(Photograph of a wheelchair using brown dog, with a greying muzzle. His two back legs being supported by a brace and wheels. He is dressed up for Halloween as Max, the dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His wheelchair has been decorated as the sleigh that the Grinch, who is sitting on bags of presents he stole from the Whos down in Whoville.)
Every year, around Halloween, I get pictures sent to me of costumes. Usually one's of people who have transformed their wheelchairs or other mobility devices into something fabulous. I like these pictures and the creativity of them.
I'm trying hard to become someone who likes this particular holiday. It helps that Ruby and Sadie love getting dressed up in costumes, it's wonderful to hear their excitement ring down the phone line. Pictures like the one above bring me more into the spirit - even though I see this picture as more political than fanciful - so I suppose I'm getting there.
When I was a young boy and Halloween took over the small town I lived in, I couldn't get into the idea of a day where people dressed up with the idea of looking frightening. As a fat, sissy, uncoordinated boy - people were frightening 365/24/7. There is a relentlessness that comes with being the bullies first choice. There is the tedious predictability that hurt will come, in some form, pretty much every day. The message, 'It gets better,' may seem potent to those of us who made it to adulthood, but it would have been weak encouragement then.
The only thing I found frightening about costumes and masks was that I sometimes couldn't tell who was in what costume. I couldn't locate, track and therefore prepare for danger. I stopped going to Halloween parties and by adulthood had dropped Halloween out of my annual 'to do' list. We like giving out candy, we like helping the kids with their costumes, we like watching children have fun. I want to, always, ensure that my past doesn't influence the present of those vulnerable to my moods and my tempers.
So I won't be wearing a costume this year. I don't have to. Who I am is frightening enough to those who despise difference. I know how this sounds, how this reads, I know there is bitterness in these words. And yet I can't help it sometimes. When I realise the enormity of what was stolen from me by bullies, the culture that created them and the systems that gave them tacit approval, I am bitter. I wanted a childhood of carefree fun, of a world were there someone took a stick and beat the H out of Halloween making something magical ... t
Then, after all that, I look at the picture of Max, a dog in costume. I smile at the cleverness with which his costume is created. I marvel at the love that crafted the wheelchair. But it's his face that I truly love looking at. You can tell well loved dogs, you can tell. He is well loved. He has been petted and cuddled. He may be dressed up as Max the Dog, but he's really wearing a more subtle costume, 'The Dog Who Is Loved,' and that's perhaps an even better costume to wear.