My mom wouldn't let us celebrate Halloween. In her mind, a legion of demons would whisk our precious souls away and we'd spend our days doing satanic ritual killings of chickens and other small animals and possibly become practitioners of Santeria. "It's the devil's night," she would say as my brothers and I were sent off to school to suffer the torment of bullies for being the only ones not in costume, clutching our notes instructing the teacher to send us to the library during the class Halloween party.
The only upside of this is that the dreamiest boy in school's mother was also a great believer in the evil of Halloween, so for that one hour every year he was forced to hang out with me among the smell of moldy books as we received looks of annoyance from the librarian, who most likely wished our crazy moms would have just kept us home and let her have an hour of peace. Looking back, I wonder that too. Why not make it a fun "sick" day and let us avoid the humiliation?
For someone who was already a social outcast, I came to dread Halloween with a passion. I only wanted to fit in and be like the other kids, maybe make a friend. I had visions of trick-or-treating, wearing a Marcia Brady costume or something equally fab, with the popular kids encircling me to make me one of their own, if only for one night.
But we had to shut off all the lights and go to a movie or the mall, or worse - to my grandparent's house to help them pass out candy to all the kids with normal parents. My Nana and Pop were great celebrators of Halloween and any holiday, and would sneak us candy when mom wasn't looking. It was small consolation to three kids who just wanted to be at the big Halloween party at Boone Village shopping center, the hub of activity where all the youth converged after trick-or-treating for dancing, hayrides and fun galore!
The Halloween memories are the strongest in my mind from childhood, I don't know why. But I think it's why I let my kids celebrate it! I love that, on Halloween night, they get out among the other kids (and teenage girls dressed like hookers) for all the fun. I stick close, in case a hungry demon tries to get too close to their souls. And look forward to bedtime when I can raid the stash...
Since it's less than 2 months to the December 10 publication day, here's another taste of Cate and her friend Guy, owner of the fabulous coffee shop TeaBaggers. Guy is the jam.
I found a parking spot, slung my bag over my shoulder, and made my way into TeaBaggers.
“Cate the bitch!” came the yell from behind the counter.
“Guy the bitch!” I hollered back. Guy Hammer and I bonded in the fourth grade over our mutual hatred of vile Ms. Krapuskle the principal. Guy would draw cruelly accurate caricatures of her in his Trapper Keeper and label her the Princess Bull. She hated children in general and banned birthday parties to make our lives unbearable. Guy and I spent many a recess forced to clean desktops and chalkboards as she sat at a desk staring at us with her beady rat eyes, drumming her fat fingers with Lee press-on nails. More than once I was sent to detention in hysterics after Guy whispered, “Princess Bull” in my ear. We were also united by our affinity for 80s music and culture. We were technically millenials, but always felt we had been born in the wrong time period.
Guy opened TeaBaggers last year to much fanfare. He offers pastries, tea and coffee, and the name of the place guarantees it is perpetually full of pretentious liberals and teenagers.
“What do you want today?” asked Guy, already getting the hot water in my favorite pink mug with a fat lady emblazoned on the side.
“I think I’ll try the Dragon Well today,” I replied. “And a cranberry scone, please.”
“Excellent. Now, let’s chat,” said Guy. “Anything new? And no, haven’t seen Stone.”
“Stone? Stone who?” I joked, hiding my disappointment. I hadn’t heard from Stone in two weeks, which was a long stretch even for him.
Guy followed me to my seat after directing Rita, his underling, to take over the counter for awhile. She gave a small shrug and tossed her hair around.
“Well, I did meet one of your people. Maybe,” I said.
“Do tell! Does he love Margot Kidder? It‘s her birthday, you know. October 17. Learn it, live it.”
“I didn’t ask about Margot,” I said. “But he does wear a red kimono around the house. It complements his Adam’s apple.”
“Well, well. You know I don’t dress like a girl, but I wonder if I know him.”
“His name is Simon, and he’s some sort of Asian,” I explained after telling the whole inflatable mannequin story.
“And when I left, he kissed me,” I said, grinning, leaving the best detail for last.
