I will never see Halloween the same. I loved it as a child, but once you come face to face with real death, images of ghosts, ghouls and skeletons aren’t playthings anymore.
I’m not trying to rain on the Halloween parade. Really. And I’m not such a stiff that I don’t participate. A few years ago, I was a lady vampire. Another year, I was a gypsy. And another year, a black cat. But when I see really ghastly images, I cringe.
I know I’m not the only one. You aren’t the only one. For us, real death changed Halloween from a playful parade of goblins and delightful, frightful surprises into painful reminders that death took our loved one. That bodies we hugged decay. That beloved spirits fly away.
A neighbor’s kids love to color skulls. One of their Halloween decorations is a skeleton. As I walk through the seasonal aisle at Walgreens, it’s those boney images that bug me the most. I was never a big fan, but now they remind me of death. Of real death. Despite the fact that as a crime reporter I visited murder scenes, death didn’t seem real to me until I saw my daddy’s body, lying in the hallway floor, covered in a white sheet. I dropped to my knees and put my hand on his chest. He was still warm. And then three years later, called by the aide, I rushed home.
My mother prepared me for the onslaughts of lustful and malevolent men. I was a girl, encased in loving cocoon, listening to how they had hit her. Tried to rape her. Tried to kill her.
She left her first abusive husband only to be abused by the second. He then poisoned her with arsenic. Later, a landlord’s son cut a window screen. He tried to rape her. Mom tricked him and escaped. Through the years, many men claimed superiority over her simply because they had different sex organs. As incidents of men brandishing power mounted, her courage grew.
And she became the mother I knew. She refused to be subdued.
Her stories didn’t teach me fear. They taught me bravery. Boldness. Nerve. But as a girl, I didn’t think any of the violence she’d gone through would apply to me. I was unaware that Mom was giving me valuable tools that would protect me. That might even save my life.
I think about Mom’s cautionary tales – her gift to me – as women flood the public stage with #MeToo stories of sexual assault and harassment. I think about her stories as a nation stands divided between a Supreme Court nominee’s good name and a woman’s life-changing tale of trauma. All the narratives ping pong in my head against the backdrop of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
On the emotional, physical and sexual fronts, many women share an uncomfortable if not painful experience. I don’t have a #MeToo story like the ones that are circulating. But yes, I’ve been the subject of unwanted advances and tiptoed around the edges of dangerous encounters.