“On Halloween” by Matthew Maichen

My earliest memories involve skeletons.

I remember watching The Nightmare Before Christmas with the same vague fascination that grabbed the hearts of basic goth children everywhere. (That has to be a thing, right? It’s really not fair for us to make fun of 20-something girls for a near-universal enjoyment of Pumpkin Spice lattes when October also signifies a legitimately universal fascination across an entire subculture. Groupthink is groupthink. But I digress.) I remember thinking about my Halloween costume as soon as September started. I remember being happy going back to school because it signified the near-end of those September days, and the start of decorations steadily sprouting up throughout my neighborhood. When it finally came time to dress up, the costume I kept coming back to, year after year, involved a skull mask. The symbolic aesthetic of death appealed to me even as I didn’t fully understand it. Jack Skellington had converted me to a child who not only wasn’t afraid of the dark, but sought it out.

Though looking back, I have to wonder whether my fascination came from the gothic aspects of Halloween, or the sheer unreality surrounding them.

I haven’t spent most of my life in the real world. I’ve been writing, reading books, or playing video games. When I step away from those things, I just go inside my own head. To this day, I still process most things as fiction. My strongest emotions are immediately, directly channeled into characters and stories and poetry; and poetry is always the most dramatic version of whatever we feel. To the point where it could easily be called a reorganization of reality. That’s not a bad thing. That’s just art.

And it’s also Halloween. It’s what Trick-or-Treating is. People’s houses become something else as sometimes funny, sometimes horrific or even morbid decorations overtake them. (At eight, I remember seeing a Halloween decoration that was just a man screaming and squirming on an electric chair. The adults laughed nervously. A small part of me was traumatized.) You enter an alternate dimension in which, for one night, the pretend is more important than the reality. One of Halloween’s parents is Samhain (the other is All Saints’ Day), in which the portals to the Gaelic “otherworld” were believed to be open. Not much has changed. We accept now that the “Otherworld” is a fictional one. And on Halloween, we open our doors to it. We allow it to intersect with us. We each become something that we’re not (or maybe something we secretly are, deep inside.) And, in decorating our homes, we turn them into other places. We’re now made up people walking through made up streets. Halloween is how your neighborhood becomes fiction.

And like all good fiction, there’s something in it truer than real life. Why did you want to dress up as a werewolf, really? You had thousands of costume possibilities, and you chose that one. It’s because there’s something here, now, about being a werewolf that appeals to you. Something you might not admit to others. Something you might not admit to yourself. I don’t know why I still love skeletons, and I don’t know why I consider wearing another skull mask every Halloween. But I suspect there’s something behind the fascination. And maybe there is for everyone.

God, so melodramatic. Last time I was at a party most people were wearing joke costumes, except some of the women who were hardly wearing anything at all.

But that’s still part of it, isn’t it? Your sense of humor reflects you, after all. And women’s bodies are policed three hundred and sixty four days of the year. They’re letting loose. You are. Everyone is. There’s something inside you that couldn’t come out. Not until now.

And there’s that small part of you that you still hide from everyone. Just a fragment of your identity that doesn’t feel like itself the moment you put the mask on. Or maybe you don’t feel that. Maybe it’s me with one foot in alternate dimensions assuming that everyone’s just as invested in the otherworldly. Or maybe I’m right for a certain percentage of people. I’ll take that.

What I do know is that tomorrow, it will be socially acceptable for me to pretend to be someone else, just for one day. The world will change to facilitate that, as lights and pumpkins pop up around me. But it will only be one day, and as you get older, the days get shorter.

The day after that, I’ll still need unreality to get by. That’s how I operate. But the world won’t be providing it so easily, anymore. So I’ll have to make do as best I can by reading and writing.

Don’t waste tomorrow night, no matter how old you are. Find an adventure or make one for yourself. The real world has its days. In fact, it has every other day. Now is our time to escape from it.

Happy Halloween.


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