Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween is for scairdy cats

I'm drawn to horror stories, horror movies and all things dark. When I was seven years old and first learned to read, I started with the ghost story books at the library. I kept going until I had read every ghost story book for my age group in the place. In my teens I went through all the Stephen King novels similarly. By the time I was eighteen I had to start waiting for Mr. King to publish his next one. I'm grateful he's never stopped.

I like to think that I like Halloween because it's for those of us who live in the shadows, hiding behind masks on a daily basis. Maybe our childhoods were filled with terror and a struggle to survive, either physically or emotionally (individuation, self-esteem, etc.). Maybe the monsters that kept us awake weren't in the storybooks. Maybe we read ghost stories to make our own lives seem normal. Cowering in bed, fixated on the image of - say - a woman with no face drove out the fear of our real life problems, which loomed over us by day and couldn't be banished by closing a book. For us, Halloween let all the scary stuff out of the closet where it could fill our minds and drive out the horror of our daily lives.

But more importantly than that, Halloween let us join the monsters. How wonderful to put on a costume that let me stop being me. How empowering to step into the night as one of the little beasties. Halloween let me merge with these symbols of fear, becoming an entity to be feared by others. Talk about taking back the night.

When I was a freshman in college, I was thin and had a very short haircut, so when a group of friends decided to cross-dress for the Halloween dance, I borrowed a few items of men's clothing and I was ready. I knew my costume was a success when a girl asked me to dance, but withdrew the invitation when she realized I was woman.

That night I walked back from the dance to my dorm, alone. Knowing I looked like a boy, I felt none of the anxiety I usually felt when walking alone at night. I walked confidently, feeling like I had a protective shield around me. So this is what it's like to be a man, I thought. It was wonderful.

If only every day could be Halloween, freeing me from being the small, high-strung female I am. Instead, I relish this one day when I get to cover up the mask I usually wear and disappear behind another costume entirely.