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Send in the clowns

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

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 sideways. When she was a girl, she said, all the kids wore their Halloween costumes to school, implying if I didn't, I would be the only kid in school not wearing a costume. She was sure of this.

She was my mother, I was six years old. What else could I do but believe her? 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.

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