Ever since I was a child, Halloween has brought a wave of euphoric recall. On my first Halloween, as the night stole in, my mother put makeup on my face. Unsure, I held her hand as we negotiated our way down the narrow front steps into the crisp cool dark that was filled with the shouts and laughter of children.
I remember her glowing smile of assurance as I looked up at her. I came to know that feeling of interior warmth I felt that night as a place of joy not tainted with the steady diet of fire and brimstone the real world seemed to dispense. This night at least was a moment of freedom cut loose from the bindings that enslaved me.
Years later, when my children prepared to enter the cool night as ninjas and blue multi-legged caterpillars visiting earth, my heart glowed again as I recalled my mother’s face.
This Halloween one of my sons was in the children’s hospital, weak and struggling, tended by the nurses and his mother. My other son dressed as a Frenchman. He skipped down the front steps into the night looking back at me over his shoulder. His face was grinning but I couldn’t help but wonder if the doubt I thought I saw in his eyes belonged to him or me.
It’s the first Halloween in his life that his brother is absent. A Father’s broken heart is a funny thing. One moment it will drown in sorrow … the next it will ball up its fists and curse at God for the unfairness of it all.
The doorbell would ring and all manner of princesses and samurais, ghosts and warriors, came and went. As the short night moved on they grew taller. Though their eyes still sparkled with mirth, I suspected that they began to recognize my sadness.
So I gave out candy and wore a smile that I did not believe as I thought of my sons out there in the darkness. One is a Frenchman for a while with his beautiful smile and sad eyes; the other … a ghostly pale monk looking out at me from that hospital bed … and I struggled because I could not save us from this.