The moment what you love begins to disappear

Crazy KidHalloween! Hal. O. Weeeeeeeeeen! I’m so desperate to get outside it feels like my guts are going to burst out and bolt off without me, leaving behind nothing but a sack of my empty skin. (Awesome! Happy Halloween, family!) Meanwhile, God has decided to torture the universe by stopping the setting sun in the sky. That stupid yellow orb hasn’t moved for hours. It’s going to be six o’ clock forever.

It’s never going to get dark!

But no, that’s lame. It’ll get dark. It has to get dark. Those are the rules. Waiting is the key. I just have to suffer through this stupid dinner with my stupid family and wait for the stupid sun to finally do its job and go away—and the moment it does I’ll be out the door like a bat out of hell.

“I’m done eating,” I say to my parents with maximum calmness, since my goal is to arouse in them as little interest in me as possible. Never exactly a monumental challenge, but on occasions like this one can’t be too careful. “Can I get ready to go out now?” They dismiss me with nary a nod. Ha! I’m in my bedroom before you can say “Hobo”—which you would say, because being a hobo was my costume for the night. All I have to do is throw on one of my dad’s ancient sports coats made out material they cover couches with, put one of his outdated grey Business Man hats, smear a little shoe polish on my face, and just like that I’m ready for Halloween like my name’s Jack Ohlantern!

Finally it’s dark enough to begin the night.

I leap off my front porch into a pack of my waiting friends. I see that my best friend, red-headed Stan, has been transformed into a deranged surgeon. And a spectacularly inept one, too, judging from the blood all over his smock.

“No way!” I scream. “You’re actually scary!”

“I know!” he says, beaming. “It’s ketchup!”

“You’re a freak!

“I know! A scary doctor freak!”

“It’s perfect! Let’s go!”

There’s two things in this world I know: my suburban neighborhood, and how to run so fast it’s only a matter of time before I’m in my favorite aisle of the grocery store staring at myself from the cover of a Wheaties box.

Time to strategize for Maximum Candy Collection. For one, right off, sidewalks are out. Using sidewalks on Halloween is like using flippers to play football: Why? If God didn’t want me dashing across front yards, weaving between cars in driveways and hurtling over hedges like a candy-crazed caped avenger, he wouldn’t have given me the legs and freakish balancing powers that he did. But he did. Plus he gave me a sweet tooth the size of my head. That killer combo left me no choice.

Hit the door, be cute, get what you can, cut out. Repeat until it’s so late the cops start wondering if you have a home.

Maybe an hour after I’d begun treat-or-treating, the weight of the candy in my pillowcase was slowing me down. But that was an amateur’s concern. Knowing a neighborhood means knowing where to hide things in that neighborhood, and I was nothing if not squirrely. Still moving I tied shut the top of Bag One, stashed it behind the gate of a friend’s house, and took off running again as I yanked Bag Two from the gargantuan pocket of my dad’s gargantuan coat.

My friends were nowhere to be seen—unless I looked behind me, maybe. But that wasn’t going to happen. I loved my friends like the brothers I never had because all I got was my inexplicable sister, but business is business. I’d left those guys behind after about the third house. One of them was using the sidewalk. It was unbelievable. Where did he think we were, Beverly Hills? Poor guy. I’d be halfway through the best of my Bag One while he was chewing his last Necco Wafer.

By the time I got home that night, I looked like an actual 10-year-old hobo—who’d maybe been dragged from the back of a car. My dad’s coat was covered in bramble and mud. Because it was slowing me down, I’d long since jammed his ruined hat into one of his coat pockets. The shoe polish on my face was melted and mixed with the sweat and grime that comes from a vigorous job well done.

Alone in my bedroom, I spilled the bright contents of my two full bags onto the green shag carpet.

There it all was, in a pile so big I almost wanted to run and leap onto it, the way I’d seen kids on TV do on big piles of fall leaves.

But was I going to squish my beloved candy?

