Tears of a Halloween clown

I love Halloween. I mean I really love Halloween.


I grew up on a steady diet of ‘80’s detective shows: Murder She Wrote, Remington Steele, and Hart to Hart. I shunned those coveted books with scandalous “ABC Afterschool Special” adult content (I’m looking at you “Flowers in the Attic”) for the world of Nancy Drew and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” Eventually, I worked my way up through R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street,” Christopher Pike, and eventually, Stephen King. The first award I ever won for my writing was for a Halloween poem I wrote in the 6th grade.


Some girls wait for the romantic promise of spring and delight in Christmas decorations. I get giddy at the scent of decaying, wet leaves in autumn because they signal the arrival of our neighbor’s insane Halloween display. (Seriously guys, there’s a skeleton on a torture wheel this year. I think my neighbor might be a serial killer.)


Just call me the Pakistani Wednesday Addams. Snap snap.


But my first brush with Halloween was not auspicious. I was five. It was not only my first real Halloween, but my family’s first introduction to this American tradition. Back then, it was just five of us living in one house: my parents, my aunt and uncle, and little old me. My aunt and my young mother (only 27 at the time, 5 years younger than I am now) delighted in dressing me in my costume: a clown getup, complete with face-painting kit.


That morning, they excitedly woke me up at the crack of dawn. I stood drowsily, squirming in my itchy costume, while they took turns applying my thick clown makeup. The dim October morning light streamed through the windows, lighting a path for dust motes that danced about the room.


And then I went to school and all the kids made fun of me, because apparently 5-year-olds are mean assholes. My memory on what, exactly, they teased me about is fuzzy – perhaps the makeup was atypical, interpreted oddly by my immigrant mother or maybe the polka dots on my costume were too big. In hindsight, I realize innocuous things set children off once a scapegoat has been found, but in that moment, I was devastated.


My mom was waiting for me at the bus stop when I got home that afternoon, excited to hear all about the “ooohs” and “aaahs” my costume must have garnered – I stepped off the bus sobbing, tears and snot running tracks down my face, the clown makeup running along with them, and ran into my bewildered mom’s arms, burying my wet face into her shirt at stomach-level.


In hindsight, the memory of my first Halloween is hilarious, but it also breaks my heart a little for my mom and her younger self. When I reflect on that day, it gives me a broader awareness of what those first years must have been like for her: the eagerness, the missteps, the sacrifices. She did her best in a perplexing new place with ever-changing rules that must have barely made sense. And I love her fiercely for it. And for the fact that she was the one who unwittingly shaped my love of the macabre. I watched reruns of ‘80’s mystery shows because she watched them, as they reminded her of home and of watching Perry Mason with her father. She was the one who took me to the library every chance she got, encouraging me to stock up on piles of books and being supremely patient with my withering 8-year-old glances at condescending librarians who thought I wouldn’t be able to read “all of those big scary books.” And when I won that award in the 6th grade, she was there to cheer me on, despite being baffled by the content of that poem.


Since that Kindergarten mishap, my mom has hated Halloween, and grumbles about it at every turn (Mom: “why can’t we just turn off the lights and pretend we’re not home?” Me: {horrified face}). Meanwhile, I wait all year for All Hallows Eve to come around like a deranged (slightly creepy) rabid Halloween-o-phile. Somehow we manage a peaceful coexistence: she shakes her head at me and I hug her tight…while wearing a Freddy Kruger mask of course.


(Photo Credit: Mikan98)


Zainab Chaudary works in politics by day and is a writer by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets at @TheMemorist. As “The Geekologist,” Zainab also writes a monthly column for the blog “Love, Inshallah.”

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