Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Halloween Story

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catI was just six years old the year my brother took me trick-or-treating on Halloween. I had just uncovered the true meaning of the holiday (haul in as much candy as possible). Previous years I had been happy to dress up and attend one of the neighborhood parties and afterwards trick-or-treat at perhaps three or four houses on the block. This year, however, I had heard all about the value of widespread trick-or-treating from my fellow first graders and I wanted in.

I hadn’t realized what I’d been missing.

A few days before Halloween, I approached my parents, indignant. “I don’t want to go to any stupid party on Halloween,” I told them. “I want to trick-or-treat all night long and get lots and lots of candy!”

My parents looked at each other, tired from their long work days, and sighed. They were already getting older then, my father well past 50.

“Ok,” my mother said, “but I can’t take you because I have to be home to hand out candy and your Dad’s working the midnight shift.”

She glanced around. Unfortunately for my 14-year-old brother happened to be in the room and was promptly assigned the duty. He was to take me trick-or-treating on Halloween night for an hour… somewhat limiting my take of goodies but not unreasonably so, I figured.

I wore my Halloween costume to school the next day and when I got home, I stared at myself in the mirror, trying my best to look scary. I thought my witch costume was beautiful: all black and shiny and fierce. When you’re six years old you think that handmade costumes are absolutely the best. For my first Halloween my mother had sewn a spotted puppy outfit, complete with long, floppy ears. I swear I could remember wearing that costume, chewing on the ears, but I was only ten months old at the time so it must have been later. When I was three I came across the puppy costume stuffed in the back of my closet and my mother gave it to me as a stand-in for the dog I requested daily. I dragged that gutless puppy around with me for months and named him Snoopy. A few years later when I was eight or so I discovered that you no longer want to wear costumes sewn by your mother. What you really want – no need — are the plastic, store-bought kind with the suffocating masks that all your friends have. You will probably be quite mean to your mother to get such a costume.

But not this year. This year with my fancy black pointed hat and satiny cape, I thought no one in the world had a better costume.

By the time it was 5:00 on Halloween evening, I could barely sit still, so impatient to start my hunting and gathering of candy. My brother finally came out of his room around 6:00 dressed as a hobo. He had found some ratty old clothes in the shed, and he wore one of my mother’s filthy gardening hats on his head. There was dirt smeared on his face and he carried a long stick with some kind of knapsack attached. He took one look at me and turned to the linen closet.

“Put that stupid plastic pumpkin down,” he said. “Here, take this.”

He tossed a pillow case at me, and I looked at him perplexed.

“If you want to get a bunch of candy, you need something big to carry it all,” he explained.

Brilliant!

I opened the case and looked greedily inside at the vast amount of space available for chocolate bars and caramels. No stupid raisins, please!

“Let’s go,” he said and we were off.

As we left I glanced at the jack-o-lantern we had carved earlier that day, its face reflecting a sinister smile from our porch. My father had lit the candle only minutes before – as dusk had settled into night – and the pumpkin’s face glowed creepily back at me.

At first it was kind of scary approaching houses that were not familiar to me, but my brother was always just a step or two behind and soon I became bold. Halfway through our trek I decided I wanted him to wait on the sidewalk while I sang out my “trick-or-treats” alone. I was rewarded with many, many chocolate bars and was so pleased that I didn’t even frown when Mrs. Harper slipped the bag of raisins into my bag. I would offer those to my brother for helping out!

“Come on,” he said. “It’s been an hour and that’s all you get. I want to get home and go to the party at Doug’s.”

Doug was my brother’s best friend and lived just a block over from us. Sometimes I thought he was actually part of our family, he was at our house that much. I knew his dinner preferences as clearly as I knew my brother’s – hot dogs, spaghetti, chili. I knew the TV shows they liked to watch – Dark Shadows was a favorite. They both had the shaggy hair popular in the mid-sixties, but both seemed to veer away from the true craziness of the time. In fact, my brother would be married in less than five years.

The hour of trick-or-treating flew by and although I really wanted to keep going, I was actually pretty tired and knew the second best thing next to trick-or-treating was getting home, dividing the candy into piles – all the Milky Ways here, all the suckers there – and then eating one from each.

We turned and headed home.

