You’re a junior in college and you are in the basement of a frat house. It’s been years since you walked the streets of your old neighborhood in a bunny costume, making a cartoon of yourself in the twilight. All it took were ears attached to a headband and some white sweatpants. This was when your enthusiasm for costumes was winding down, just before you were too cool to wear any costume at all, and prowled the neighborhood in street clothes with well-concealed cans of shaving cream.
Before the bunny, you were a clown for several years running, wearing the same pantaloons with rainbow suspenders, gigantic bow tie, and fluorescent-green Afro. You walked the road with the cowgirls and punk rockers and instinctively knew which houses to avoid. The houses that promised the best candy had just enough Halloween decorations to be festive—a set of hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns, faux spider webs in the windowsill, a knock-kneed plastic skeleton with a goofy grin hanging from a tree—but not so many as to be creepy, like that haunted house that took itself too seriously, didn’t turn on any lights, had a cackling soundtrack coming out of speakers hidden in the bushes, and a tarantula on a string that dropped down on you when you rang the doorbell. The houses that left baskets of candy on the porch and a note to “only take one” were seriously misassessing their clientele. Of course you took all you could get, leaving behind only the Hershey’s Kisses with half-torn foil. Houses like this were just asking to be TP’ed. Everyone skipped your grandmother’s house because she only gave out unshelled peanuts and Red Delicious apples, not out of any moral stance against candy but because she still thought that’s how things were done.
Years before this you were a princess in a tutu and a tiara, and somehow it wasn’t just a costume; you really were a princess, as if the problem of being yourself could be transcended just by wearing different clothes.
Now in the basement, people around you are reeling: All the football players are dressed up as girls, all the girls are dressed up as sexier versions of themselves. Some people are part of a group concept drawn from television, such as Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch. You notice that what was cute in elementary school is now no longer cute. For example, someone’s sincere attempt to become a green crayon using construction paper and yarn. You yourself have left costume planning to the last minute and so have settled on the half-baked idea of wearing all your scarves at once, each entwined haphazardly around your neck. It’s as if you no longer believe in the possibility of your own transformation. Sweaty bodies heave beside you on the dance floor. You watch how predictable the drunk people are, their exaggerated sense of having a good time. You feel superior to them as you stand there, as if you could know everything there is to know just by standing still, watching the scene scroll in front of you in a series of obvious plot points. You stand there as if you could see the future in hindsight, when, in fact, the past itself is something you never could have anticipated, walking the streets of your old neighborhood with twilight not just around you but inside you, to reclaim you as a form you don’t yet recognize.