On the very first day of first grade, my teacher, Miss Cherry, made us introduce ourselves by standing in front of the class and listing our name, favorite vegetable, favorite holiday and favorite thing we owned. I watched as nearly every student declared “a white-bread baby-book name,” “carrots,” “Christmas” and “my dolly.” Then it was my turn. I proudly strutted up to the front of the room, turned around and proclaimed: “Marisa,” “eggplant,” “Halloween” and “shoes!”
In my memory, that scene plays like a teen movie, where the DJ abruptly stops the record mid-jam and the partygoers fall silent and stare. Those four uncommon answers could have been responsible for my future as an “inside kid” during recess. Luckily, thanks to my dimples and the lack of cute schoolgirls at Franklin Elementary, I became a recess resident of the playground and my initial answers never changed.
After all, why should they? You know the game where you have to quickly say word associations, so someone says “cheese” and the next says “the moon,” and everyone laughs because you didn’t say sandwich or mouse or Wisconsin? I’m never the one laughing—but I figure I’m the one playing the game right. My first-grade answers were a precursor to that game.
I may not have known it then, but even my quirky name shaped who I would become. That name comes from my mom’s sister, Mary Ann, who once said if she could be named anything, she’d want it to be Marisa. I never knew her, but she inspired me to begin writing.
Last weekend, I got to thinking about why I love Halloween. For one night of the year, virtually every social norm is shamelessly disregarded at dusk—and no one so much as bats a false eyelash at the flagrant infractions.
Last year, after traveling on a bus from D.C. to New York City, at 8 p.m., when it had poured for over an hour, my vampire friends and I disappointingly declared the public parade rained out and ventured into the depths of the musty subway station. When we descended, it seemed as if a small-scale parade was taking place on the tracks. Jesus, Moses, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, an angel, a devil, President Obama and Kim Jong-il sat next to each other on the wooden benches awaiting their train.
All of these strangers, who would normally be peeved if even asked for the time by another, began having conversations about their plans for the evening and where they had bought their costumes. A costume-less camerawoman walked up to my friend and, without asking, took a close-up shot of his face. A forty-something man playfully began a dance-off with a young trick-or-treater. Every barrier permanently bolted with steel and barbed wire from Nov. 1 to Oct. 30 shatters on Halloween and you get a glimpse of what life would be like if every person who got into an elevator faced the back wall.
Most of all, though, I love Halloween because it lets me walk in someone else’s shoes.
Last year, when I was down with the day-after-your-favorite-holiday blues, my mom called me to her room to give me a present. I was surprised at this gesture, since my post-collegiate behavior in no way warranted gift-giving, but as my dad likes to point out, I am spoiled, so I sat on her bed with my arms open and eyes closed. When I opened them, in my hands were a pair of old red shoes. My mom and I are not the same size—and dirty shoes aren’t exactly what I would call a present—so I patiently awaited an explanation.
She told me they once belonged to Mary Ann. She said the red shoes had walked the streets of New York and had brought my aunt luck, and that’s exactly what I needed as I prepared to move to New York City. She said she was confident that the shoes were going to help me walk forward. Even though I was sad to be back from my trip for just that moment, I felt like another red-shoed girl confused about her future. I looked at my mom and thought, there’s no place like home.
Follow Marisa Polansky’s exploits on her blog Leetle Girl in the Big World at www.leetlegirlinthebigworld.tumblr.com.
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