The sky was very dark now and I could hear the shuffling of feet through the leaves. It was both spooky and fun – a perfect autumn night illuminated by the splendid yellow moon overhead. We walked down our block and waved to some of the older neighbor kids who were still heading out, some to trick-or-treat, others to Doug’s party. Tommy Green was dressed as a soldier and he fake stabbed me as he walked by.

Up ahead was our house and I noticed a big kid dressed as a baseball player trick-or-treating there. I could see my mother fill his bag and close the door. The baseball player turned to leave but then paused and turned back towards the door, considering something. Suddenly he pulled out his baseball bat and started to smash our jack-o-lantern, stringy orange bits of pumpkin flying everywhere. My brother stopped in his tracks, unsure what to do. The baseball player was big and definitely older than my brother and he was giving our pumpkin a good thrashing.

“Oh no!” I cried dramatically, tears quickly spreading down my checks. “He’s killing our pumpkin!”

My brother looked down at me, his dirty face strained. I had stuffed my fist in my mouth, whimpering, my perfect Halloween suddenly turning into a horror show right in front of me, ruined. He looked back at our house and made up his mind.

He sprinted towards the pumpkin murderer.

“Hey!” he yelled. “Hey, stop!!”

He was almost upon the guy and I stared in horror. My brother was going to get smashed in the head by the baseball player just like our pumpkin, I was sure. Splat. Instead the kid picked up the pulpy mess of the pumpkin, ran towards my brother and shoved it hard into his stomach. My brother gave a weird “Ouf” sound and fell to the ground. The pumpkin killer ran into the darkness, and I ran to my brother. He got up slowly, stooping over to catch his breath and then began to pick up the remains of our pumpkin. Surprisingly after all that pumpkin abuse, it still had one good eye and most of his mouth.

We walked to our porch together and he carefully placed it back where it belonged. I had to admit, it looked even scarier now all mashed up, and I grinned up at my brother.

“Well, there you go, kid,” he said, “a real-live trick on Halloween.”

He looked down at his ruined hobo costume sadly. I think he later realized that you can’t really ruin a hobo costume; the added pumpkin stains only made it look more real. I grabbed him around the legs and hugged hard. He looked surprised but squeezed me back. As a six-year-old I wasn’t sure if I was hugging him because I was scared or because I was glad he wasn’t splat like the pumpkin or because he took me trick-or-treating. Mostly I think I hugged him because he saved my pumpkin.

The next day when I got home from school there was a small, stuffed pumpkin sitting on my bed. My brother would not admit that it came from him – he told me the Great Pumpkin brought it for me while I was at school.

I believed that for a long time.

Nice Work Mr. S

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pumpkinJust how tall can you be to still qualify for trick-or-treating, I wondered as I stared at myself in the full-length mirror. It wasn’t strictly an age thing, I had decided. I mean, there wasn’t some Halloween guideline that stated you could no longer trick-or-treat once you were a teenager. I knew that if you could pass for 11 or maybe even 12, you were still in the ballpark. But it was the height thing that got in the way. Once you were above five feet tall, the adults started looking at you with cynicism in their eyes.

I was lucky. At 13 I was still shy of five feet tall and appeared much younger than my years. My best friends were Paige and Kimber and they lived in the lithe and model-tall world of the blessed:  blonde and blue eyed teenagers. Next to them I was nearly invisible. But this one night – this Halloween night – that would play to my advantage. I was sure that if I dressed in the stupid princess costume I had found at Kmart, I’d be able to pull off some successful candy gathering. I know it sounds stupid for a 13-year-old to want to trick-or-treat, but it’s not like any of us would turn down a free Snickers bar.

Kimber and Paige didn’t dress up but I was resplendent in my full-fledged princess costume. Paige had even put sparkles on my face. The three of us looped around the neighborhood for a while, hunting and gathering. We saw only a few of our other friends, mostly boys from our class trying to scare the younger kids. Most every kid out that night was much younger than we and it made our chances of procuring candy much dimmer. Many of the adults pulled up short when they saw three teenagers at their door but a couple of time Kimber said, “Come on, Sis. I’ll buy you a bunch of candy for your 11th birthday,” and before we could leave the porch, the home owner would be overcome with guilt and tell Kimber and Paige how wonderful they were for giving up their night for their kid ‘sister’ and then ply us with chocolate bars and peanut butter cups. We would try not to giggle as we scooted to the next house.

