My ninth grade year was the last year I went trick or treating for Halloween with my school friends. I didn’t realize it would be my last until I was walking home through the rain, hours later, candy and apples rolling around in puddles on the street.
We didn’t start out trick or treating. We began our Halloween night doing something way more grown up, if not more mature: turning my friend’s living room into a “haunted house” for the little kids in our suburban New Jersey town.
It seemed like it would be really fun when we talked about it at the school lunch table the week before. We would get spooky lights and a tape of scary sounds from a record store at the mall (this was 1981), and creepy decorations like spider webs and skeletons.
We knew my friend’s big house would be the talk of her development!
But a special kind of teenage dread came upon me the minute I entered my friend’s soon-to-be “haunted house”. With the lights on, the room, with cardboard skeletons hanging in the windows, string spider webs on the lamps, and bats made out of black garbage bags, looked, in the teen vernacular of the time, LAME! TOTALLY, TOTALLY LAME!!!
No little kid would be scared by this. We would all look stupid. We were FAR from being cool girls at school, and this would sink us down to worse than invisible. I wanted to turn and go home, but my friend, whose house it was, was walking toward me, smiling. Was the smile sarcastic?
Turns out, it wasn’t. She was really proud of her decorations and anticipated a huge turnout of terrified children. We would make their Halloween! I wanted to crawl under the couch.
After the rest of my friends arrived, we chose our different roles. Most chose to be ghosts, monsters, or witches jumping out and shouting at the children. I just couldn’t do any of that. I was beginning to feel nauseous.
But my friends seemed bummed about me not wanting to do what they were doing. Ugh! I’d heard all about teen peer pressure and “Just say no” to drugs, etc., but I never thought I’d have to deal with this.
The costume I was wearing wasn’t inherently scary. It was the number one costume for teens with no other ideas: a hobo. I wore one of my dad’s suit jackets and a tie. How could I make this scary?
Then, it came to me! I would be a headless guy, like The Headless Horseman of that old novel about Ichabod Crane. All I had to do was pull my jacket up over my face and tie the tie around the collar.
But my friends said my character had to be more interactive. I couldn’t just sit there and be headless.
So, someone gave me an apple-sized pumpkin, which I could balance on my jacket-and-tie-covered head. As terrified children walked by me, my pumpkin would fall off and I would ask them, (with a voice coming out of my neck?) if they would mind giving me back my head.
My headless guy costume was not only interactive, it had an even greater benefit: it made me anonymous. If anyone I knew from our town came in, they would never know it was me. So, I put up with having my face covered for a couple of hours, though it was really warm under there.
Suddenly, it was go time. The living room lights went off and my pumpkin head went on. Here’s the part where I learned I had been dead wrong about the room not being scary to little kids. Just a few minutes after the first group of tots walked in, I heard the crying.
Then I heard tiny voices scream in terror. What were we doing to these children?
I couldn’t see ANYTHING, so I listened for tiny footsteps coming near me, as I sat on the couch, holding my pumpkin head in place. When I heard a child talking near me, I dropped the pumpkin to the floor.
“Could I have my head back, please?” I said in what I thought was a scary low voice. Looking back, I realize I sounded a lot like Patrick Star, a friend of SpongeBob Squarepants.
No one gave me the pumpkin. I just heard more crying. This was beyond lame. This was cruel.
However, the cruelty didn’t last much longer. Word must have gotten around that the “haunted house” was not for tiny children, so bigger kids began arriving, only to laugh and make fun of us. I think the pumpkin head rolled off somewhere, but at that point I just wanted it to end.
It wasn’t long before my friends decided to “bag it” and go trick or treating. I was relieved, but for some reason, I was freezing after I took the tie and jacket off my face. I grabbed my brown paper shopping bag —the cool trick-or-treat bag for teenagers — and went out with my friends into, of course, a rainy night.
We had only gotten candy and apples from a few houses when my bag was so damp, my treats fell out through the bottom and lay all over the wet street.
My friends tried to help me pick them up, but my bag was no good now, and I suddenly felt way too old for all this nonsense. I wanted to go home and crawl into bed. So I did that, with only a few candies in my hobo pockets.
And that was the last time I trick or treated with friends. The next morning, I awoke with a terrible cold and fever. Of course. That’s why I was so tired and freezing the night before. I should have been sensible and gone right home the minute I heard the children cry.
For the rest of my high school years, I was content to give out candy to children from my house at Halloween. My parents were thrilled that they didn’t have to do it.
The only exception was a few minutes during my senior year, trick or treating with my sister for old times’ sake. We were dressed as — you guessed it — hobos. I ended up standing on our neighbor’s porch most of that time talking about where I was applying to college.
I would devote all of my later Halloweens to the happiness of children, giving out treats at my door and telling them they look great in their costumes.
Even before I took my own children trick or treating, it felt good to be a grownup at Halloween.
This story was originally published on Medium.com.
About the Creator
An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm