As a little girl, Halloween was absolutely thrilling. We lived in a neighborhood packed with friends, though not overly ‘safe.’ Five minutes away from downtown and five minutes away from the University of South Carolina campus, our neighborhood was one of those authentic Southern places where the houses are historic, the zipcode coveted, yet our benches were chained to the front porch and a police chase ended with an arrest in our backyard. Southern Gothic, almost — a stop on the way to the suburbs for most.
I loved it. I loved that I knew every family in every house, that our parents let us all run free in the sultry darkness, and that there was, subconscious, imperceptible maybe — a possibility of something actually scary happening. On those nights, I cherished the adventure of being alive.
Many things crashed and burned, causing a screeching halt of those nights. Divorce, a move to the suburbs. Adulthood.
In 2012, I was living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and, according to my memory, learned of Hurricane Sandy’s impending siege the morning of what would become ‘a long day’s journey into night.’ I was working in the restaurant of a hotel — a lovely but bizarrely unique Washington Square Hotel — and my boss said that if I came in to work, I could have a room at the hotel that night in case things got very bad with the hurricane. The thoughts in my head were, in case of a hurricane, surely it will be better to be in Manhattan, surrounded by people, than to be in a far-out neighborhood in Brooklyn by myself.
It wasn’t far into the evening when I realized my error and felt the stone-cold dread that I had put myself into a risky situation. Worse, it was UNNECESSARILY risky. Had I stayed home, which I had every right to do, I would be unaffected virtually by the hurricane — my part of Brooklyn suffered no floods, no power outages. My roommate was there. My best friend was there. My belongings, my things were there — it was my home, and I had left, voluntarily. I dislodged myself; I displaced myself — and why? Was I subconsciously seeking more danger? Why did I think work was a safe place? Why did I think a hotel was a safe place? Why did I think Manhattan was safe from a hurricane? Why did I think I wouldn’t be trapped in labyrinth upon labyrinth that night?
Being entrenched in a situation you recognize as ‘bad’ is horrifying enough. Knowing you are there because of one decision you made is worse. One decision that you did not even think through. You made this one decision rather flippantly, so now, you are disappointed in yourself, or, you just feel the sort of tragic tint to everything: THIS WAS AVOIDABLE.
The power went out in this old, cavernous hotel and suddenly having a room with a key card meant absolutely nothing. Suddenly my co-workers didn’t feel familiar. I didn’t feel ‘protected’ by them; in the ballroom darkness, my response to danger collided with their responses to danger. Some felt joy, or exhilaration (especially as they poured available alcohol into their bodies). Their exhilaration made the hairs on the back of my neck perk up. Usually, when men feel this kind of reckless abandon and this kind of unbridled giddiness, it’s at the expense of someone like me. They feel that way because they know that the ‘other’ is fearful. Power dynamics have become a blurry painting.
I took refuge in the stairway. My cell phone was dying and of course I wouldn’t be able to charge it. I did catch one picture out of the window: Manhattan, from West 4th street up to 23rd St., blackout. Me, from the depths of my soul to the tips of my fingers, trapped.
Halloween came and went a day or so later, and I thought for the first time: ‘I’m not celebrating Halloween. This year, I had Real Halloween.’
Part 2 upcoming: Halloween 2018