Towards the end of the night we stopped at our neighbor’s house, Mr. Sossa. His porch light had been left on but there was no one home – a hand-written sign told us so.  On the white wicker chair perched on the porch was an empty basket with some ripped candy bar wrappers and a note that declared Please Take One. I laughed out loud at that. No self-respecting trick-or-treater was ever going to take just one if there wasn’t a guardian watching the candy. I would guess that the second or third kid that came upon the candy stash had swooped up the entire contents. But then it occurred to me – what if Mr. Sossa was pulling a fast one? What if he hadn’t put out any candy at all? What if he was sitting in the back of the house, avoiding the hassle and expense of Halloween and everyone who came across the empty basket thought he was some nice dude who left candy even when he wouldn’t be home?

“Nice work, Mr. S,” I whispered under my breath.

“I’m getting tired,” Paige whined. She was always the most wispy of the two blondes and I felt overly protective of her.

“I think we can head home,” I answered as I looked inside my plastic pumpkin. I was thrilled to see it was nearly full of chocolate bars and caramels, sweets that would carry me until the Christmas season when the holiday candy would, again, be free and easy.

The three of us plowed into my house and we dumped our stash together on the floor of the family room. Of course my haul was the largest but we had agreed to pool our wealth and we went about sorting through the candy and bargaining over Milk Duds and Skittles like little girls. I saw my mother beam at us from the kitchen and then a sad smile settled on her face. I think she knew before we did that this was probably our last Halloween trick-or-treating.

A Soccer Game

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She twirled and twirled in the middle of the field, her pink soccer leggings pistoning in a circle like pretty flower petals in the wind.

“Kara, watch the ball,” her mother called kindly from the sidelines.

Her Rec and Ed team – the Cheetas! – was gathered at Firefox Park on the far northside of Ann Arbor for their weekly game. A group of stalwart parents lined the playing field with camping chairs and blankets. Coaches from both sides prowled up and down the sidelines, encouraging their players – the cohort of six-year-old girls who somehow made a team.

Kara thought that playing defense in soccer was pretty boring, especially since the spectacular Amber, a miniature fireball, was on her team. Amber kept the play down in the opponent’s goal area, kicking and moving like a kid twice her age. She would always be the soccerbest player on her sports teams, it was clear. And Amber had fun. But back in the doldrums of defense, Kara was bored and restless.

Off to the west she could hear an airplane sputter in the sky and she craned her neck to see. The two-seater clipped through the air leaving behind it a curly cue of a tail in smoky white. The sky was wide and open, so blue it was as though every shade of blue had combined into this one, vibrant color. It reminded Kara of her crayon box: sky blue, navy blue, teal blue…

“Kara, watch the ball,” the coach called as the girls started to run towards Kara’s end of the field. She drew her eyes to the action, sad to end her inventory of blues, disappointed she could no longer watch the path of the airplane.

Kara turned and hobbled down the field with the pack of long-haired girls, awash in yellow jerseys and those of the enemies, pink.  Pink jerseys would have been so cool, Kara thought. Pink and purple were her favorite colors, unlike that of her baby sister, Mary, who loved orange and red – such a weird choice for a four-year-old. Oh wait, Kara thought, Mary now preferred blue because that’s the color of the dress Anna wore in Frozen. Not Elsa – the character everyone loved who also wore blue; Mary loved Anna.

Mary – she was such a weirdo, Kara smirked to herself.

Feet kicked by Kara in a blur, the children following the instructions of the coach to “get the ball.”  There was an entire garden of girls in the patch by the ball, moving and swaying in unison as though a breeze was fluttering through their stems and blossoms.

Soon the action ran the other way and Kara was glad. She plopped down on the cool, green grass cross- legged and examined the intricacies of the blades of grass, the white-dotted clover, the strange weed that curved around itself. An ant crawled over a fallen leaf and she watched it make its way through the valleys and mountains of the purple maple leaf. Kara knew there was a miniature world down here, underfoot. The adults didn’t know that. They had no idea all the wonder they missed: the blues in the sky, the greens in the grass, the cool ground and the warm sun, the sound of the plane, the whoosh of the soccer ball.