I don’t think so.

No, I was going to adore my candy: cherish it, protect it, care for it, endeavor to make it last as long as I possible.

Which, in the end, every year, turned out to be maybe two weeks.

It was at that moment, right there on the floor of my bedroom, that I realized, for what I believe was the first time ever, that it never gets better than the moment between when you have it all, and when, bit by bit, it all begins to disappear.

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  • Elizabeth

    Mom likes to remind me I hoarded my candy and made it last until Christmas. Totally normal. No control issues there.

  • Matt

    The men of my neighborhood growing up used to sit on their driveways around firepits and drink beer as an unobtrusive way to keep an eye on the kids buzzing through the streets. Before long, they were neglecting their watch and us kids could meet up post-candy-haul to play capture the flag with flashlights.

    Happy Halloween! Thanks for the reminder of the awesome memories!

  • I had my Halloween strategies as a kid, but I could have learned from you!

  • Jill

    Wow. I’m worn out from imagining the chaos-driven candy procuring happening here. Like you needed the sugar rush. Well done!

  • thanks! I wrote this piece much too quickly on my way out the door; I’ve just now, at a coffee shop, had a moment to rethink the ending, which is the part I … wrote much too quickly. Now the ending’s better. But it drives me nuts I don’t have the time to give this piece the attention it deserves. It could be killer. Oh, well. That blogging sometimes. Mostly. Pretty much always.

  • Diane U.

    You never got to jump in piles of leaves? You poor, deprived child.

  • I tried a few times, actually. The lesson I learned was that jumping onto a pile of leaves that weren’t piled on, like, a bed, was a good deal less than satisfying. Leaves, I found, don’t stack high enough to serve as decent cushion. But maybe that’s just our lagger California tree leaves.

  • Barbara Rice

    Oh sure. Rub it in.

    I grew up in the same town I live in now. There were about 15 houses TOTAL. We had no strategy other than hitting the store because they were good a a whole BAG of candy. And there was one guy who told us to pick the pomegranates in his yard.

    I live down a dark lane that no child would dare venture down even if I was giving out ten pounds of candy per kid.

  • I was more into the dressing up part than the candy part. I remember one time I had two costumes — went around one time then came home, changed, and went back out. I remember some of the neighbors asked me if I’d been there already, and I didn’t lie. But I didn’t care about the candy, I just wanted people to see my costumes! Now I feel ashamed for taking their candy the second time around.

  • Jill

    Yup. I’d definitely guess good, sturdy oak and maple leaves, much better at shock-absorbing. I still can’t believe I never concussed myself doing that over the years.

  • Jill

    You can’t have too many costumes.

  • Jill

    Oh Barbara, I WANT to trick-or-treat at your house now because it’s down a dark lane that no child would dare venture. Sounds frighteningly perfect!

    (And, as long as you’re giving 10 whole lbs, I’d prefer that in Reese’s.)

  • I’ve certainly found that to be true when I’m running from the law. But that’s really a whole other story…

  • Lymis

    My formative Halloween years were on an Army base in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, so everyone was used to making their own fun, and even for the mid-60’s it was an incredibly safe place to be a child on Halloween, as long as you didn’t literally run in front of a car.

    I used to envy my older brothers because they would do the early round, change costumes, and go back out a second time. It was only later that I found that the adults were on to that and didn’t care. But even our meager once-around was a huge haul. The only sad thing was that Mom would confiscate most of it and portion it out over time. Sigh.

    Thanks for the memories!

  • Lymis

    That’s actually our plan tonight, though we haven’t actually had any trick or treaters since we moved here 6 years ago – and it’s a townhouse complex across from a middle school. Dozens of kids walk to school every day, but none of them ring the bell on Halloween.

