Since adolescence, I have hated Halloween. The macabre gore and cheap candy don’t bother me, and I even tolerate the awkward, mid-week timing and early trick-or-treating curfew when the holiday happens to land on a school night. The true source of my loathing lies in deciding on a costume.
For years, the process resulted solely in dilemma, causing far more strife than necessary.
I have tried purchasing premade outfits, attempting shoddy do-it-yourself equivalents and even rooting through my sister’s old dance costumes, but nothing ever produced the fulfilling satisfaction everyone else seemed to feel when flouncing about as another persona.
The root of the issue delved far deeper than a mere desire to keep up with popular trends. In choosing a costume, I decided who I wanted to be and how I portrayed myself to the rest of the world. A ghostly white sheet or firefighter’s hat couldn’t mask the identity crisis the holiday produced within me.
In order to avoid the struggle, I began coordinating costumes with others and allowing them to make the decisions, renouncing any claim to my identity for a day. My solution, though not mature, proved effective.
I evaded the problem for as long as I could until it confronted me again in a more essential, abstract form: applying to college.
While the Common Application appeared merely as a series of blanks for me to systematically fill in, the paperwork produced an interrogation-like effect, demanding concrete answers about my intentions and purpose in life.
The admissions issue inflamed my Halloween complex, evoking age-old emotions I buried holiday season after holiday season.
In every supplement I wrote for a specific university, I observed a contrasting version of myself, a different costume that I could try on. Whether I choose the art student in the big city or the diehard academic on the East Coast, in the process of deciding on a college, I am picking my mask, so to speak.
Theater is my passion, and, if I pursue an acting education into a conservatory setting, I slip into the guise of Cinderella, reveling in the beauty and intricacy of my craft, but always teetering on an unstable, glass-slipper foundation that never guarantees any real stability. Or I could button up my police officer’s jacket and march the path toward law degree, delighting in my grounded, structure-filled choice.
Neither role gives me exactly what I want. My struggle to find a compromise between the extremes of what I love has trapped me in a house of mirrors, presenting me with contorted, hybrid images of myself that contort and cloud any real judgment.
While initially the costume crisis seemed restricted to one day, it presents larger ramifications. Halloween supposedly acts as an escape, an innocent opportunity to lose oneself for 24 hours. But for me, it is a clear-cut confrontation requiring me to identify who I wanted to be.
My 8-year-old self couldn’t answer that question, and neither can my present one.
So, as I scan the racks of my potential selves, I realize I am not qualified to make this decision.
While I cycle through different costumes, trying, retrying and exploring for new material, I am ultimately searching for the one that best fits me. My personal process involves trying on the molds others have established, as well as experimenting with my own instincts. For now, I remain content with merely conquering my college dilemma.
Certain universities offer programs that allow me to tailor my chosen area of study, handing me a needle and thread to stitch together different aspects of myself in order to create one, cohesive garment.
My identification process still requires progress, but in the meantime, I content myself with producing a version of me based on my knowledge of myself.
Next, Halloween presents a unique challenge. As I adjust my princess tiara or slip on my plastic vampire teeth, I will separate myself from the amusement. A holiday costume isn’t, by any means, permanent.
My journey of self-discovery extends far beyond a witch’s hat or plastic pumpkin.
Sarah Barney is a features editor at El Diablo, the Durango High School student newspaper. She is the daughter of Anne Klein and Tom Barney of Durango.