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Dracula, Darling

I don’t understand the appeal of horror movies.

This realization washed over me after the Are You Afraid of the Dark? version of Sleepy Hollow left me sobbing hysterically in a kitchen corner, watching my mother drive off into the night. And all I had was a geriatric dog staring at me, wheezing and licking my hand.

Still, Dracula was my first crush. In fact, my fascination with The Monster Squad villain bordered on an obsession. I couldn’t stop watching him. And despite my repeated attempts, I couldn’t quite pinpoint his appeal–why I felt compelled to watch him execute his misdeeds every Halloween.

I’d ruled out his cane; his cape was fantastic, but that wasn’t it. And as much as I’d wanted his hearse, it wasn’t his ride driving me to sit at the edge of my seat, eyes glued to his dark form cutting across the television screen. It was just him—his eyes, his dark, devilish, brooding persona. Those three virginal girls he’d locked away didn’t know how good they had it, and I became intensely envious of them. I might not have known what qualified someone as a virgin, but if being one was the only qualifier for Dracula’s attention, I desperately wanted to be one.

I contemplated this conundrum as I waited in line to see Deep Impact. But this exceedingly important mental exercise was interrupted by three preppy boys from my sixth grade class.

In addition to being experts at social ostracism, they also specialized in mind-reading.

“Hey, Matthew. Are you…” they paused for emphasis, “a virgin?!”

Momentary silence ensued.

“Well, are you?!”

I sounded out the word in my head, drew from the facts I’d know on the matter, and came to an indisputable conclusion.

“Of course not.”

After all, I wasn’t a girl like the ones Dracula favored.

They rolled their eyes, laughed, and walked away.

“Fools,” I muttered, “I’d be so lucky.”

But fifteen years later I knew with absolute certainty that I wasn’t a virgin. And I wasn’t gazing inquisitively at Dracula, imagining him in my arms.

Instead, I was sitting on my lidded toilet reading Nietzsche. Sure, I would’ve preferred to have spent Halloween watching my dark knight bloody the bejesus out of small town dopes. But I was too preoccupied with Nietzsche’s ruminations about death, forgetfulness, history, and cows. That, and the retaliatory, tortuous acts the neighborhood’s little hellions were exacting on my defenseless porch plants–all for not squeezing a bag of dollar store candy out of my monthly graduate student stipend.

At least I’d remembered to bolt the door. Because, really, kids nowadays don’t even bother dressing up, and candy isn’t the endgame; cash will do, as will your grandmother’s brooch. You never quite know if the seemingly innocuous Jonas Brothers trio on the front porch is concealing shanks and razors beneath their pails. And I really don’t want to take a chance and end up waking in an ice bath, wondering where in the world that damn kidney has gone.

Hell, for me dressing up for Halloween was a major undertaking–the closest I’ve ever come to religious devotion.

***

It’s 1988: my first Halloween. I can almost taste the chocolaty goodness. Glee isn’t exactly the most apropos descriptor for how I feel, but it’s close enough.

Hot, too. But mostly gleeful. Ecstatic even.

Jaded, Laura stands nearby, diligently rearranging her multicolored bracelets and smudging her bright red lipstick. She’s totally outrageous, I think, just like Jem! But the anticipation is killing me. Need. Chocolate. Now. The urge is intense. So much so that I feel it surging inside me, lurching up and down, up and down, in sync with my excited, hyperactive hopping.

And then I puke. Inside my plastic Mickey Mouse mask, out the mouth and eye holes.

I’ve completely shamed Mickey and might not get my candy! What a disaster! Jem is displeased.

A hose-down and perfume bath later, I’m strolling out the door, pail in hand, ready to make a night of it. Aside from the crushing disappointment of our massive Peanut Butter Kisses haul, our group treks home, with only one more stop to go.

But we don’t make it to the door. The group breaks, scattering and screaming–running from a werewolf. A quiet, even-keeled man most days of the year, our neighbor has really made a 180 this year. Bedecked in full, furry regalia, he’d popped out and charged us with pee-inducing snarls. How pee-inducing? Well

But a wee bit of wee is better than the full-on drenching that awaited a friend of mine, who dared set foot on some religious zealots’ Spartan lawn across town. With Bible in-hand, and garden hoses in the others, they made sure it was a Halloween he remembered.

***

A few years later, I plod to my CCD class’s Halloween party. My padded feet make sounds like compressed plush toys and my overstuffed black tail drags behind. Along the way, churchgoers point and smile, laugh even.