  • Right?? The parental confiscation part is the WORST. My parents didn’t really give a Cheerio for what I did, but my friends’ parents used to gather up my friends’ candy and DOLE IT OUT TO THEM. I was, like, “WHAT?! YOU earn it, and THEY control it? How is that fair? Does you dad come home from work, and give you his check so you can give him a couple of dollars whenever you decide to? NO! This is terrible! We must fight back! The ruling class SUCKS!!” And then my friends’ parents were always, “Say, John? It’s time for you to go home now.”

  • Victoria Songer Barnett

    Oh, this brings back memories….

  • Marilyn Baker

    Love the story…… It is my story as well

  • Barbara Rice

    Also, I live on the lane to the cemetery.

  • I never got to do Halloween as a kid, as my parent’s church thought it was evil, certain to demon possess the lot of us. We got our house toilet papered one year when my dad actually answered the door and offered the kids peanut butter for a treat. We hid in the dark after that.


    Our back yard was massive oak tree heaven. We had a rope swing…gunny sacks at one end of a 30 foot length of rope, the other end tied to a branch as big around as my skinny waist. It was awesome. And the leaf piles, taller then the average 5 year old, massive and thick enough to tunnel through, and deep enough to dive in, disappear, and then swim to the surface for another round.

    Even though I had a sweet tooth the size of my head,(great line John!!) like any normal kid, leaf diving did sorta make up for it.

  • Katie Rucker

    Great article! Totally relatable. Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever collected more than a small candy bucket. I grew up on a big piece of property so we traveled every year to trick or treat. It was a new neighborhood every year. I also didn’t have friends to trick or treat with, but I have a few good memories of trick or treating 🙂

  • Katie Rucker

    My mom did the same thing, especially after I got braces.

  • Take pictures of your alley and all that! If you don’t know how to post them here in Comments Land, send them to me and I’ll do it!

  • Matt

    You can be intense about your writing. I find it very endearing. I think the majority of your work is pretty awesome as is. But that’s just my amateur perception.

  • Allie

    Husband’s snarky comment of the night: “Great costume! I see you dressed as an apathetic teenager!” He gives the uncostumed beggars candy, but they have to endure his ribbing.

  • It’s true I did spend … well, about three hours today rewriting this piece as I also did a bunch of other stuff online. It’s in the shape right now that I think is good enough for a blog post. The … interesting thing about writing is that the more you work something, the better it gets. There’s a kind of … relentless magic in that.

  • Matt

    Oh, yes! You can always expand on an idea, or tweak a phrase so that it communicates that idea better. Or you can decide that an entire paragraph just does not work and scrap it. In the computer age, it’s ridiculously easy to keep editing our writing. Now that I think about it, it’s a wonder we ever stop!

  • Jill

    ! You’re living in a Smiths’ song.

    I dread a sunny day, so let’s go where we’re happy, and I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates. Keats and Yeats are on your side.

  • Lymis

    Update! It rained, so we couldn’t do the sitting out thing, but we got our first trick or treaters! The dry spell is broken! YAY. Boy, did they score at our house!

  • Nicole

    But..but that’s the PERFECT lane to go down! Hm. Do you have a jack o’ lantern out front?

  • Nicole

    I was in the same boat. My brother and I would watch the trick-or-treaters through the curtains from our darkened bedroom to see what their costumes looked like and sometimes we did get to hand out candy. Once, I remember, a neighbor left a bowl of candy on his porch because he was going to be out that evening and my mom let us run and get some from the porch. That was AWESOME. 🙂

  • Soulmentor

    I guess I’ll never forget the Halloween nite my father, and I on leave from the AF, went t&t’ing to my dad’s friends houses….carrying a tumbler of ice!!! Never had much of a relationship with him so that nite sticks with me. Kinda sad that it’s one of few PLEASANT events that does.

    Fun idea that I never did again.

  • Soulmentor

    Huh. I still don’t know how to put up my picture here. I’ve asked several times but no one ever tells me.

  • Don Rappe

    Pretty good story! I offer this in the spirit of high praise, Minnesota style.