Halloween is finally upon us. To many people Halloween is their favorite holiday because of the fanfare of dressing up in costumes and letting loose, putting out fun decorations, and scoring oodles of candy. I have a very unique relationship with Halloween because October 31st happens to be my birthday. I am a Halloween-y as I have said for years. When people find out that my birthday is on Halloween the most common reactions that I’ve gotten have been “Wow, really?!,” “That must be fun,” or “Are you big time into Halloween then?” It’s cool to have my birthday on such a unique date, given the choice I would much rather it be on Halloween than any other major holiday, and I do embrace the fun of that. But no I am not big time into Halloween. In fact, for the better part of my lifetime Halloween and I have had a bit of a conflicted relationship.
The roots of that all started when I was three years old. That was the year that one of our neighbors jumped out with a gorilla mask and scared the crap out of me. Not a great “look how fun your Halloween birthday can be” childhood moment. After that the pomp and circumstance of Halloween was lost on me for years. My dad joked recently that they probably should have put me in therapy. In fact, it took until about the age of 10 for me to walk down the Halloween mask aisle of our local Shopko without feeling creeped out, and I don’t think I’ve ever put on a scary mask. A year or two later my preschool teacher dressed up for our Halloween party in a full clown costume, a childhood fear of mine, and I freaked out, buried my head in my dad’s arms, and refused to go into the classroom. Back to the babysitter’s I went instead.
I’ve never gotten too into dressing up in Halloween costumes either. When I was a kid I refused to go as anything but a cowboy (much to my mom’s chagrin) for about five or so years straight, the annual trip to the Farm & Fleet store for a new pair of cowboy boots no doubt being the primary motivator. I used to love me some cowboy boots. The year I think I broke from my cowboy shell my mom made me a robot costume, but an unseasonably cold night that required wearing my winter coat ruined its cool glow in the dark effects. Around 4th grade I sported maybe my best childhood costume when I went as a nerd a la Steve Urkel. My grandma still talks about that. The next year I went as a skateboarder, which wasn’t much of a stretch because I actually was a skater, but it was an excuse to bring my board to school. The year after that I was an army guy mostly because a cool toy gun was a part of my costume. I don’t remember dressing up during high school at all. Nor college, and definitely not during law school.
During the fall after my spinal cord injury I spent my 18th birthday still in rehab out at Craig Hospital in Denver simply wearing an orange T-shirt that said, “This Is My Costume!” in black letters. That shirt, along with my Franken-Stein glow in the dark Frankenstein beer stein shirt and/or a series of special Halloween Wisconsin Badger T-shirts would serve as my Halloween de facto costumes for most of the next fifteen years during which I did not dress up for Halloween once post-SCI. The main reason for that was a combination of two things: 1) I was limited in the kinds of costumes that I could wear and would likely need a great deal of assistance getting me all suited up, which was a bit of a deterrent at the time. 2) I found it a big challenge to come up with decent costume ideas that incorporated my wheelchair.
Of course, the obvious counter argument to my second point above is that wheelchair users’ Halloween costumes don’t always need to incorporate the wheelchair in order for them to have fun, but for some reason I had a hard time getting over that hurdle while I was adjusting to a new lifestyle. I could have made a trip to Farm & Fleet for some new cowboy boots and dusted off an oldie but goodie, tried and true costume from my past, but a cowboy in a wheelchair? I couldn’t talk myself into those kinds of ideas. And such was the case for years. But the difference between then and now for me is that I no longer see the wheelchair aspect as a costume hurdle.
Still, some of the best Halloween costumes I’ve seen people in wheelchairs rocking have very awesomely incorporated their wheelchairs though. For a few years I sat next to a quad who was a fellow season ticket holder for Wisconsin Badger football games and he showed me pictures of a few of his Halloween costumes. One year he dressed up as the Grinch, green face paint and all, and used cardboard to turn his chair into the Grinch’s sled. He even dressed up his little brown dog just like in the book/cartoon/movie. A different year he dressed up as Batman and built a cardboard Batmobile around his chair. Another quad buddy that lives in Madison, WI (home of an annual legendary Halloween scene) got national recognition one year for going as Oscar the Grouch, wrapping a grey spray painted cardboard trashcan around his chair. So awesome Halloween costumes that incorporate wheelchairs are very doable if you’re creative.
That said, last year I was invited to my first Halloween costume party in years and I dressed up for the first time since I can remember, and quite possibly my first time doing so post-SCI. I borrowed a smock from my friend’s hairdresser and went as a guy getting his haircut. It was a simple but clever concept and got quite a good reaction amongst my friends and family. In a way it was nice to be back in the Halloween costume fold again.
This year I will not be attending any Halloween costume parties and such for a few reasons, which is just as well because last year’s costume is going to be hard for me to top anyway. But the difference between next Halloween and past years is that I am much more ready now than at any point in my life to take the awesome wheelchair Halloween costume challenge head on, and thereby embrace the true spirit of my very unique birthday as well.
Do you celebrate Halloween?