Halloween is full of fun stories, creepy, scary, otherworldly stories that catch the imagination and force us to look at the darker side of ourselves. But what is Halloween really? Through all the traditions I can find, from The Roman Catholic All Hallow's Eve to the Roman Parentalia and even to the Celtic Samuin, the connective tissue of these events is the idea that the wall between reality and a spiritual world is thinner on the night of October 31st.
Ghouls and Goblins run the streets in search of bags of candy, Moms and Dads watch The Nightmare Before Christmas with their progeny, and teens and singles alike dress in ever increasingly evocative clothing in the name of Halloween. Do you think of horror movies or naked wiccans dancing in the woods that night? I don't.
I think of my first true love and the possibility that a little bit of magic kept him alive.
While I've never been much of a religious person in the traditional sense, I've always believed in a world within worlds, one which connects us all and can give us power and insight into things that defy definition. The story I have to tell you isn't a scary one, but it's one about a time when the curtain of reality parted slightly, just enough for me to peek through and see something I would have never been able to stop otherwise.
During my senior year of high school I was in the drama filled throws of looming graduation, love, self-discovery, and self-sabotage. So basically I was exactly like everyone reading this. An emotional roller-coaster on many levels, I never seemed to be able to get myself set straight or figure out what I was doing. Words had a tendency to fall from my lips before I'd even completed the thought behind them, and any day I didn't cry I considered a success. Oh to be sixteen again.
It was Halloween and I had a costume, a crowd to wander the streets with, and a general feeling that things might actually be okay for me. What could go wrong? Like everyday before, my fella and I met between classes, walked to our lockers with goofy looks on our faces, pretending we knew what it meant to be in love. That day I remember quite vividly, it was after AP Government and he met me as usual, but something was wrong.
"I'm gonna go home, I don't feel good," he told me.
"Do you want me to drive you?" I asked, not liking the shading of his already pale skin.
"No, I'm just gonna sleep." He'd just recovered from a sinus infection or something, I don't remember what now, but him not feeling well wasn't unreasonable. I remember a certain dullness in his eyes though.
He left, and I spent the next two classes worried. I knew, I just knew there was something wrong. Something deep inside me screamed out that he needed me. It wasn't hormones or some other desire to skip school; I had plenty of opportunities to exploit both of those. It was definitely something deeper.
I considered going to the principal and asking someone to check on him, but the conversation in my mind wasn't one that I could see being well received.
You see, I just have this feeling there's something wrong and maybe someone should go over there - you know, see if he's still breathing?
What were they going to do? My mother and his parents worked, so I knew they wouldn't go check. I called the house between classes and no one answered. There was no one left but me. I knew where the spare key to his house was, and I had my own car.
In a fit of rare disobedience, I wrote a note during French II (a class I failed twice by the way) to leave early. I signed my mother's name and, as per usual, I completely fucked it up. I dated it September 31st. Guest what day Halloween is. Yeah, I'm just that smart.
None-the-less, I drove over to the house of my infirmed boyfriend, dread and concern mounting the closer I got. I had visions of finding him passed out in the kitchen, or worse. Something demanded I get to him, and I drove faster.
I rounded into his neighborhood too fast, pulling my ridiculous little car up the steep hill of his driveway. Inside the garage against one wall was a magnetic box holding the spare key. I grabbed it and let myself in.
I called out.
There was no answer.
I called up the stairs, and then I heard his weak voice coming from the living room.
"Where are you?" I asked.
"In the bathroom, don't come in," was all he said. I started to calm down, he was alive, he was just sick. I'd been foolish to rush over here and worry. There wasn't anything wrong. I'd make him some lunch and go back to school and it would all fade away. Another moment of over-reaction in my hyperbolic life had been survived.
I heard a retch from behind the door, and then another.
"Are you okay?"
I haven't told you much about the fella I was dating at the time. You know, protecting the innocent and all. What I can tell you is he is still a dear friend and not one to admit weakness lightly. Always working to overcome the next obstacle, either internal or external, "I can't" or "I'm not alright" are things he rarely says. So I knew he had to be really sick.
My mind kicked into overdrive. He wouldn't let me in the bathroom; he was still vomiting but hadn't eaten anything. The sound of his retching got worse and worse until I had no idea what to do.
"I'm calling your Mom."
This time he didn't reply.
When his mother heard my voice on the other end of the phone I could feel the panic rushing through the phone lines. There was something very wrong.
She was home soon, and we piled him into the back of her van, a bucket next to him. I sat in the very back, his head in my lap, despite his protests. He was just too weak to pretend to be okay. That vision I'd had of him passed out was coming true, but now, instead of alone in his kitchen, he was with me and his mother, on our way to the hospital.
Four hours later I was allowed to see him. He'd had a severe allergic reaction to the erythromycin he'd been taking. The reaction had been so swift and violent there was a possibility that he wouldn't have survived it, but thanks to whatever sense, or intuition or touch of magic that had told me something was wrong, he was alive.
Now this isn't the same as seeing a ghost or believing in fairies. This isn't a blurry picture of a moving Bigfoot or bright light skittering across the sky at an impossible speed. This is just a moment in time, a small thing really from the outside. But to me, this was a moment when something outside of myself forced me to act. When the forces at work in the spiritual world around us crossed over and whispered for me to do something.
Because I listened, or maybe because it was Halloween and the thinning of reality made it easier to hear, my friend is still around. He is as difficult and stubborn as always, but I wouldn't have survived losing him, and the world would have been a much darker place without him in it.
Seventeen years ago, on Halloween, I was grounded for lying, forging a note, and skipping school. I was almost suspended, but instead was given detention because both my mother and his asked the principle for leniency. The adults around me claimed I should have done something else, told someone, anything but what I did.
That Halloween I didn't go trick-or-treating. I was grounded.
And I couldn't have been happier.
If you're interested, you can read the same story from the point of view of aforementioned fella on his blog: http://jeffwills.blogspot.com/2011/11/tiny-black-specks.html
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