31 October, 2022

Halloween Anxiety

Eric as Steve (Minecraft).
Halloween has always been a stressful holiday for me. As a child, I was never particularly gregarious, so the dressing up and going from house-to-house thing never really appealed to me. And I've never been much for sweet candies, so most of my haul as a kid wouldn't be eaten by me. But this isn't why I consider Halloween stressful.

The lowest point of my life was in 1999. The previous year my then partner and I experienced a teen pregnancy. I mistakenly thought that the right thing to do would be to marry her and become a father. In my mind, once we decided to have the child, there was no other choice for me. But I was not then (and am not now) made for that kind of life. I experienced no parental attachment beyond feeling that I was responsible for my child's welfare. I experienced no joy in a marriage to the first longterm girlfriend I'd ever had. I could not handle college at a young age; I dropped out after only one semester. I could not handle working a steady job, either — even at my best, where I found success in what I did, I would leverage that success not into furthering my career, but in prioritizing my personal time. (At one call center, I was the best performing employee on Monday+Tuesday, where I would do as much in those days as the second best employee would do all week, but then I'd spend Wed–Fri completely slacking off, and letting the company know I had no intention of doing more.)

I was not smart enough at the time to take any action that would change things. I naively felt that the world must have intended for me to struggle as a young father, so I did. I felt like the world intended me to be married to this person whom I knew only by chance, so I did. I did nothing to improve our lot past the status quo. I languished. Depressed, but, at the same time, unemotional. I cried only when no one could see me looking.

My teenage partner was not really older than I. She had no more life experience. But, somehow, she was able to see through the situation and realize it to be something she had the power to change. It took a long time, but she eventually managed to gather up the courage to end our partnership. She left in late September 1999 without saying a word. She took what was then our child (afterward: her child) and started a new life without me.

She left a note, placing it in the one place that I suppose she felt I'd be sure to find it: on my gaming console, which I used often. But, lacking that note, and absent any verbal explanation from her, I naively did not understand where they had gone that first day. Nor the next. Nor the next. It wouldn't be until much later that I found the note. In the meantime, I only just slowly started suspecting what she had done.

Right in the middle of this time was Halloween 1999. At the time, I thought she might just have gotten angry and left for a few days to stay with family. I opted to leave the light on for her each evening, in case she were to come back late at night. I'm sure the reader knows where this is going, but I honestly didn't understand at the time.

People — children — kept knocking on my door. I didn't understand. Perhaps I was too fraught. It didn't occur to me that it was a holiday, though the costumes should have tipped me off. But I was too upset and scared to answer the door, so I just let them knock. Every time, they would eventually go away, but in the meantime I would cower in an inner room, too emotional to even look out the window. Minutes would pass, and another knock would startle me — it was a neverending hell of my own making. I was not thinking clearly back then.

What my then-partner did was the best thing for her; the best thing for our daughter; and the best thing for me. But I did not realize this until much later. Once I finally found the note, I switched from feeling scared and anxious to being sad and anxious. I stopped going out. I didn't go to the library, nor the school, nor my job, nor any grocery store. Slowly I ate the remainder of everything left in that house. Once all the food was gone, I went hungry for days before a friend went to the store on my behalf and purchased additional food with my money. By the time that food had run out, my family had been notified of what had happened, and they took over from there. I lived in a daze for months, not really understanding what I was to do with my life at that point. I felt lost, not just metaphorically, but even physically, in my own home. Like I was a stranger to it, even though it had served me as a dwelling for my first seven years before I'd ever moved there as a nupital home in my teenage years.

Ever since on each Halloween I'd mostly made a point to keep my lights off, my curtains drawn, and anything resembling decorations absent. For years afterward I made a point to be alone on Halloween, declining any and all invitations. Occasionally, this wouldn't work out, and I'd try to be cordial and celebrate with family when I was in town, and, later, I tried to be more normal when I moved into a home that was surrounded by lots of families trick-or-treating. But even during the times when I'd dress up, I never really got rid of that anxiousness surrounding the holiday.

Orange is my favorite color, but Halloween is perhaps my least favorite day of the year.

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