When we ask the women inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in Burlington, VT what kinds of topics they want to write about, ‘holidays’ always top the list. Yet holidays are also major triggers for many. Easter brought out the story of a young girl raped by a trusted uncle charged with taking her to church. Christmas recalls the death of dearly beloved sister.
Halloween is no different. One woman writes in great detail about her last Halloween with her mother, when the writer was 5. Another writes with obvious pain how her mother over-did Halloween and as a result, never acknowledged her October birthday. Another loves Halloween because her birthday was fully integrated into it, making both completely magical. SS offers a still different story:
She thinks back, tries to remember what it was like. There’s always the Before and After. She was too young to know then. Before he left, Halloween was her favorite holiday. He made it special. They would spend a week decorating the front yard and porch. She shoves leaves in the pumpkin trash bags. He hangs ghost-shaped lights in the bushes. Fills the porch with fake cobwebs and spiders. He never tires, getting every detail right. He makes it special for them. He works all night to create their costumes. Every jewel and sparkle in her sister’s crown is perfect.
He paints her face green. Black hat, black gown. Her sister wears all pink: together, good and bad. She laughs. Who would’ve known back then there would be no good. Just bad. Everything else make believe, like Halloween memories.
After he left, Halloween stopped. No more decorations. No more trick or treating. No more fun. Just dark. Just her mother’s fear and pain. Lights off. No one’s home. Take it upon themselves to create their own Halloween. No candy. Just candlelight and the Ouija board. Fake voodoo dolls and haunted basements. They play in real witch’s back yards, hoping to keep the memories alive. They run through her backyard stealing stones, pretending they’re cursed.
They forget how he made it special. Her memories fade. She grows up. Another day. No parties, no fun. Still living in her mother’s fear. Nothing would ever be the same. Her mother’s pain cast a shadow over her whole life, forced to keep her mother’s skeletons in the closet.