I worried about him often in those days. After moving away from Los Angeles, I thought I would be able to forget the little things. And I did. Time does wonders on the mind. But his letters and little videos reminded me of the larger things – the moods that can stretch on for days. The vibes that overlap and resonate and either embrace or suffocate you in the flatness of that county. Save for that one time, he never mentioned her death again. But we both felt it in every thing he wrote and recorded.
He showed me how things changed after she left. The one time he mentioned her this fall, that’s how he described it: “She left and now the light is different. It’s bright, but not brilliant, like someone put a paper door between our planet and the sun.”
I felt for him, but I didn’t know how to engage that. I guess I count myself lucky in that way – to be able to still operate outside of that knowledge.
At first, it was a flood of texts and calls and emails. The summer was a melting point in our friendship. Looking back, I think he was desperate to get it all out while I was still in the same city. He knew I was planning to move, and after I did, our communications slowed to a trickle of limp attempts at reviving old inside jokes and lots of repetition of my sympathies. I ran out of ways to say “I’m sorry”. I said it so often I actually began to feel guilty, but I didn’t know what for. I was there for him as much as I could have been. I had my own life too. I felt so lost I think I grew cold.
Then, on the first of November, he sent me the rest of it. It was as if he had been saving it all up. It was as if he felt me slipping away in real time, but continued our conversation in my absence and decided to just open the door a month later. He asked me to forgive him, and take this as goodbye. I didn’t know what to say. It has been a few weeks, and this is the best I was able to do.
Most of all, he described his confusion. I could hear it in the way he described what he saw. He used to love Halloween so much. He was always the life of the parties, planning his costumes for months ahead of time. I remember one August he told me he was going to go as a “Negative Person”. I forgot about it until I saw him at a friend’s house party on Halloween night and laughed my ass off because he had painted every part of his body in the opposite of its natural color so he looked like a photonegative of himself. He loved the bittersweet comedy of dressing up, of transforming. He seemed most himself those nights, lost in the revelry of abandon, praised for his cleverness, and adored for his charms.
We fell in love on Halloween.
But this year, he seemed like a different soul. The joy wasn’t gone, but distant, and what dominated his view was the shadow it cast over him. The flood began with letters he had written in the beginning of October, when the first decorations began to go up around his neighborhood. He described walking out of his front door straight into a spider web, and dancing around his porch, pulling its gossamer threads out of his hair and eyelashes and mouth. He described gagging when he saw his entire office decorated with false, nylon spider webs and cartoon pumpkins.
He described having lunch with his friend, Ravi, the historian. Ravi was never my favorite of his friends. He had a natural way of seeing the living, breathing world around him as a text. It was as if he left his body in the world, and viewed us all from a mental mile away, from some elevated platform enclosed in airtight plastic. Ravi, it seemed, shared the same alienation with Halloween, but with none of the confusion. He seemed to think he understood it perfectly. My friend described Ravi’s little lecture at lunch:
That as children, we are introduced to the holiday with a great sense of anticipation. As innocents, we still believe the authority of the adults around us. Without knowing it, we are yearning to learn every rule so we can engage in the seemingly large world. Adults promise us an alarming proposition – without having to do anything good or overt as in the case of Christmas or birthdays, we will be rewarded with a day in which we can dress up as anything we want and earn candy as a reward for the strength of our fantasy. We are teased with the lame thrills of safe hints at terror that give the holiday some sense of the sacred. But in reality, we are being trained to become good consumers: to advertise the fantasies of the superheroes and careers around us, to indulge in the facile and fleeting sweets of our American factories. We are distracted by overt indulgence from this shrewd training in the temptations of a capitalist society.
Ravi went on to the teenage years. He explained that after years of enjoying, then growing tired of trick-or-treating, American teenagers begin to don the helm of irony – the naïve beginnings of attempting cynicism. They believe they subvert the capitalist training and utilize the same rituals of costume and candy and festival to appear within the social realm and instead indulge in a social license for sex, drugs, and taboo. They believe, falsely, that they are subverting the traditions of their society. When in actuality, they are simply following its unspoken rules and trading miniature chocolates for pills, sugar highs for awkward sex, and torn handmade costumes for baggy eyed hangovers in class.
As they drank their coffee, Ravi completed his rant by reflecting on what Halloween then becomes for us. How those of us who buy into the mores of marriage and child rearing then show our love for our children without hesitation by indulging them in the same costume planning and bulk candy purchases. And how those of us who don’t: either chase the same teenage dreams or stay in and shut ourselves off from the mirror of the night.
