Friday, October 31, 2014

What Scares Us

As faithful readers have likely identified by now, I like holidays. I enjoy the ritual assembly of family that happens on Thanksgiving and Christmas, the resolution that comes with New Year’s, the signature fireworks of the Fourth of July.

And then there’s Halloween.

In my childhood, it was about costumes and candy. My mother fashioned some pretty impressive get ups for me through a combination of store-brought props and an ingenuity at crafts that she didn’t show often but was truly a hidden talent, leading to costumes that included Skeletor, Darkwing Duck, and The Phantom of the Opera. Rather than venturing door to door for candy, we traditionally took part in the more convenient, less weather-dependent store-to-store trick-or-treating at the Sangertown Square shopping mall.

In my late high school years, the holiday became more or less equal parts about candy and mischief. After a several year gap without dressing up, I realized the free candy to be had, and friends and I dressed up in minimalist costumes (I put the hood up on my jacket and wore sunglasses to become the Unambomber). While our mischief was relatively managed, I can’t deny that I sprayed some shaving cream and smashed some pumpkins in those less responsible years.

In adult life, aside from the obligatory party or two, I’ve used Halloween as an opportune time to indulge in scares, mostly in the form of watching a few new horror movies and revisiting an old favorite or two; sometimes I’ll throw in a horror novel as one of my October reads.

But in between teenager and adult I recall the first Halloween I spent at college. As I’ve written about before, it took me a while freshman year to find my bearings socially.

For the first couple months, I fell in with a group of girls with whom I had little in common besides living in the same dorm and happening to have found myself in the same stairwell the same night when we all met and first got to talking.

By Halloween, as the cliche goes, the bloom was off the rose. As the day approached, a couple of the girls talked about having a movie night on the 31st, and persisted in adding that it would be a really fun “girls night.” I laughed (I thought) along, in reference to how I was one of the girls. By Halloween eve, it was clear I wasn’t invited.

I felt betrayed, for sure, but all the more potently so for having been dismissed for a holiday. Like a jilted lover the night before prom, I felt righteous indignation for having been left to myself in a town still new to me with nothing to do on Halloween.

More than indignation, I felt alone.

I walked around campus aimlessly that night, feeling sorry for myself, hoping to stumble into some new fun, but just the same sulky enough to repel any good times that really might have awaited. In the end, I wound up back in my dorm room at a decent hour, where I finished my homework and went to bed without incident.

And perhaps because of the lack of any event or drama, I look back on that Halloween as the one that most truly realized my fears--not of vampires or zombies, but of what scared me the most, even as a relatively introverted young man. I was terrified of ending up alone. For holidays. For the long haul. Even just for one stupid Halloween night.

And perhaps it’s those moments that scare us that expose the directions in which we must evolve, whether it’s dealing with ghosts or spiders or heights. For my part, while I’m still troubled by the idea of a life without friends and family, I have also very much learned to love myself. To find the joy in a long road trip alone with my music and thoughts; to relish the occasional weekend of uninterrupted productivity. Even the joy in those pensive moonlit walks, holding conversations with no one but myself.

I’ve also come to embrace the importance of chocolate. That Snickers and Reese’s may not solve problems, but they can make most nights better. And if I’ve gone a Halloween without either, then something is seriously wrong.

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