October Firsting the Hell out of October First

October 2, 2023 — I started celebrating a long Halloween because there wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do for the holiday in a day. Or a week. Or a month. Too much autumn stuff, too much spooky stuff, too much of the ephemeral that defines the season being a little too ephemeral. I wanted to lie back and luxuriate in the bubbling cauldron of the season for a while. To relax in the quilted interior of its coffin before being forced to rise and jumpstart the snowblower while frantically crossing items off Santa’s list (“making Christmas, making Christmas”).

This year, it’s the opposite. I’m finding it hard to summon the spirit to fill all the moments I have with black and orange.

Except for when my kids are around.


By myself, I’m the titular character from that A24 movie Ghost, wandering the Black House bewildered, the sheet over my head a thin barrier separating me from the familiar place where so much happiness and history happened. 

But when my daughters are here, it’s like I’ve been resurrected, exhumed, and I feel inspired and energized to make every second a celebration, every minute meaningful, every hour a holiday. I’m Beetlejuice saying, “It’s showtime” after Lydia Deetz finally says his name three times.


Because what I must remember is that every betrayal and deceit and destruction enacted on me was also enacted on them, except worse because they are children. Before our family broke, those girls were thriving, proud of being in this family, of being Ockers, looking forward to every road trip and book project and unique opportunity, extremely loving to the point that they were teaching me more about love and life than I them. Now they’re trying to navigate complex situations and ideas with their scant years of life experience that don’t even make sense to me with my decades of it. I hate that for them.

On top of that, there are three of them, each of wildly varying ages (13, 9, and 4). They have their own individual needs, are each dealing in their own way with abandonment issues and handoffs like they’re mere marital assets—401Ks and furniture sets. None of them like to be more than twelve inches from me at any given time, like I really am that A24 ghost and if they stop touching me for even a second, I dissolve and disappear. I hate that for them.


From my perspective, through the ragged holes of the sheet costume, them not being around all the time is worse than any other travail I’ve suffered. I loved hearing their footfalls all around the house. I loved them randomly coming up to me for no reason other than to be my daughters and I their father. I miss them sleeping securely and peacefully upstairs while I wrote. I miss the constant contact of their small hands and arms around my biceps or neck. I liked how each were turning out as individuals and interacting with each other. I loved hearing them argue and laugh in other rooms. I loved them yelling my name when I came home from work. I loved that all my sweat and stress was making the foundation of a life for them.

When my mother died in 2016, and I faced mortality for the first time in my existence, what saved me from a downward spiral of cynicism, nihilism, and who-gives-a-fuckism was that I realized that everything I was doing wasn’t to make my own life matter, but to provide the materials for making my girls’ lives better. Knowing that the millions of words I’ve written in my life would be my daughters’ to own and read and learn about their pasts or to pass on to their children (or just throw in the bin; that’s fine, too) was enough of a reason to continue doing what I did, even if it all ends in boxes underground.


With all that in mind, when my daughters came over for the October 1 weekend, I made sure that I planned enough that it would penetrate to their core memories forever. We played the Sleepy Hollow boardgame, watched a bunch of horror movies, went to Salem—where we visited museums and took photos with buskers and ate chocolate skulls—visited a corn maze shaped like a bat, went on an epic hunt for caramel apples across four different farms overrun by Massholes who deep down know that New Hampshire is a better state, saw a 25-foot-tall inflatable pumpkin, decorated the house, ate seafood chowder out of bread bowls at a 120-year-old church-turned-restaurant that was so decorated for Halloween, it might as well have been located in downtown Salem instead of New Hampshire.


And it was a blast. Honestly, objectively, an October 1st done not just well, but done supremely. A blueprint for future October 1sts.

But there was still something missing from the weekend. From all the autumnal adventures. Something big and sad and terrifying. And that missing thing, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I do know that it’s missing from somewhere inside of me, I think.

My girls are victims of broken vows. They were brought into this decrepit world with a profoundly made promise of being protected by family, and that promise was not only not kept, it was dashed to the ground and shattered like cheap wedding-gift dishware, all for no reason.

However, I know that as much as Halloween and life and everything is tainted for me, I can’t let it be tainted for them.

Halloween must be theirs. Even if it’s my own bones they decorate with.