As a Californian, I’ve sometimes been urged to “get in touch with my inner child.” To which I’ve replied: “If my inner child has anything to say, she can get in touch with me. Preferably by email.”
But most of the year, my encapsulated offspring is silent. Months pass, filled with enthralling grown-up activities like doing laundry and updating my resume. My outer adult has plenty to say about this, often in four-letter words, but my interior tot might as well be asleep.
Come October, she wakes up. Alert but silent, she bides her time as the days grow cooler and the nights get shorter, waiting for the moment when, as I cruise through Big John’s market with a cart full of bran, brown rice, and broccoli, I spot the big orange-and-black bins of Halloween candy.
“No way,” thinks my outer adult. “That stuff is full of sugar and fat and additives that will rot the tots’ teeth and wreck their tiny metabolisms. No candy for the kids. I will buy them nourishing organic raisins.”
As I tilt my cart toward the dried fruits, my inner child sits up straight, clears her throat, and speaks. In a tone that is cajoling and yet brooks no denial, she says: “Candy.”
Years drop away. The sensible woman who drinks green tea and pays her bills on time shrinks to a skinny little girl peering through eye-holes in a witch’s mask, shivering with late-October cold and delicious fear.
Dried maple and oak and pepper-tree leaves crunch underfoot. Above my head, in the clouds that scud over the moon, I see ghosts and goblins, bats and bones. On porches up and down the street, Jack o’lanterns grin with crooked candlelit teeth.
Holding tightly to my brown paper sack, I ring a strange doorbell, which I’m usually not allowed to do. I’m not allowed to eat much candy either, and as I wait for the door to open, I pray. Please God, not an apple, not raisins, not that healthy stuff Mom’s always serving. On this one night of the year when I’m allowed to break the rules – and I do try to follow the rules, although you and the grownups have so many, more all the time – on this Halloween night, please give me the jelly beans of freedom, the Milky Ways of magic, the Indian corn of grace.
The door opens. I say “Trick or treat” and watch as chocolate drops wrapped in shiny silver paper fall into my bag like stars.
“Thank you,” I whisper, to the strange neighbor lady, to the God I still believe in, to the universe that lives, wild and mysterious, beyond the rules.
“Excuse me,” says a man behind me. I shake my head, the years pile back on, and the skinny girl turns into a middle-aged woman who’s lingering in Big John’s when she should be working, and whose cart is blocking access to the Halloween candy.
And my inner child makes one more sound before subsiding until next Halloween. “Thanks,” she says.
Or maybe she’s just smacking her lips.
Art in the public domain. Wikimedia Commons, I hope you get lots of candy this Halloween.