I’m pretty sure it was fourth grade so that would mark it as 1979. My younger brother and I came home from school to a locked up house and no sign of our parents. That was not unusual. We didn’t have a key, so we used our array of tricks to gain access to the house – climbed through a window somewhere, probably the dining room.
We knew the drill. Eat some of the allowable snacks. Do homework. Watch TV. Wait for them to come home from whatever Quixotic quest they created that particular day. Our repertoire of dinner prep was limited at age eight (me) and six (my brother) to PBJ, cereal, and not much else. I don’t know if yet had a microwave, a tool that would revolutionize the semi-regular abandonment afterschool routine.
This time, it was different because it was Halloween. And while coping with the demons of neglect and disregard was a familiar ritual, gearing up to head out in costumes with bags and gear was a little beyond us. I was going dressed as a cowgirl. But finding flashlights, pillowcases, putting out the candy we were distributing,
This time, it was different because it was Halloween. And while coping with the demons of neglect and disregard was a familiar ritual, gearing up to head out in costumes with bags and gear was a little beyond us. I was going dressed as a cowgirl. But finding flashlights, pillowcases, putting out the candy we were distributing, not to mention eating dinner and figuring out the weather was a little above my paygrade. And when I say cowgirl, I was wearing my prairie skirt and vest because we hadn’t purchased or made costumes.
So I called my grandparents. They were very annoyed, but they came over with McDonalds and helped us. I thought they were saving us. When my parents rolled in after dark, my grandmother chewed them out because she was inconvenienced. That should have been a clue, but I was pretty young.
Little did I know that most of the reasons my parents were in perpetual chaos was due to my grandparents, especially my grandfather. That doesn’t absolve them of their actions. It just makes our dependence on the OG offenders desperately sad.
I can remember my grandparents showing up, bringing us food, and my parents arriving. Then I think we went trick or treating on our own. I don’t know for sure. It could have been 5th grade. It was so long ago, but when I think about it — the feelings are very real & current and that’s called trauma. Shutting down or dissociating from the rest of the evenings events is also trauma.
I remember also that this is when I started to worry about getting Halloween wrong. Before then, it was joyful and fun. I loved my costumes, I loved the candy, I even loved when my mother took her favorites, insisting I didn’t like them. It was so wholesome and loving and sweet. But life changed and suddenly there were very few moments that were wholesome, loving, and sweet. I would anguish over my costume, I was afraid of haunted houses, I was apprehensive about missing out on good candy, and I was caught up in this maelstrom of wanting to love Halloween again and feeling completely out of place in each moment.
The other thing I remember from that night is that my parents were not at all apologetic. They did not understand the big fuss. That’s likely because they were having their own responses to the trauma in our lives. Their expectations for all of us were out of whack.
I wish I could say that I became a loving and protective big sister to my younger brother. But that’s not the case. I allowed the programming I experienced to drive a very big, life long wedge between us. “Allowed” is a ridiculous turn of phrase because I was a child being victimized by a very sick adult in my family while everyone else turned away. My relationship with my brother never stood a chance.
This memory feels like an important point, a moment when the disintegration of everything was on the table. It would never return to old days, it would never get better — just occasionally trend upwards for a few months. This was the year I told my teacher that we didn’t eat breakfast most days and she was more concerned about how to log that in our food diary than in addressing our hunger. One by one all of the adults who were supposed to be helpers were failing both of us.
It is actually a trauma within a trauma — the experience at the time was awful and I understood that. But I failed to understand how it tied to the larger issues. I truly thought our grandparents helped us. I was so wrong. I wonder what would have happened if we didn’t call them, if we just figured it out. Worse? Better? The same? 45 years later and I don’t know.
I do know that I should never have had to make that call in the first place.
One experience I’ve never had as an adult is taking kids in my life trick-or-treating. I did it when I was in high school, but that was mostly to be able to get some candy for me. I love giving out candy. We have a nice stoop and cute bowls. And I probably would prefer that to going door to door now. But I do regret not having that experience.
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