We Are Who We Pretend to Be

At six o’clock on Halloween, I’d decide what I was going to be that year. The choice would always come down to being a bum or a hobo, the difference being that a hobo costume would include a stick with a bundle tied on the end. A bum apparently had a home base so didn’t have to carry their belongings. Both costumes involved my dad’s flannel shirts and old brown pants along with streaks of ‘dirt’ painted on my face with a piece of burned wood from the fireplace. And a hat, one of his old fedoras, bent and crinkled. It sounds more rustic than it was. We actually had indoor plumbing and running water and lived close to a city but we were never fancy.

I could have been a Pilgrim at least the one year that my mother made me a gray Pilgrim dress with a white collar for a school play but it never occurred to me. I never pondered my Halloween costume; what I dressed up as for Halloween was irrelevant. No one cared. I didn’t care. The point wasn’t to be someone else; it was to hide who you were.

So I liked that because most of the time I was very mild-mannered. I had bangs and a ponytail and many plaid dresses with sashes that tied in a bow. I wore anklets and brown lace up shoes that were so homely I sat with my feet curled up under my seat at school. I wondered how my mother could have bought me such shoes. Now it would attract bullies from miles away, then, everyone had their own brand of homeliness, something they were intent on hiding.

What I most wanted to hide with my Halloween costume was my cowardice. I was normally so obedient, so loathe to make noise or cause trouble but Halloween night I shrieked and ran through yards, stopped and looked in windows, sometimes leaving soap X’s, the easiest and fastest thing to draw. X was here. I was X.

There was a house that gave away small, sour McIntosh apples, we’d take a bite and throw them in the road. An old man down the hill would ask us for a trick before our treat. We should sign or dance, he said, tell a joke. But we just looked at him and he put pennies in our grocery bags. One kid’s mom made potato chips and we sat on his porch waiting for our chip to be done and handed to us on a paper napkin. We would only get one so the bites were tiny. It took forever for all of us to be done.

We put trashcans in the road and waited behind trees while cars came up the hill and swerved around them. We chased each other through the dark until our sides hurt and we were panting, our grocery bags mangled sacks that we used to slug each other while we ran. When I finally came home, my dad would say, “Get some good candy?” I’d nod and give him the only Hersey kiss in the bag, then I’d go to my room, stash the bag under the bed, and look out the window to see if anyone was still out there. It was hard to see but I could hear yelling and laughing way off in the distance and I knew that I’d come in too soon.


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