I was seventeen, a senior in high school; my best friend was on an early decision list for her dream college, inevitably separating us for at least the next four years, and although none of us knew it, my mother would die seven months later.
Four of us search through a pile of old sheets. Cut holes for our heads and don long underwear and sweatpants brought from home. We clomp through a field, each picking a pumpkin almost too heavy to carry before gutting them, seeds and pulp piles everywhere.
Heaving the empty pumpkins, still almost too heavy, on to each others heads, we cry-laugh at the sight of each other and try not to gag when it’s our face inside as the others estimate where our eye holes should be. With pumpkins back on the ground, we cut. Back on our heads, more laughter, and then back to the floor for bigger holes – more to the right, or left, or “I need to be able to breath better.” This repeats until each of us can navigate the world with a twenty pound orange fruit resting on our shoulders.
I can’t remember if we load our orange heads into the trunk or hold them as we drive to the neighborhood of my friend’s aunt. It’s a good neighborhood with nice sized houses that aren’t too far apart. A bunch of our friends live there. Parents who’ve cheered for us at basketball games and volleyball and track will open the door and say, “And who do we have here?” They laugh when we tell them and they hand us candy, after the obligatory “Trick or treat!”
Four of us girls, fully grown, knock on doors and hold out our pillow cases for hours. House to house, not running (you don’t run with pumpkins on your head), but laughing. Losing ourselves over every minute of this night. On the cusp of adulthood, one year away from living on our own, or paying our own way, or grieving a mother — we are children again, big children, if only for a few hours.
This memory pops into my mind while I’m washing my hands, the day before Halloween.
My four children are far from old enough to trick or treat on their own. Their costumes are largely what they can pull together from what we have in our dress up bin, toy box, and out of the craft supplies stash.
As of this moment, I’ll have a Hogwart’s student, a football player, the Incredible Hulk, and a princess. I want them to go with their dad (and I’ll hang by the house giving out candy) but most likely we’ll end up with a bowl on the porch with a sign my daughter will make that says, “Take one (or two) Or ELSE!” while we walk around the block as a family.
We don’t get a lot of big kids in our neighborhood. Maybe they go to their friend’s neighborhoods. Maybe they don’t come out at all.
There are few nights where almost everyone I know lets their hair down, or puts their hair up and under a wig, or plays a part with a funny accent because of a silly costume. It’s fun to gush over how cute all the little Hulks and Princesses and Minnie’s are — and laugh along with the grown up kids, the ones who might mumble “Trick-or-treat,” unsure of how to be a kid again, or who dress up with Pumpkins on the heads. For some of them, their everyday life is so serious and heavy and hard. So full of demands and expectations. It’s one night, if only for a few hours, like muscle memory, to go through the motions of how it felt to wear a Hulk costume when they were six.
So if I do see a bunch of big kids, falling over with laughter, or quietly opening their pillow cases barely saying “Trick or Treat” — I’ll say “Happy Halloween!” and “Have a great night.”
Because I know, I remember, it’s not at all about the candy.