Sarah Eisenberg

Early June in 2019, I found myself outside my old elementary school. I was walking to my teacher’s house for an extracurricular meeting with a few other students. On my walk there, I quickly realized I had overshot the time and I would arrive 30 minutes early. To fill the time, I began exploring the neighborhood. My elementary school was very close and so for the sake of nostalgia, I walked back there, visiting it for the first time in nine years.

The school looked eerily the same as it did almost 10 years ago. Toddlers played on the swings, yelling at each other that they were “married” when they were synchronized. Moms did yoga under the shade of a big tree, the Lululemon logo of their leggings glinting in the sun. Kids played soccer on the field, wearing jerseys three sizes too big and scoring on their own goals. 

I spent a while just sitting there and people-watching until my phone rang with a reminder that it was 10 minutes until my meeting. I quickly headed back to my teacher’s house. As I walked back and climbed up the stairs to ring the doorbell, I felt an odd feeling of deja vu. I had been here before. It was only when my teacher opened the door and I got a look into the doorway, I was finally able to place when.

Halloween 2010. Trick-or-treating with my best friend at the time, I vividly remember climbing up the same stairs, holding my trash bag out desperately and flashing a toothy grin as that same teacher opened the door to hear me shout “Trick or Treat!”

Now nine years later, I was going inside, planning events with the same woman who had given me Snickers when I was a kid. That Halloween is very vivid in my mind for many reasons.

The first being that this was the Halloween that I celebrated in third grade, the grade that I have on the list of the five best years to be alive. No longer associated with the stench of being a little first or second grader, third grade was a moment of glory, the best middle child experience one could ask for. Free of the grueling responsibilities associated with being a fourth or fifth grader, third grade was a symbol of everything that made life worth living: good friends, fun teachers and two 30-minute recesses. Then came Halloween.

The festivities started on Oct. 1 when the teachers changed the calendar to one that was decorated with pumpkins. Only one date mattered, however: the day of the Halloween parade, where everyone would come to school in costumes and at the end, all the grades would walk around the building to see everyone’s costumes. Outside of school, the festivities did not stop as Disney Channel held nothing back, airing Halloween movies one after another. I remember begging my mom desperately to let me finish watching “Halloweentown” even though I had school the next day. When she said no, I rebelled by stealing a Kit-Kat we had bought for trick-or-treaters. By the time Halloween rolled around, I had stolen so many that we ended up having to buy a new pack.

I spent the days leading up to the parade debating what I was going to dress up as. I was going to be a witch, but that in itself was a heavy task. What type of witch was I going to be? I could fully commit and paint my face green, add warts and practice my cackle. Or, I could play it more casual — a simple pointed hat and a perfected sneer could be enough. Was I going to be some sort of hybrid witch? A witch in all aspects except when she opens her mouth to reveal a set of vampire teeth? These hybrid costumes were oddly very popular at my school as we third graders couldn’t possibly be expected to conform to societal expectations. As a result, I remember on the day of the Halloween parade, one of my friends had decided to dress up as a “dolphin-vampire” and another as a “Cleopatra-fairy.” I, on the other hand, was always scrambling at the last minute, despite planning my costume weeks in advance. After drawing up my plans, I would show my mom and she would nod along, clearly only half understanding the gravity of the situation. Finally, two days before Halloween, we’d find ourselves at Walmart shifting through the demolished Halloween costume section. Lucky for me that year amid all the rubble, there remained an unopened witch costume that was destined to be mine.

The school was transformed. Parent volunteers decorated the doors with cobwebs. Teachers changed the curriculum to fit a Halloween theme with word problems exclusively about candy. Students spent silent reading anxiously turning the pages of a Goosebumps book. When the time came to change into our costumes, suddenly a class of seemingly normal kids transformed into ghosts, zombies and anthropomorphic hybrid creatures that even made the dolphin-vampire look real. One of my favorite parts was seeing what my teachers dressed up as. It took nothing to make me laugh at a costume. A person dressed up as a breakfast food, bacon nonetheless? Comedic gold. The same moms who would be doing yoga outside were now volunteers, helping us put on our costumes and applying make-up.

After the parade ended, the second part of Halloween would begin: trick-or-treating.

Although I am ashamed to admit it, whatever morals or standards I had held for myself then would quickly dissolve when I would see an unattained bowl of candy with a pathetic sign reading “please only take one.” I’d read the sign and like an anarchist would plunge my hands into the bowl, taking everything except for a smushed box of Milk Duds, left behind for posterity. There was no better feeling than walking with my friends through neighborhoods as their mom walked a few paces behind to give us a false sense of independence. I remember this trick-or-treating vividly, from the wide smile on our faces when we got the first king-size candy bar of the night to the laughs we shared while talking about each other’s costumes. That night was the epitome of “childhood.” 

After trick-or-treating, I went back to my friend’s house and we spent an hour trading candies. I can’t thoroughly describe our complex bartering system but I remember hell breaking loose when my friend traded a king-size Twix for a pack of M&Ms only for her mom to swoop in and snatch them away, reminding her that she was allergic to peanuts. Sorry Carolyn, all deals were final. Knowing I had Kit-Kats at home, the ones I got from the night became my currency as I traded my way all the way up to three Hershey’s Cookies and Creme bars — ironically, I can’t eat those bars anymore because they make me sick to my stomach. 

I headed home to dump my candy in front of my parents and gloat about the spoils and I went to bed with nothing but candy in my stomach. And I suppose somewhere along the way, I had stopped in front of my English teacher’s house and presented my bag, gotten a Snickers and headed to the next house.
I remember that Halloween vividly because I remember the next day boldly claiming to my friends that that was the “best day ever.” And I remember them agreeing. I remember that Halloween vividly because I like to remember how easy it was to have the “best day ever.” To have a day so saturated with happiness that you remember every detail, from the houses you visited all the way down to the candy you got. I try to rack my brain for other Halloween memories and I find that after elementary school, the stories become less vivid. In sixth grade, I dressed up as an iPhone and I went trick-or-treating. At least I think I did. Starting that year, I’d only take one candy from the bowl. It wasn’t the same.

In 10th and 11th grade, I had tests and assignments the next day, so I stayed home, handing out candy, only to get annoyed and leave the bowl outside.

The same year that I visited my English teacher, I spent Halloween scrambling to finish my Common App. After that, I remember hanging out with my friends and getting food, laughing as we entered the Chipotle in our group costume as the Scooby Gang. It was a fun night and it was memorable to some extent but it was no Halloween 2010. After all, we weren’t in third grade anymore and Halloween simply wasn’t that big of a deal.

Aparajita Kaphle | aparajita.kaphle@yale.edu