Growing up, Halloween reigned on high as my most favorite holiday. All-time, best-ever, supergreat. That’s right. I loved it. I love dressing up and I’ve had some really fun costumes: Marilyn Monroe, a black widow spider, a French Poodle, the Blue Fairy (all you Disney buffs should know that one), Jessica Rabbit, and Holly Golightly of Breakfast st Tiffany’s. Honestly, I never even thought about the darker side of Halloween until I entered high school at a conservative Christian school in the Shenandoah Valley, where many of the students were not allowed to participate in Trick-or-Treating or other Halloween fun.
As typical rebellious teens, my four very best gal pals and I planned a Halloween party and invited everyone we could. We created a table of delicious treats shaped to look completely disgusting or decorated with festive Halloween cuteness. There were peeled grapes (eww!), RED punch (with lots of extra food coloring for dramatic effect, of course), and scary movies. READ: we watched Girl Interrupted. I was terrified. Crazy people freak me out.
My friends and I separated people into the porchlighters and the nonporchlighters. This references the universal symbol of “we have candy and welcome Trick-or-Treaters” which is a beaming front porch light on Halloween. To our teenage brains, Halloween was simply a great time to dress up, watch movies, and wear stockings with spider webs on them in public. We found Valentine’s Day more offensive than Halloween.
Skip ahead a few Halloweens…
In my first year of marriage, Josh was deployed for Halloween and I agreed to change out of my bathrobe and attend a Halloween party in Washington with a friend. The party was a big deal to the girl taking me. She planned her costume months in advance and encouraged me to scrape together a creative costume so I wouldn’t look ridiculous at the party. I found my Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress, slapped on some Tina Fey makeup, and grabbed up some black gloves. I looked in the mirror and felt miserable. I missed my husband. The tears just kept falling. My makeup ended up streaming down my face in great dark rivers several times before leaving so I decided to wear a hat. I grabbed a black hat with a wide brim from the top of my closet and ran down to the truck because I was the designated driver for the evening. My friend climbed in and we were off, the black mesh veil kept covering my face as I drove. I yanked on it but it just kept sliding down like the tears that I just couldn’t seem to stop.
We arrived at the party and admired everyone’s costume. They, in turn, played the age-old game of guessing who you were dressed to be. When they looked at my costume, they immediately said:
It then hit me. Black dress, black veil, black gloves, tears… and a husband in some far away war-torn country. And I was dressed as a widow. Not good. I found a place to sit down. It was a sit down or faint type feeling. In a room full of people, I’ve never felt so completely alone. My friend attempted to distract me. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong or why I couldn’t seem to turn it around. I told her just to go have fun… that I just needed to sit still and organize my thoughts. She grabbed me by the arm and hauled me to the truck.
“We’re going back to the house.” Her voice felt like a slap.
She marched me to the truck angrily. The crying really got going then. I got behind the wheel and told her to stay at the party, that I would be back to pick her up. Better yet, I could just hang out in the truck until the party was over. She climbed in the passenger side and started yelling at me to drive to the house. “The night is ruined anyway,” she said. “Just drive.”
I drove. Sobbing. I wanted to get away from her. I wanted out of those clothes. I wanted the sinking feeling in my belly to go away.
She continued to rant about her costume, the party, and why I couldn’t just stop crying. It was just a costume, after all.
“Shut up.” I whispered.
“What?” She screamed.
“Just shut up.” I announced.
And she did. She never spoke to me again. I’d ruined her Halloween. The porch light was officially off.
Did I mention that crazy people freak me out?
When Josh returned from that deployment, he told me that while I was at the party, he and his squad were traveling and the road washed out beneath their vehicle. The vehicle flipped into a flooded ditch and the squad hung from the equipment and belts upside down in the cold muddy waters of Afghanistan. By some miracle, they were able to get out but had the water been just a little deeper… they might have all drowned.
Had I sensed my husband’s danger? Was it just the costume?
The following Halloween, we were in a different state, a different house, a new chapter in our life together. Josh and I purchased two pumpkins and carved them using patterns we found online. It was Josh’s first time carving a pumpkin. We carved our pumpkins and placed candles inside. We sat on the front porch holding hands and quietly watching the flickering orange glow of our jack o’ lanterns in the cool October evening… both of us lost in thought (no doubt reflecting on where we were a year ago that very day).
Are you a porchlighter or a nonporchlighter?