On Halloween, we eat dinner early. The setting sun beams in through the front windows as we form a line around the kitchen counter, our paper plates eager to touch the hot pizza. We scarf down the necessary carbs while sitting in whatever clothing will lie underneath our costumes.
A lot has led up to this moment. Anticipation clung to the air like fine mist when we were at school a few hours before. Mentions of route plans, candy bars of choice and costumes fluttered between our mouths. And even though there were no Halloween celebrations allowed in class, the end of the day bell would turn us all loose to be anything we wanted to be.
The magic of this feeling waned as we grew older. Young adulthood morphed trick-or-treating into oblivion, and the sweet hoards of chocolate from the morning after soured into math tests on Nov. 1. But as kids, the only thing we cared to count was the KitKats and Twizzlers that made their way into orange sacks, before being unwrapped and indulged over the following days, all because we wore a costume to someone’s front door.
Dressing up used to be the trickiest part of Halloween for me. My mom sewed me a Dalmatian costume when I was in first grade, which was reused with love in many years to follow due to its soft limbs and my inability to think of anything else. The getup was easily confused for a cow, but that didn’t matter: It was Halloween and I was something that wasn’t me. Over the years my costume choices were only made in order to clear the various hurdles the night presented. Bat costume? The headpiece is too hot. Sheet ghost? Prepare to trip and not be able to see half the night. Dalmatian. Didn’t you wear that last year?
It was in eighth grade that I finally found my costume niche. I deconstructed the box of our television, painting both sides in corporate red with white block lettering, with nutrition facts and ingredients on the back. Using duct tape straps to join the two panels over my shoulders, I became a KitKat. I received more of the chocolate wafer candy that year than any other. My knees rammed into the front piece of cardboard as we darted across neighborhood lawns, slick with the dew of dusk, but it was breathable, movable and undeniably recognizable.
My cardboard creations only diversified from there. I was an iPhone (the paper app icons slid off the costume in the October rain), an Oreo (a hamburger to some eyes) and one year I created my magnum opus: a Christmas tree. Two triangular cardboard pieces painted green, silver tinsel cascaded down each side and multi-colored lights bedazzled the front. I was the brightest, most recognizable, yet most seasonally out-of-place item on the Halloween streets.
I dressed up as these objects for fun; painting and gluing and taping were much more enjoyable activities to take part in than studying, reading or writing for school. However, this was done out of necessity as well. It was around my sophomore year of high school that I had ascended to my current height of 6 feet 3 inches. Creative, recognizable dress-up was the only way I could dodge the criticism that spits from the mouths of the adults who passed out candy.
“You’re a tall one.” “You’re so grown up!” Passive-aggressive comments paused at the topic of height, though others’ words ventured farther into the evening dark. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” “I didn’t realize you were trick-or-treating.” Candy that would flow into my brother’s sack would only trickle into mine. It was easy to take the subtle hints personally. Why was I running from house to house, begging for candy? Wasn’t there anything better that I was supposed to be doing, now that I was 15?
In high school, Halloween was associated with parties. Our school’s annual Halloween Dance blasted “Spooky Scary Skeletons” into the lower gym. Students showed up drunk on boxed wine or became sugared up on sherbert punch, dodging eye contact with teachers that had graded our homework hours before. We danced with adequate enthusiasm and talked to the people we needed to before going home to a friend’s house, forgetting the haunted mediocrity of what we just experienced. Trick-or-treat was out of the picture, and partying in groups was popular. It was part of growing up.
There’s pressure on high school students to forgo traditions of childhood and prepare themselves for the transition to adulthood. The residents behind the front doors I trick-or-treated at thought I should be studying for a test, hanging out with friends my own age or sitting at home, pretending to have something to do. The desire to grow older extended itself to school. Seventh graders were taken on tours of colleges, students took quizzes to determine their future career and summers were to be spent at academic programs. What is the purpose of ending childhood so early? Why are high schoolers now pushed away from the experiences that defined their youth, and towards ones that will undermine it?
Despite these pressures, I went trick-or-treating one last time in my senior year of high school, on the edge of 17. Earlier that day, I brought my costume, a refrigerator, to school as a part of our band’s participation in the next-door elementary school’s Halloween Parade. The mechanics of the fridge costume were the most complex yet: The front consisted of two cardboard pieces, bound together with plastic screws which created a fridge door that opened to reveal photo cutouts of fruit, ketchup and assorted perishables. On the inside of the door panel, the message Happy Halloween! was painted in black tempera paint. I opened the costume to reveal the interior food and message, and won first prize in my high school band’s costume competition. I hoped my good fortune would carry into the night.
As per tradition, we ate pizza at our neighbor’s house a few blocks away — the slices shining in the waning autumn light, and the napkins ready to capture any runaway sauce from our mouths. Parents commented on how it was my last Halloween, and there was nothing more I could do but smile and nod in acknowledgment. With this bittersweet atmosphere, the duct tape straps that held my refrigerator to my shoulders had an additional heaviness given the weight of my final trick-or-treat. And as I collected myself and the rest of my things, little kids, 5 or 6 years old, had started to roam the streets, getting a head start on candy collecting before the fall of night. They came up to the front door of my neighbor’s, and I dropped sweets into their hands. I looked into their eyes and saw my former self, at once so different in age, yet driven by the same desire for candy. My own crew assembled. I was the oldest, with everyone else two to six years younger. We promptly closed the door, yelled for our parents to follow and set out on our own trick-or-treat journey.
The sidewalks of our suburban neighborhood were wet from the season’s first snowfall hours before, and the yellow leaflets that stuck to it mirrored the streetlights and stars above. Like moths, we darted across yards seeking the front porches’ warm glow, an oasis of calm and chocolate. Each house had its living rooms illuminated, open for viewing from the outside world. We remembered neighbors from years past but didn’t dare say their names, identities blurred by various disguises; only the confection transactions really mattered. We saw into their lives through dogs barking in the background, television screens aglow, hardwood floors littered with pairs of shoes and shouts to the back in need of candy refills. Any attempts to see into our identities were foiled with our disguises. Sure, some noticed the refrigerator was quite tall, and maybe thought a refrigerator shouldn’t be trick-or-treating at that age. But, I was too busy yelling “trick or treat!”, crowding porch steps and slipping on wet grass to care.
The porch lights turned off at 8 o’clock, and we walked home, noting the heaviness of our bags. We reconvened in the living room, sorting and ranking candy. Our chocolate constellations shifted and changed constantly with trades — M&M’s whizzing across the room like meteorites, Snickers exchanged for Twizzlers and laughs. Soon, we were reminded of school the next morning, and our parents escorted us back to our respective homes. My brother and I’s faces soaked up the October night, and each step towards our front door put us closer to going to bed. We arrived home, and I still had math homework to do. I counted my KitKats, I counted how many calculus problems I had left to solve. Now I count the years since my last trick-or-treat, wondering if any Halloween will live up to the simple joy of running in the dark, looking for fructose, finding friendship.
Statement Columnist Oscar Nollette-Patulski can be reached at email@example.com.