I think my desire to find the best get-up for Halloween matured from a lack of playing dress-up as a child. While the other girls would tiptoe through ballet and flip over the balance beam in gymnastics, I would field grounders in the softball field, and ask for it slow and smooth from the boys on the blacktop during kickball. For most of my elementary years, I went as tomboy.
As I grew up and gained confidence in my femininity (which, coincidently, arrived around the same time as boyfriends), dressing up in funky costumes came quite naturally to me. It wasn’t as if I learned it from my parents, though I fondly recall putting on my mother’s heels and one of her floppy hats at the age of eight, mimicking my sister, Anne, while she practiced Ethel Mermen’s, “I Get a Kick Out of You,” from the play, Anything Goes. I belted out the memorized lyrics, including the line about kicks and cocaine, into a glass top of a wine decanter. But while I could sing that song word-for-word right now, I couldn’t tell you one costume I wore for Halloween as a child. And neither can my mother.
My list of adulthood costumes is like the list women make of past lovers to eliminate any self-loathing and remind ourselves that we’re just more liberated than our mothers. The early costume list that I want to pull from, like how cute I may have been as a cowgirl, or as a daisy, or one of those foul-smelling plastic ensembles that came in the cellophane box with the mask that had that stupid rubber string, simply doesn’t exist. I can’t remember and my mother only sewed when it came time to decorate our rented house. She can tell me exactly what happened when she went into labor with me. She can tell me that she was glued to the television watching the World Series, and that my dad initially thought I was a boy (he mistook the umbilical cord for a boy’s package he may have been proud of) once my body came through the canal. She can also tell me that I came out like “a greased piglet” (which she does every year this week on my birthday), but when I emailed her to recall my costumes during the Halloween parades at McKenzie Elementary School, her response reminds me as to how much my working mom actually missed.
She replied to me and cc’d my sisters:
“Well …seeing that I abhor Halloween, hate the color orange, and one of you kids were throwing up on Halloween, I really don’t remember what any of you wore. Annie (the Anything Goes sister) might be able to come up with an answer. Or e-mail Julie Ashley.”
My mother was referring to my best friend from sixth grade, the one I hadn’t spoken to since we were back in the Halloween parade on the blacktop. And if I did miraculously find her on Facebook, I doubt she’d remember my Halloween costume.
I figured I’d defer to my sisters, because surely we trick-or-treated together at some point, even if we were five and seven years apart.
Laura, the oldest, might remember since she was still trying to figure out how she got shuttle cocked into being the mother figure in our family in the first place. And if Laura didn’t know, then surely Anne would.
Laura replied to all:
“I was unfortunately the child who seemed to always be sick on Halloween. I remember having the flu, colds, and other ailments. I don’t remember being out all that much. Now that the kids are able to go out, we go out, but not for hour and hours. What is the point? Who needs that much sugar, and in the end, it doesn’t feel like people really enjoy answering their door 100 times a night.”
I wondered if Laura would remember her three kids’ costumes when the day came for them to ask her.
So I held out for Anne, the middle sister with the lock box brain for family memories:
“Okay, well, then. Perhaps I was raised by satanic cults, because I LOVED Halloween. Absolutely loved it. I recall my dice costume, spray-painting the shit out of those boxes in the basement. Real smart move there. No ventilation. Perhaps THAT’S why Laura was sick. Mom’s sick way of nixing Halloween. Amanda, I am sorry for not recalling what you dressed up as. Think poor (because we were). I’m sure someone was a “hobo.” Not a lot of creativity running through our veins then, so surely there was a princess of some sort. Not much help, are we?”
Lock box Anne had confused her memories. During an Easter celebration at the recreation center where my mom had worked, Mom had been the princess. My sisters and I dressed as hobo clowns.
So the mystery remained as dark as a Halloween night as to what I wore as a child. Though I did recall one year when I went as a ghost, with the white sheet, the holes for eyes, which certainly wasn’t when my creativity streak first emerged. But later, in high school, I found myself through costuming. Senior year I went as a Q-tip, dressed in a powder blue sweat suit with cotton balls glued to a shower cap and my shoes. People thought I was a cloud, but laughed when they heard my answer. Then there was Static Cling. I wore all black with single socks, underwear, and dryer sheets pinned to me. Once I had moved to San Francisco, where as one friend recently put it, “naked is an outfit,” I found inspiration. I dressed as Freudian slip, which was as simple as wearing a slip and a banner that read Freudian across it. The next year in Vegas, I went as Barbarella and stumped some people who had missed that early slice of Jane Fonda’s career. I wore my roommates’ handmade chain mail, gold boots, carried a wicked gun, and managed to have the exact length and color hair. After that, I was Strawberry Shortcake. I went to such extremes that I managed to hunt down Strawberry Shortcake shoelaces and strawberry body spray, to imitate how the dolls had smelled, which put smiles on the faces of passer-bys who squealed, “She even smells like Strawberry Shortcake.” Then last year I googled “break-up” and found my muse in Break-Up Girl, which was a hit since I was only two weeks out from my own, and desperately seeking a reason to laugh.
This year I can’t tell you what I’m going as because it’s a little too X-rated. I can tell you that the idea came borrowed from a co-worker, and that I found the perfect cherry red vinyl strapless top that zips up the back and fits like a glove. I can’t tell you because I need to concentrate on more important things, like the costume’s accessories, and how in the hell I’m going to tell my mom when she asks.
Photo: Amanda aka Strawberry Shortcake with some friends in the Castro during Halloween.
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