I’ve never liked Halloween. I wasn’t raised by moral or religious objections to dislike Halloween, nor am I ‘too old’ to dislike Halloween. I’m not opposed to Halloween either, and it doesn’t bother me when I see others decorating and dressing up for the occasion, but I just can’t force myself to take part in it.
My therapist says it roots back to some kind of childhood trauma, but all I could remember from when I was younger was enjoying Halloween. I would dress up as whatever monster I wanted and would growl at people in exchange for chocolates and candies. But then again, researchers have claimed that we block out traumatic memories and hide it so deep in our brain, it’s hard to bring them out.
As I got older, I began to focus on what Halloween was really about: its origins, the Irish folklore, Celtic Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, Harvest festivals, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, the souls of the dead, evil spirits – and so forth. At 12 years old, all that information is a lot to handle. Thus, I was put off from Halloween for a while, and then, I completely disliked it all.
This year, I was going to do my regular Halloween routine – turn off all the lights in the house, watch whatever horror movie was playing on TV, and ignore the kids who would shout through the window that they could see I was home. Unfortunately, I was being forced to go out this weekend; ‘no’ wouldn’t be taken for an answer.
I decided that I would put on a wig this year, top it off with a baseball cap, and throw on a plaid jacket. I was going to go as Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World – I know, not very original.
My girlfriend, Mary, was a costume designer, and naturally, she had a whole cardboard box full of costumes and props used on shoots she worked on years ago. She insisted that we would try on costumes and wigs so that we would be prepared for Saturday evening. I sighed and grumbled, but she stood her ground.
I watched as she dug around, her back towards me. She was throwing costumes over her shoulder as if she was in some cartoon. A pair of clown pants hit me in the face, the smell of mothballs inhaled through my nostrils almost made me gag.
She triumphantly pulled out a brunette wig, in a ‘ta-da’ motion. The wig was long and scraggly, but by the look in her eyes, I could tell she was already thinking of how she was going to make it work.
“It’s supposed to be choppy and mid-length, so we’ll have to cut it,” she said, holding the wig in her hand.
“Ok, but I’m not putting that on right now. No offense babe, but these clothes smell rancid, I can’t imagine what that wig will smell like.”
She rolled her eyes at me and walked over to the dusty mirror perched up against a pile of forgotten boxes. She put the wig in between her legs, her fingers effortlessly weaving through her hair, forming some sort of up do. It was such a simple gesture, but I remember thinking how she brought elegance to it.
“Close your eyes!”
I did as she said, a sheepish grin starting to form on my face; I couldn’t help it.
I laughed at how ridiculous she looked. The wig somehow made her head appear so much bigger on her already tiny frame. At birth, Mary was diagnosed with X-Linked agammaglobulinemia – basically, a big word to say that she’s got a very weak immune system due to low, or sometimes, completely absent levels of immunoglobulins in the bloodstream. These immunoglobulins are protein molecules in blood serum that function like antibodies, and Mary’s got pretty much none of that. Thus, she always looked frail and weak, but right now, in that wig, she looked like a little girl playing in her mom’s closet.
Mary got a kick out of the wig and insisted we would wear it to ‘dinner’. Our version of dinner on a Friday night was going to a local pub and ordering the fish and chips while we downed it with pints of beer.
Through the night, I noticed that she kept itching her wig.
“Will you just take it off?” I asked, annoyance slipping through in my voice.
She shook her head. “No! I look great as a brunette. It’s a nice change. Besides, it’s probably just because my scalp is hot and – ow!”
“What! What happened?”
“Nothing, I think one of the clips just went a bit deeper in my scalp,” she said, mid-itch.
After dessert, she began to look pale, and I asked her if she was fine. The thing about Mary is that she will say she is fine, even when she is not. I knew something was wrong when she didn’t brush it off.
“I think it might be food poisoning, can we just go home?”
We didn’t even make it out of the parking lot when she began to scream, startling me. I looked over, panic-stricken.
She was screaming in agony, holding on to her head, clutching chunks of the wig’s hair in her hands, her knuckles turning white. She tore the wig off, flinging it onto the dashboard.
I kept looking over at her, my eyes going off the road, causing the car to swerve one too many times. She had started ripping out her own hair, clumps of blonde stuck in between her fingers, blood stains under her nails from scratching her scalp too hard.
Finally, we arrived at the hospital.
She had barely gotten out of the car before she began to scream once again, nurses immediately rushing to her side.
“What happened?” A nurse asked as the other began to open up a wheelchair.
“I don’t know – we went out for dinner, and she kept scratching her head, saying that it hurt, but that was it. Maybe it was something in the food we ate? Could something like that happen from food?” I began to panic; I didn’t know what was going on.
I watched as they wheeled her away, and I was immediately instructed to take a seat in the waiting room. Eventually, her screams became muffled, but I thought that I had become desensitized to it at that point.
It felt like time stood still. Every time I looked up at the clock on the wall, it seemed to stay in the same place. Finally, a doctor finally came out, calling my name. I jumped out of my seat, the blood rushing to my head. At first, his words were gibberish; like something in a Charlie Brown cartoon. I was staring at his lips moving, but didn’t understand the words coming out until he concluded with a half-ass, “I’m sorry”.
Mary had suffered an infection caused by bacteria called necrotizing fasciitis; also known as the flesh-eating bacteria. Typically, in an adult, it is curable – but in Mary’s case, due to her already weak immune system – it was deadly.
The bacteria started from a bite from a brown recluse spider that was found meshed between her hair and her scalp. Feeling Mary’s fingers constantly itch the wig, the spider felt threatened, and it bit her, causing the unbearable pain.
I went back to Mary’s that night and went up to the attic, a cold eerie feeling looming over me. Hesitantly, I went to the cardboard box that had the costumes, and gently lifted articles of clothing up one by one. There, at the bottom right of the box, where wigs were lying was a disorganized web, and in it – brown recluse spiders.
I didn’t go out for Halloween this year. And I won’t be going out ever.