Send in the clowns
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
When I was in second grade, I was a clown for Halloween. The main costume was a red nylon pantsuit with a long zipper up the middle. My mom sewed three enormous pompon buttons on the front, which thumped against my chest and stomach as I walked. With a curly wig, a lipstick smile stretching from cheek to cheek, and Arctic down booties on my feet, I vaguely resembled Ronald McDonald. Paired with my Peanuts lunch box it was, anyone would have agreed, a smashing clown costume, and one, I realized in retrospect, that was not meant to be worn to school.
I rose on Halloween morning and prepared to dress myself in something unremarkable, probably either my wide-wale maroon corduroy pants with a mustard-colored shirt, or my green floral 2-piece duck cloth suit with the large lapels. The clown costume was all laid out on a chair in my bedroom, ready for its trick-or-treating debut that evening.
But my mother walked in and looked at me askance, saying that when she was a girl all the kids wore their Halloween costumes to school, and that if I didn't, I would surely be the only kid in school not wearing a costume.
Even back then I knew that uniqueness was to be shunned, especially by a girl in her second month at a new school. Having recently moved to a conservative town in Washington State with my unconventional parents (they wore Birkenstocks and imposed natural consequences, instead of just spanking us like normal moms and dads), I was already a bit of an anomaly. Having no desire to compromise my situation further, I took what was to be the last fashion tip I ever heeded from my mother. Off I went, the nylon pantsuit swishing coolly on my legs.
My mistake was clear the moment I stepped onto the school bus. No ghosts, robots, princesses, ballerinas. Just a sea of schoolkids making no attempt to hide their disbelief and glee. A pack of jackals with an antelope carcass thrown down in front of them would have sported exactly the same facial expressions.
The rest of the day is a blur: tears, a maternal third-grader trying in vain to wipe the greasy red smile off my face, a wig stuffed in my backpack, teachers remarking brightly, “How clever of you to wear a costume!” I only had to endure wearing the costume for a day, but what lingers is the memory of feeling detached from myself, aching simply just to be back in my own skin.