"Goddamn it, you walking stain-on-the-butt end of the Earth," I shriek, because sometimes shrieking works with Lary, "Gimme it."
"Sorry," he says. "Why don't you just make your own?"
Of course I could make my own costume, but I get too complicated. I can't just be a hobo or a serial killer or something simple. No. I have to be, like, an octopus with battery-operated, individually animated tentacles with real suction cups and stuff.
One year I was a sorceress laden with a cauldron, inside of which was an operating fog machine. My actual costume consisted of so much black lace, black chiffon, bejeweled brooches and mystically glowing crystals that I looked like a walking gothic mansion. I was so exhausted after putting it all on that I paused to catch my breath and awakened four hours later, sitting upright on my couch with the illuminated skull atop my staff still blinking feebly.
I can't do that this year. I can't. Already I have six pumpkins. Six. Yesterday I almost bought six more, but I had to stop myself because I was at one of those specialty markets that only offer organic, kosher, kinetic whatever-the-fuck farmed vegetables, and six pumpkins cost more than my entire car payment. So I put them all back, promising myself that, first chance, I'm stopping at one of those crap-ass grocery stores that sell pumpkins the size of Cinderella's carriage, only all mutated. Those cost about a buck apiece because they've been injected with polypropylene and cultivated inside giant microwaves, probably.
So I can't possibly get started on a costume; it just might kill me. I need something simple. But since Lary won't loan me his Jesus Christ costume, I'll have to battle my bent toward complicating things. Maybe I can just wear one of those stupid headbands with bloody eyeballs on springs, but I'm afraid the line has been crossed and it's impossible to turn back.
I'm reminded of one of my theology teachers in college -- "World Religion" was the course -- who told us on the first day of class to "leave now if you don't want to complicate your life." I didn't know what the hell she meant. It's just knowledge, I thought.
But when none of us took her up on leaving right then, the professor shook her head and said, "There'll be no turning back."
Until then, I'd basically put as much thought into religion as my aborted Sunday-school dabblings allowed me to have. I believed in heaven and hell. I believed Jesus looked like a honey-haired underwear model. I believed in the basic paper-doll parade of characters the Bible put forth.
My mother said we were welcome to our own convictions as long as they weren't made under duress, which explains why she'd yanked us out of Sunday school. Our preacher had me under major duress, having told me I'd go to hell for not tithing properly.
"That's just goddamn ignorance," my mother said.
But ignorance is the natural state for budding college students, and I'd retained that arrested image of religion until the day when my professor said there was no turning back. I swear I think I was happy until then, happy in my ignorance and the simple-ness of my life. But sometimes there is a difference between a happy life and a meaningful life.
My professor, surprisingly, proceeded to teach us tolerance, which is an astonishingly painful lesson. I swear, it's agony -- like the feeling you get when blood rushes to an atrophied limb on the wrong end of a tourniquet.
The pain comes from revisiting all your past apathies through the eyes of those you injured. Like the time I helped humiliate a Hindu girl in fifth grade. Fifth grade. She was fragile and beautiful and raven-haired, and for some reason she'd fainted in the bathroom at school.
We thought she was faking it, so it was my idea to test her by plucking the jewel out of her nose. Only back then those things didn't exactly pluck, they kinda screwed in, and we weren't all that delicate. In short, we practically ripped her a new nostril, and she woke up screaming, and she kept screaming when she noticed her jewel missing. God, that girl could scream.
No one knows what happened to the jewel. But after that, the Indian girl never, ever spoke another word to us again. Not one -- not even when we tried to get her to scream again, which was often. Unfortunately, nothing is more unbearable to an adolescent than quiet dignity.
Jesus God, I ache to go back there in my mind, to the beautiful little screaming Hindu girl and others, and I want to lay myself flat with shame. I want to take her dark, delicate hand, look into her injured eyes and implore, "Say something." I want to apologize for making her tolerate my ignorance. I want it to be that simple.
But nothing is simple anymore. Everything is complicated, and there is no turning back.
Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at atlanta.creativeloafing.com.
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