“What!! What!!” Guy bounced in his seat and clapped his hands. “How was it kissing China Ching Lao?” He leaned over dramatically for the details. “Well, what are you waiting for? Oh my, this is too good. Cate kissed a cross dresser. Wait till I tell Rob.”
I bit my tongue at the mention of Rob and let it go. There is no love lost between us, but Guy is happy so I shut up. “It wasn’t bad, actually. I think I may have felt…something,” I said, reluctantly.
Guy doubled over in laughter and tears started to run down his face. “You felt something? Like against your leg?”
“No! I mean, I felt a little tingle, like butterflies in my stomach. It was really weird, because he repulses me,” I could feel my face turning bright red. “Anyway, he called me before I came here and said he dreamed he went dancing with me.”
“O.M.G. He’s a total wanker and probably a perv. You’re going to end up with him just because he’s crazy and you won’t be able to resist.”
“Gee, Guy, you really know how to make a girl feel better,” I said, smacking him on the arm. “Now go away and get back to work. I have an article due in three days to the New Yorker and I haven’t even started it.”
Guy pouted and went behind the counter. “Mark my words, Cate. You’ll kiss the cross dresser again before the month is over,” he said, wagging his finger at me. “Stone is going to get a kick out of this. When is that man coming here again?”
“You know Stone. Well, the one thing we know is that we don’t know much, but he’ll be around when he can be,” I stuttered. “Now I need to work. Go make some pretty petit fours.”
“Petit fours remind me of grandma,” said Guy as he disappeared into the kitchen. “She would have approved of a cross dresser!”
I rolled my eyes and took a sip of my tea with a bite of my scone. With a heavy sigh, I hunkered down over the circular glass table.
Being middle-aged and having had all my reproductive stuff ripped out a few years ago, rendering my hormones as insane as a deranged serial killer, I have trouble getting rid of the hideous fat that has apparently taken up permanent residence around my midsection and thighs. Also being delusional, I am ever optimistic that I will be fit again, since inside my mind I am still 25.
Last spring, I bought a Fitbit, to which I immediately became addicted and obsessed. I run thrice weekly when the hubs drags me out of bed at 5am. I joined OrangeTheory fitness. I hate every second of it. I am a Fat Girl in Motion.
The problem? All this data at my fingertips has me both motivated and deflated simultaneously, all the more depressing because Tom Brady is not involved in said deflating. I have been known to walk a path around my house at 11pm in order to get the satisfying vibration of the Fitbit informing me I have reached the 10,000 step threshold imperative for health and fitness. After a grueling OrangeTheory workout, I get an e-mail that tells me how many calories I burned (always at the low end of the class, since I am the least athletic one there) along with a color-coded graph that shows me how hard I worked as well as how much I slacked off. RunKeeper tells me that, though I have improved my running immensely, I still only crank out 14-minute miles on average (but down from 16-minute miles back in July). In a race over the summer, I came in dead last, after a septuagenarian and a pregnant lady. I cried actual tears of humiliation and nearly deleted all my data-recording apps in a fit of frustration.
Why do I compare myself to the best person in class or the fleet-of-foot on Facebook who forever post about their race winnings and feel badly that I am not as good? Why can't I accept that I am not a 23-year-old marathon champion? Why can't my abs ever seem to recover from the four major surgeries I have had, to birth children and remove the parts that housed them during their formative months? Why do I even care? There are other things I am really good at - why am I so vexed by my athletically-challenged body? These are the questions that keep me up at night and cause my sleep log (also in the Fitbit) to show at least 47 minutes of restlessness interrupting my sleep patterns. Maybe the real problem does not lie in my lack of a size 4 (or 6 or 8) figure, but in my obsession with achieving it and all the time spent poring over data that may or may not even be accurate.
Perhaps I should take off my Fitbit, delete the apps, and plant myself in the corner of the couch with a good book, but there's no challenge in that. As I write this, I am cognizant of the fact that I only have about 500 steps to reach 10,000 for today and get my vibrating reward. I'd better get up and start those laps....
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.