“I’m a dragon!” The bigger of my twin boys, James, said as we walked down our neighborhood sidewalk on Halloween. The sun was mostly gone, the sky a hazy orange rimmed in black. It was a beautiful night, a dash of autumn’s chill faint in the otherwise balmy air. There were a few other groups of early trick-or-treaters, mostly younger kids my children’s age: two, three, four-year-olds with expressions of timid happiness; they had no idea what was happening or why, they just knew they liked it. James tugged the blue furry tail swishing behind him to prove he was indeed a dragon and not a monster, the googly eyes and horns above his head bobbed side to side.
I took his hand and swung our arms back and forth. “Oh, I thought you were a dinosaur,” I said.
“No, I’m a dragon! ROAR!” He reiterated. In either case, he was still not a monster, although the Halloween costumes I had purchased for him and his brother for almost thirty-dollars, even with a fifty-percent discount, were clearly labeled as being from the Disney movie, Monsters Inc..
I decided not to correct him, focusing instead on dampening my nervous excitement so that I didn’t come across as a crazy helicopter mom to my neighbors. Admittedly, I’d been behaving ridiculously. We weren’t supposed to meet our party for trick or treating until six. But by four PM, my littlest twin, Langston, was already dressed. He was Mike Wazowsky, the cute, very unscary monster with one large eye and skinny legs from the movie. The costume came with a puffy green vest, big-eyed smiley face in the center. My son had worn it to daycare the day before, and when I pulled out their costumes and laid them on the couch in anticipation of their use like a church suit on a Sunday morning, he saw it, picked it up, and pushed it against my leg with a smile on his face, telling me, in his way, that he wanted to put it on. Both of my boys (and the dog, she was Luna the Princess) were dressed and ready to go by four-thirty. The walk to meet our party only took ten minutes.
Our caravan of miniature pop oddities: a blue and purple dragon/dinosaur/not-a-monster, a lime-green one-eyed being with no identity problems, the Cowardly Lion, Captain America, and Snow White, marched down the street in a wiggly cluster followed closely by their parents. I carried my boys’ candy bag already full of other “neccesities:” my purse, their jackets, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, my cell. I thought about maybe bringing some water or juice, maybe some tissues, but I staved off the impulse to pack as if we were going to Disneyland. I really didn’t know what to bring or what to do. Before we left the house, my husband made a sarcastic remark about whether or not I had everything.
I whispered to him, almost ashamed, as if there was someone around who would judge me, “This is my first time.”
He smiled. “I’m starting to realize that.”
I grew up on a dirt road in a small town in rural Virginia where, although our schools were not segregated, our communities most definitely were. In the country, you don’t go trick or treating. A lit porch light on Halloween does not mean that the owners are handing out candy. It means the house is surrounded by true, pitch black, country darkness, and the light is scaring the critters away. We went to our church’s Harvest Festival, not even allowed to utter the word “Halloween:” the “devil’s holiday,” the holiday where white people dressed up as demons, witches, and ghosts, in celebration of Satan, or at least, that’s the way my aunts and Sunday School teachers explained it. Us black folk, us country, religious, poor, unimpressed black folk didn’t do that. My mother did not go to a department store or children’s store and purchse a fancy costume for me to wear. I pulled on my Aunt’s big skirt and underwear, stuffed a small pillow down my backside, put on one of her blouses and bras, crumpled socks inside the cups, added pink rollers to my hair and stole my Uncle’s steel cane, becoming an old woman for several years in a row when I was old enough to go to the festival, not until at least ten-years-old.
At church, we played games, ate a full dinner of chicken, green beans, mac and cheese, rolls and pie, sung gospel songs and did skits. The adults dressed up like characters from Bible stories, or just wore mismatched clothes, something different. We prayed and talked about how this time of year we should be celebrating the Harvest of God’s blessings and not the evil the Devil puts out there in the world.
At school, it was different. Teachers decorated our classrooms in pictures of witches with green faces and pointy hats or dancing skeletons. There was candy and the small excited faces of all the white kids living in town who practiced their “trick or treat” voices at full volume up and down the halls. We heard “Monster Mash” and “Thriller” on repeat, all day long, and stuffed our faces with cake, soda, and chocolate. On television, the Halloween specials were spooky and fun, and the kids were always walking around sidewalked neighborhoods, orange plastic pumpkin in hand, goofy masks on their faces, receving treats from all the people they know on their block. I didn’t even know what a “block” was.
But, I longed for that block. I saw the ritual of parading down the street at dusk as something to aspire to, an example of a life that was somehow better than mine. Trick or treating was an activity I never associated with who I was a child: poor, black, and country. Instead, it represented everything I was not: rich, white, and citified. Yet another common thing in this world that was not meant for me. I am not saying that in other areas, in the suburbs or the city, outside of my small hometown, that black people or poor people didn’t go out trick or treating. But for me, for my family, the idea of spending money on candy to give out to stangers is preposterous. The idea of spending money on a costume I would only wear one day out of the year was equally ridiculous. The idea of celebrating all the things the Bible tells us are evil—ghosts, goblins, demons, witches and the like—was downright blesphemous. Yet, I still wanted it. And except the celebrating evil part, I wanted it for my children.
It is funny how these little facts, lost experiences, those minor twinges of jealousy you held on to from childhood, shape you unknowingly as an adult, especially while parenting. The boys at two-years-old may have been a little too young for trick or treating, especially as the night went on and it got darker, the children older, the costumes scarier. We should’ve bought their stroller, stuck to just our block, left the dog at home. As my husband would say, these were “rookie mistakes.” But, I am glad I made them. I am happy that I have the memory of them waddling down the sidewalk, dragging a bag of candy. I will not forget walking with the boys to the front steps or our neighbor’s porch and waiting with anticipation for someone on the other side to open the door, my boys more interested in trying to get inside their houses (they thought an open door meant we were visiting), and me, standing with an open bag, the only person who yelled, “trick or treat!”
Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, and federal employee living in Hyattsville, Maryland. Because she isn’t busy enough, she is also a student in the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from PANK Magazine Online, Buzzfeed, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, the Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere.