year (the fact that he lived in an apartment above a funeral home only added to the haunted excitement). In subsequent years, I went with my friends (who came back to the day of tricks and treats as they got older) to a local tavern where a costume contest was held every Halloween. Once I became a father, the day took on even more significance and I celebrated it anew because of my daughter’s excitement.
While I have been trying to hang on to these good memories, it has been an uncomfortable time for me. When I walk around town and see all the decorations, I get very depressed and sick to the point of almost vomiting. At one time, I was thrilled by decapitated corpses, swinging skeletons, and hobbled zombies found on porches and front steps. Now they make my heart ache. The fake coffins I see in shops and store windows with vampires or corpses hanging from them are not funny anymore and the Styrofoam tombstones with their supposedly humorous epitaphs decorating lawns seem cruel and despicable. R.I.P. (Rest in Peace) is not something that is at all humorous but rather painful to think about now that Mom and Aunt Margie have passed away.
Still, as everyone keeps telling me, I have my daughter to think about, so I have gone through the motions this year. Going through the motions is supposed to be good for me, according to family and friends. “It’s called getting on with your life,” someone who means well said to me recently. I do want to accomplish this, I really do. But it’s not all that simple. I try to think of other things, keep myself busy at work, and get some writing done at home, but the thoughts of either Mom or Aunt Margie are always there. I dream about them being alive. I dream about them dying. I have disturbing dreams that wake me and I have no recollection of what they were about. Mostly, I try to get through the day and hope I can sleep at night.
All month I’ve been subjected to what is now the Month of Halloween. As soon as the calendar hits October 1st, people are decorating their houses and lawns and the stores are overflowing with all things spooky. It becomes overwhelming because it feels like something being force-fed to me, like all the political commercial frenzy on television in these weeks before Election Day. In fact, Halloween and the politicians’ campaigns are a rather grim but apropos juxtaposition of reality and fantasy. I just can’t decide which one to categorize as fantasy.
I have been to the pumpkin farm, the party store (to get my daughter’s costume), and the Halloween store for some decorations. I reluctantly decorated the house to make my little girl happy. This is my attempt at participation, at moving on somehow, but it’s always a struggle. When we went to a children’s party last night, I stayed in the shadows and tried to remain a quiet pirate (an old costume I found in my closet) in the corner. I watched the kids playing musical chairs, bobbing for apples, and dancing to the music, but the joy I wanted to feel (and hoped to feel) was just not there for me.
Today was a stormy and windy day, matching the tumultuous feelings that have been brewing within me all month. I walked up to the store to get the paper and noticed the Halloween decorations being knocked around on lawns and porches, and I felt happy to see one ghoul swaying in the gale-force winds to the point of its body being ripped away from its head and blown across the road to certain destruction under the wheels of a vehicle. When I returned home and sat by the front window sipping my coffee and reading the paper, a painful solemnity overwhelmed me as the autumn leaves swirled in mini tornadoes around my front yard. The almost barren tree branches flapped madly against the side of my house, reminding me that an even colder and darker season is yet to come.
As I sat there, I became aware that perhaps this was why I have been so distraught about Halloween. It’s not just the heft of the traditions of ghosts and the assorted other goblins and ghouls that is bothering me. I know the year is moving into what is known as “the holidays,” and that scares me more than any witch or vampire can. I realize this will be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas since my mother and my aunt passed away, and I shiver with the thought of having to deal with carving a turkey or making merry without them.
I suppose I will face these things when they come, going through the motions as everyone says I should. I am doing that now and hoping Halloween will soon be over. Even when all the decorations disappear, their scars will linger. But I am determined to have the big bowl read for Tuesday evening. Each time the doorbell rings, I will answer it and suffer through the words “Trick or treat,” throw some booty into each child’s bucket or bag, and even try to smile. I’ll be pleasant to the kids and say hello to their parents, but each moment I’ll be thinking that going through the motions isn’t easy or pleasant or anything but the most arduous thing I’ve ever had to do.