By Sonja Thompson
My ex-girlfriend hated Halloween. Maybe hate isn’t the right word. It’s not sharp enough around the edges and doesn’t make you think of trauma, nightmares, and years of therapy. When she was 20 years old, she found her grandmother’s body, brutally murdered by her mom’s ex-felon boyfriend. That it was the night before Halloween was just a coincidence, but she couldn’t even see a fucking candy corn after that without spinning out.
And I was so attracted to her, but beyond the physical realm – although there definitely was that too. The attraction was deeper, much deeper than my fingers could go. We energetically matched each other to create a perfect dysfunctional union.
After all, I was a savior, rescuing others like I’ve done since I was little… when I was 4, biting and scratching bullies who had lifted my older brother onto a broken branch of a tree and were swinging at his suspended body with sticks; when I was 12, standing in between my mom and dad, facing him with my arms stretched out and hands splayed, my body and voice telling him to not touch her. I’d been training for this even in my adult life, staying too long in toxic relationships because I cared, and they made me feel needed.
I used to go to a codependency meeting every Monday night, and I’d like to think that the quality of my life back then was better than had been before. One of the things I learned at that meeting was that we can’t keep someone from dying. So many people are hooked into this codependent loop because they fear if they don’t x, y, or z, the other person will <insert horrible thing here>. And of course, the worst thing, far more so than failing a class or losing a job or getting evicted, is death. That fear will forever hold you hostage unless you surrender to it.
But surrendering certainly isn’t something a rescuer does. Hark, what is that I hear? A damsel in distress? Wait… she’s hot AND messed up? Let me grab my fucking cape and shake off the dust that’s barely settled from my last valiant effort.
My relationships didn’t always end well, and some of those people died, literally – although we weren’t still together when they did. Perhaps I could have saved them from an untimely death? No, that’s bullshit. Who the hell am I to decide when it’s someone’s time? All I can say for certain is that I wasn’t happy in those relationships. Writing that, even now, makes me feel a little selfish. And then I start to think about the relationships where I was happy, until I wasn’t… the ones that were fun, until they weren’t.
Halloween, though, that had always been a happy, fun time of year for me – even that year when my mom put rubber cement on my face instead of “dippidy doo,” the latter being what a book recommended for my werewolf costume. For those of you who don’t know, dippidy doo is a styling gel that holds the hair on your head (and supposedly adheres chopped up wig hair to your face). She did look for dippidy doo at the drug store, and when she asked the young male clerk for assistance, he said that rubber cement should work. It did.
For the first few seconds, it was the most amazing costume ever… my transformation from 10-year-old human girl to female werewolf cub right before our very eyes. But then the burning sensation began, so intensely that I started howling, splashing cold water on my face, and trying to claw it off. My mother clapped her hands together repeatedly and squealed, “Ohhhh, that’s so good!” thinking that I was putting on a magnificent werewolf performance with all of my antics and an almost rabid, panicked look in my eyes.
That night, I still had fun, went trick-or-treating, and ate a ridiculous amount of candy. For my costume, I resorted to wearing a scary rubber mask from the year before that I only occasionally had to peel away from my feverishly hot, still-sticky skin.
Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, haunted houses, scary movie marathons, spooky decorations, carving jack-o’-lanterns, roasting pumpkin seeds, bowls full of candy, trick-or-treating, costume parties… all of the things that I loved about Halloween as a kid, I continued to love as an adult.
But with my ex, I was more entangled than any spider web, more cursed than any witch’s spell. At the time, I thought I was protecting her, making sure that she didn’t have to leave the apartment during the month of October and risk seeing even a black cat that could somehow activate her associative thinking and cause her to spiral into a trauma trance. No decorations, no candy, no scary movies… for the past two years in a row, there wasn’t even a single mention of anything Halloween.
I understood why it was so difficult for her, though I could never really know how she felt. Michael Myers, who freaked me the fuck out every time I watched John Carpenter’s Halloween, was nothing compared to the real-life horror she experienced that night, and then for two years after, as the murder trial kept getting pushed back. But that was 23 years of therapy and thousands of prescription meds ago. How long would it take? Do you ever really recover from something like that?
She was beautiful and broken, and I quickly queued up the music for that familiar dance. I felt like I was the dippidy doo that was holding her life together, and without me, she would fall apart. But our relationship was toxic, like rubber cement. Even though we initially fit and looked great together, there was too much pain to endure.
I wasn’t happy, but I loved her… still love her… and I felt needed. She didn’t need me, but I wanted to believe that I was special, that there was something that set me apart from the person she lived with right before me and the person she moved in with immediately after we broke up. I’m not going to pretend or say that it was easy, but I’m slowly relearning how to peel myself away from things that hurt when I feel stuck.
This Halloween, I’m taking off my cape and celebrating. Trick or treat?
Find out more about Sonja on her official website.