Kara knew that the grownups at the soccer game were concentrating solely on this weird game where a bunch of girls kick the ball one way and a bunch of other girls kicked the ball the other way; a weird game in which you absolutely could NOT use your hands; a game where the best part of the entire thing was running through the tunnel that the parents formed with their outstretched arms overhead… and then the snacks.

‘I never want to grow up,’ Kara thought to herself. I never want to be the tunnel. I want to run through the tunnel. Always

“Kara, watch the ball,” again her mother, urging her to stand up in the field and concentrate on the game.

She waved over at the clump of adults where her mother, father and grandmother stood. They were so silly, those adults, worrying about which way you kicked a ball or whether it scooted past another girl into a net or not.

Didn’t they know that the game didn’t matter?

Kara watched the ball zip past her and smiled. She twirled around once and was off.

 

The Fire

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photoIs it the fire? The ocean? The sky? Sarah wondered.

Which one can you stare at the longest, adrift in a world not your own, where your body doesn’t exist and thoughts of anything but the rhythm of that one thing – the fire, the ocean, the sky – are long lost? Those are the times when your brain thinks of nothing at all. Maybe you are just there, being. Maybe you feel the connection between the earth and the trees and the wind and yourself. Maybe it’s akin to true meditation. But staring at the fire or the ocean or the sky can also bring back every thought in the world, every misstep, every regret, every wince and wish and worry you’ve ever had. And then that feeling of connection really peaks – you feel the electricity, the fear, the fire of pain, the ocean of loss, the sky blue and empty.  And that’s when you are lost, no longer even curious to answer the why of where you find yourself, the why of what happened. You are just – there: a stone, a twig, a feather from a bird. Nothing living, nothing vital, no force left within – just there….the meaning of it all – of any of it – completely lost.

Sarah sat on the lawn chair drawn near the flickering flame of the small fire pit in her back yard and thought of nothing at all. She lived alone, that backyard attached to a once-charming bungalow near the outskirts of town. It needed painting – that bungalow. She had spectacularly stopped living her life a while back and all areas of such had suffered including the upkeep and maintenance of her house.

She used to love her backyard, the small deck jutting out into the wide expanse of golden green grass. In the summer her yard was always sunny and bright, overpopulated with orange poppies and yellow sunflowers, their faces open and wide to the sun. Oh, how she used to tend those flowers, cutting back the weeds, deadheading each one so that their blooms turned over and over throughout the season, the happy colors never lost during the summer. She had spent countless hours in that backyard painting the fence and planting grass seed in that stubborn corner patch that never wanted to grow. She had built the brick fire pit by herself and once had loved to sit out back with a friend, glass of white wine in hand, the chirps of the crickets and scattering of small animals the only noise in the air.

That seemed like a hundred years ago.

Now as Sarah stared at the fire in the brick pit in her backyard, she was truly alone. Next to her on the ground was the bottle of wine she had opened earlier, warm and half gone. Her pretty flowers had faded as the fall took hold and now a scattering of dead leaves covered the flower beds and golden green grass. The fire in front of her was barely keeping her warm, but she didn’t care. She felt nothing, not even awareness of how hot or cold she was.

Sarah sat on the lawn chair and fed the fire and drank the ocean of wine directly from the bottle and thought of nothing at all. A small breeze flickered through her hair and a thought passed: there would be a storm tonight, the sky would open up and wash itself down upon them. But then nothing more came to mind. That was where she lived right now, in this place of being, where she survived day-to-day with her mind shutoff to thoughts of life.

It was a miracle that her brain knew what to do… how it told her physical self to continue breathing and to sit or stand on command and yet knew to take shelter immediately after those mundane and necessary thoughts. Her brain new it was most important of all to keep safe her tender mind until it could handle even one inkling of what had happened; to even remember for one short second that he was gone, no longer in this world and no matter what she or anyone else did, that that would never change. That horrible thought is there, the knowledge, the beginning of the journey through the reality, the sadness, the depth of grief – it is all there in front of her to trundle through. For what other choice is there?

But that was not for today. Sarah sat in her lawn chair and put another log on the fire and stared at nothing at all until her wine was done and it was time for bed.