Actually, there’s a lot of laughing and pointing. With my artistically-rendered cat whiskers and nose matching my black cat ears and gloved hands, I’m a shoe-in for best costume.

But with every plushy step, every point and laugh by the passersby, I start feeling ill. Maybe today’s the wrong day. But my parents wouldn’t have dressed me up on the wrong day. Not a chance.

Just to err on the safe side, I sneak up to the classroom and peek around the corner. And there, in the class of 15, not a single kid is dressed up.

Panicking, I race down the hallway with my change of clothes. With no time to waste, I clip on my tie, throw my costume in a bag, and run back. Stopping just short of the classroom door, I take a breath and walk in as calmly as possible.

Laughter erupts.

I must’ve forgotten to zip up.

No, that’s not it.

In fact, I’d probably prefer my dong hanging out over the alternative. Everyone, including the teacher, is pointing at my painted face.

That’s what I get for using a bathroom without mirrors.

For the rest of class, I sit face-in-hands, muttering the answers to the teacher’s questions through my fingers.

“What’s that, my little kitty?!” she laughs.

“Jesus…Christ.”

Me-ouch.

***

It’s officially the last costume-clad Halloween of my childhood. But I don’t know that yet.

Halloweens past have induced more panic than excitement this time of year. But I still cobble together a costume, mostly because I scored a Skeletor-esque mask with green, blinking eyes. The time expenditure required for mask assembly isn’t really worth the effort, but I work diligently. After all, everyone I know is going to be at the Halloween festival a few blocks away.

Fully costumed, I begin my short walk to the festival and plan to hit up a few houses along the way. But it seems that my obsessive-compulsive habit for being early isn’t playing in my favor. Save a few pumpkins and bumble-bees toddling along with their parents, I’m the only one even close to eleven-years-old out at this hour. Instead of going back inside like a normal person, I decide to bide my time, wait out the youngsters.

Fifteen minutes later, my courage is shot—none of my friends are showing up. And I can’t muster the gumption to ask for candy. So I stand alone–the scrawny kid walking around with a blinking skeleton head, without a candy wrapper in sight.

Time to cut my losses and go to the festival.

When I arrive, the strollers easily outnumber the middle-schoolers, and I’m at a loss.

Again.

Dejected, I turn to leave. But then I spy the ubiquitous fishing game where you’re guaranteed a bag of crappy candy. And while my Halloween-tinged glasses are blinking green, I grab a rod and cast a line over, if for nothing else than nostalgia for the times of reliable, costumed friends and full-size candy bars.

I wait for the tug and the overly enthusiastic attendant clown to yell, “Looks like you have a bite there, son!” Despite my lackluster Halloween spirit, his overly emphatic enthusiasm makes me smile and I pull the line back over.

It has nothing on it.

“Whoopsie! That one must’ve gotten away! Try AGAIN!” the clown cheers, muttering to someone behind the faded blue curtain with iron-on goldfish peeling off of it.

Blushing mightily, I comply, get my candy, and skulk away. By this point, the blinking lights are becoming seizure-inducing, and I’m feeling queasy. But I keep munching on my pity candy.

Soon, though, the lights take their toll. I lose my bearings and smack into trees and lawn ornaments. After accidentally hugging a tree trunk, I hobble away with one eye light hanging down to my chin, reminiscent of a beaten, bedraggled Johnny Five. Utterly defeated, I snatch off the mask and throw it into a nearby garbage can.

Once I get home, I retreat upstairs, park myself in front of the television, and search desperately for my Halloween sweetheart.

***

I wish I can stay in costume, swim at the bottom of my vodka tonic forever. To return to the rigors of another week of graduate school is scary enough, much less without alcohol.

But having just received my first graduate paper back with a grade equivalent to a smack across the face, a turd in the soup, I require a little liquid solace. I try to tell myself that it’s a learning experience, that it’s just one paper.

Still, hearing about the rave reviews my peers received on their lemur papers makes me tip my cup back, beg it to swallow me, be my rabbit hole. When I lower my cup, the Mad Hatter stands next to me. But it’s all makeup, an illusion.

And it’s at this point that I wonder if me being in graduate school is more of a delusion than illusion. Why in the world did I think this was a good idea? And how did I think I could pull off leopard print?

Loaded and waxing philosophical in my Tarzan costume, I suddenly realize I’ve fallen for it: graduate school, a devilish trick, indeed.

Because if I’m to have life sucked out of me, I’d prefer the source to be a certain someone.

His deeply set disdain for mortals and all.

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