Once I had it on, including the mask, my hot breath blasting back at me, the mouth hole too small for exhalation, I felt the very model of a modern master of maritime mayhem. This was one soul-satisfying costume.
That Halloween morning I jumped out of bed, got into my costume and raced through breakfast. While I shoveled cereal, Mom asked if I was supposed to wear my costume to school. Of course, Mom, it's Halloween. I was pleased with my eloquence because all Mom did was give me an "if-you-say-so" roll of her eyes and go back to dealing with my sister.
Finished with breakfast, teeth brushed, sneakers on, I stopped at the front door, lingering within arm's reach of Mom for the required nano-second I permitted her to give my cowlick a spit-wipe and adjust my clothes. She asked me again if I was supposed to wear my costume to school. She may have said more, but all I heard in my head was my well-ordered defense of my teacher's wisdom and insight allowing us to wear our costumes for the entire day on one of the greatest days of the year, with its costumes, candy, and chaos.
What came out was something like, "Come on, Mom. Teacher said." And I zipped out the door, ready to start a really great day at school.
I could understand her words, which at that moment were kind of useless to me. What I couldn't understand, more's the pity, was her meaning. So Mom let Nature take its course, knowing full well that Nature delivers the best and most lasting lessons in an envelope of pain. Mom called out a cheery goodbye, the smile that I think means "It's only life, don't mind the bruises," and let me dash off to school.
I got to school, the thin rayon of the costume not doing very much to keep out Arizona's October chill. But I had my zeal to keep me warm.
Until my teacher stopped me at the door and asked if I'd brought a change of clothes.
Uh, no, that kind of defeats the purpose of being a pirate. You don't see Captain Hook carrying around a paper bag with a shirt and pants? You don't see Long John Silver carrying around a valise for his suit and tie when the marauding is done. You don't see – but I'd run out of pirates. There weren't enough pirates in kid books back then.
Since she's paid to teach, and not leave it to Nature, she explained that we would do a costume parade at the end of the day. No one else was wearing their costume. Everyone would have the chance to dress and show what they planned to wear for trick-or-treating.
I stood there. I think I was reminding myself that I'm not yet old enough to have the capacity for complex problem-solving at this stage of my fight for independence. She told me to go take my seat.
I'm the only one who wore their costume to school? Yes. Can I go home and change back? No. I have to wear it all day? Yes. It was not that big a deal on her scale, but it was a monster deal on the little kid scale I was still using.
I went back to my desk. By that time, the rest of my classmates were in their seats. You would think at least one other child in my class, or in the whole Cleveland Elementary School, or in the entire Chandler school system would have made the same miscalculation I did. But they didn't. I know that because not only did I take recess in my tissue-thin costume, where all the classes came together for sport and games, I also walked home past crowds of kids from the junior high school and the high school. Everybody took the opportunity to notice the odd kid in the cheesy pirate costume in the middle of the day. Made all the worse now because I was conscious of the Visible Panty Line I was showing off with my tighty-whities underneath, to which I hadn't given a moment's thought when I was getting dressed. Did I mention the bit about my lack of complex problem-solving skills?
I had to spend the day in my now totally dissatisfying, disheartening pirate costume because I had, with my own hands, my own ingenuity, my own creative desires, turned myself into an object of ridicule and mockery. I was getting my first licks in practicing self-inflicted joker-y that makes calamitous comedy so tasty for an audience. And worst of all, absolutely worst of all, I couldn’t blame my Mom or my sister for it. That just magnifies the suckiness.
Throughout that day whenever school work got too dreary for my classmates, and they needed a pick-me-up, they'd look over at me, consider the boob in the chair next to them, glad that they weren't me, and break out laughing all over again. Went on like that for six hours. I know because the clocks in classrooms were enormous so I could watch time not pass.
Which is why, at recess, I wanted desperately to close my eyes and open them up fourteen years later.
The costume parade just before the final bell turned out to be, for me, pointless. I'd been a clown parade of one the whole day.
So, as a way of driving the lesson home, underscoring what I was supposed to have learned, my limbic system gathered itself, took up the board of education, rapped out the recap on my hippocampus.