He describes leaving Ravi with the check, and feeling wildly anxious – rapidly walking to the train station and shivering in the midst of an autumn heat wave.
He described looking through old photos of himself in costumes from years past and feeling like he was spying on a stranger. This was dated October 12th and he still hadn’t picked an idea yet. He considered going to the parties in a full black suit and mourning veil. He considered repeating an old costume – his favorite – the baseball costume wherein he dressed in all white, donned an enormous paper-mache baseball glove that sat on his shoulders and surrounded his entire head, and painted his face white with red stitches as if his entire body were a player’s arm stretching up to catch his head. He ended that letter with a series of links to other costumes he had seen. But they were clearly not for him. They were his exploration of the other side of Halloween.
He met up with our old friend, Marla. Marla was the way we broke up. When things were hard, and we found ourselves only existing between baseless jealousies and passive routines, I thought I could save it somehow. I thought we could try something new. Marla was a sweet friend who understood and didn’t judge. She worked as a sex therapist and had known both of us for years. She entertained us our last ditch effort, and was so loving to both of us that night. But when she left, we had nothing left to talk about but her. It was as if she gave us the gift of an ending in the tenderest way possible. The three of us still keep in touch in different ways. I was glad to read that he was able to reach out to her since I had moved away.
People know Marla because of her natural beauty and insouciant wit. But what people remember about Marla most is her laugh. He described how disarmingly comforting it was to explain his confusion to her and hear her laugh in reply. Instead of the cruelty of being mocked, he explained that her laugh felt like a confirmation, and agreement, and a joy in the strange beauty of his words. Like with Ravi, he preferred to listen instead of share more, and he described Marla’s short but touching view on Halloween.
She talked about costumes. She talked about All Hallow’s Eve always being a celebration of the saints that had died and waited for heaven’s arrival. She talked about saints and their iconic robes. She talked about the blinding beauty of the seraphim. She explained that Jesus Christ’s best friend was a prostitute of renowned beauty and skill. She pointed out that from the first, Halloween was a ritual of facing death with laughter and beauty. She wanted him to understand that beauty and terror have always been cousins – that even though the mystery of masks and the eroticism of their romantic shadows have long since been replaced with vinyl sexy nurse costumes, it didn’t mean our world was ending, it just meant we were finding a new way to deal with death.
She laughed when he whispered “le petit mort” – the French phrase for orgasm. She described Kundera’s youthful portrayal of sex as rebellion against human evils, as escape from the state’s betrayal of natural histories in service of a corporate utopia, as an inescapable path to memory. She described how sex was our search for and celebration of beauty at the same time that it was a denial and escape from the shame of our eternal growth and decay. She described how facing our death and all the terror and abject despair it brings can destroy our will to live, to make life, to fuck. She laughed, and explained so simply – don’t make love until you have it, but fuck so you have something to lose when it all comes to an end.
He had to leave Marla abruptly because he was late to an appointment with his grief counselor. He described feeling light as he ran to catch a bus to his counselor’s office park. He said all he did for the entire session was brainstorm costume ideas while lying on the couch, much to his counselor’s bewilderment. He described holding back laughter at seeing the waves of concern and analysis wash over the counselor’s face as she tried to see the psychological significance of each suggestion and discreetly write her notes while still maintaining eye contact with him.
He said they settled on a costume together, and made an appointment for November 1st.
He sent video of his costume and I did not know what to make of it at all. To be honest, it was one of his worst. He described wanting to go as an Asian street racer. He wanted to dress in the clothes of his friends from the 90’s and wear panda ears. He joked that he could tell people he was “Panda Express”.
He explained that in reaching back to the past, he was wearing the truest costume of all. He explained that in transgressing his own race, he was participating as a real American. He explained that he was finally happy about the upcoming parties. But he looked so strange, so alien to me. The makeup, the clothes, the affect, they all felt false, like a shield.
I haven’t heard from him since. I hope… well, I don’t know. I wish him peace, but now I have a better sense of how enormous that wish is. No, I do. I wish him peace.
D.S. Chun’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in publications such as Dum Dum Zine and Native Split. He co-curated the group art show D.C.C.S. at Yogiga Gallery in Seoul. Returning to Los Angeles, he founded Way Out, an artists’ process website, which culminated in a group exhibition, Way Out 001. After a short stint as a mythologist and writer on Deru’s 1979 project, he began a quarterly film screening and dinner party series called Watch What You Eat. He is a teacher, writer, and filmmaker living in Los Angeles, CA.