There was a five-year span, from when I was about 6 to 11, when I used the month of October to do nothing but terrorize my family in preparation for Halloween.
Every drawer in the house would be booby-trapped with spring-loaded spiders or bats. You couldnât open a closet without encountering a headless body or a bodyless head. My father regularly returned home from work to find me lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of fake blood.
By mid-month, my dad would agree to about anything just as long as I would âtake the Jason mask off the dog and quit jumping out of every (expletive deleted) closet.â
Every year, I would parlay this into the best Halloween costume my parents would buy. I wasnât just Han Solo, I was Han Solo with a plastic light saber in one hand and a Chewbacca puppet on the other.
So, yeah, Halloween was my thing.
When I was in third grade, my mother let me invite a few friends over for a Halloween party.
She had games and treats and a treasure hunt set up in our yard. She had hidden a small gift for each kid, who would get their own set of clues to make their way into my tree fort or sandbox or wherever to discover their prize.
I distinctly remember this: The gift was a G.I. Joe comic book/record â âG.I. Joe: Search for the Stolen Idol.â
Comic book/record sets, for those of you born after 1980, included a comic book AND a record, which would play the voices of the characters and the sound effects of the action. A beep alerted you when to turn the page.
These were the iPads of 1978.
Partway through the party, the doorbell rang. It was a neighborhood kid, Jerry Park, wanting to know if I could come out and play. (Thatâs not his real name, of course.)
He had moved to Michigan from Arkansas a few months earlier. Jerry was a little bit different than the other kids, and, in third grade, different is the last thing anyone wants to be. He cried easily, had a bowl haircut and talked funny. Jerry still had an orange flag on his bike, and all the cool kids got rid of their orange flags in second grade. I donât remember him having any friends. I really hope Iâm wrong about that memory.
I did not, admittedly, want Jerry at my party. When the doorbell rang and I ran to the window and saw who it was, I tried to stop my mom from answering the door. âDonât answer it! Tell him Iâm not here!â
My mother answered the door and, without a secondâs hesitation, said something like âHello, Jerry! We were hoping youâd stop by! Weâre having a Halloween party and would love for you to join us!â
He colored little pumpkins and ate candy corn and laughed and hung out like he was part of the group. Like he was with friends.
I mostly went along with it.
Then came The Treasure Hunt. When my mom handed out the clue cards, those precious hints that would lead me to âG.I. Joe: Search for the Stolen Idol,â she gave the last card â my card! â to Jerry.
All the kids ran out of our house and into the yard to start searching for their treasure.
Then â before I even had a chance to start crying or complaining â my mom knelt down and looked me in the eyes and said something like, âThis means way more to him than it does to you.â
Letâs not sugarcoat it. She probably also told me that, yes, sheâd buy me another G.I. Joe comic book/record. She probably told me that if I didnât go outside and play with my friends Iâd have to tell my dad the whole story when he got home from work.
So we all played outside and ran around the yard, and I remember Jerry uncovering his gift in the sandbox and holding it above his head with both hands like heâd just won Wimbledon. Surrounded by kids who, I hope, felt like his friends.