The Year I was a Unicorn


The year that I was a unicorn for Halloween, I was like—finally! Finally my mom had Made me a costume like so many other kids’ mothers did every year. No more borrowing a friend’s second-hand, last year’s princess, or guilting angel’s wings off another busy parent, or buying a crappy carbon-copy Bugs Bunny from the BX. This year I was going to be a true original.

I loved unicorns, and now I was going to be one! I couldn’t wait. All pink. And, with a giant horn emerging from my forehead.

Now, my mom was a major defeatist. This should have been a clue. She had told me, in fact, many times, that she couldn’t sew. So where I thought she was going to get the know-how to build me the costume of my dreams, I don’t remember. But, I guess back then I was an optimist. I had no worries that it wouldn’t be “just right.”

I felt like fortune had finally favored me. I would be the most looked at kid in the Halloween parade, for sure, and the boy of my dreams would notice me above anyone else*—don’t remember his name, but he was tall and blond and preppy. I think he often wore suspenders. And, I was in LOVE with him….Oh yeah, Wesley. Like the Princess Bride. That was him.

(*I was ambitious. I’ll say that much.)

Not sure how long or hard Mom worked on the project—knowing her, and perfectionism, probably a long while—but, I don’t think I saw the ensemble until the day of the school parade.

And I Hated it.

I was never very good at hiding my disgust for things I didn’t want. I was never very grateful for good intentions. I was never very humble about my wishes.

I wanted it all! Ravenously. Right now. I didn’t want to wait, and I didn’t see why I should. Sometimes I wonder at my childhood hunger. I wish it was with me still. All the need, desire, the Deservingness that I clung to. Where did it go?

Needless to say, my tight, child’s face, full of scorn, ratted me out to my insecure mother. (She disliked me for never playing along.) She saw, right away, that I hated it. The costume. I was soooo disappointed in her, in GOD, in The Wide World, and the Universe itself. A plague on both your houses!

I mean: the horn! It was crooked, poking out at an odd angle from the rain slicker hood she’d attached it to. The idea was that the hood, sans slicker, would be tied under my chin, as usual, and the horn would rise from its crown. But, instead of a noble upward projection, it veered to the side like an asymmetrical penis, awkward and self-conscious. Also, it was bent, crumpled. I don’t know what exactly she’d made it out of—a paper towel or toilet paper roll folded in on itself, possibly—but it didn’t look so much like a horn—cylindrical and strong—as a poorly rolled bit of cardboard painted gold.

In other words—Unacceptable.

The only photo I have of me in the costume must be from Halloween night. My brother beside me looks very happy in his store-bought pumpkin suit, while I have a defiant expression on my face, arms folded in front of me, no smile for the camera cause, I’m sure, it was Her behind it.

And, I must admit, while I look cute as a button, I also look angry, and the horn itself is pretty pathetic. (A case of childhood remembrance adhering to fact and not fiction.)

We must have been on our way out the door—it’s in the picture, waiting right behind us—to Trick-Or-Treat, cause it’s clearly night-time outside, and my brother’s cheesy grin says it all—C-A-N-D-Y, and lots of it! What kid wouldn’t be thrilled? But, alas, not me.

I was busy hanging on to resentment like a champ. And, I find, over the passing years of my life, that resentment is one of the few things I’m really good at. I can always count on it—to take me to that quick fix of self-righteousness. To remove the burden of responsibility from my shoulders and to place the blame directly where it should belong—with someone else.

I know—feminist though I claim to be—that, growing up, the blame often rested with Mom.

And, it still does.

Why?…I suppose it’s because, for all of my ambitions, I see myself more clearly in her than I ever did in my workaholic dad. She was the constant. Even though she wasn’t always affectionate in the ways I craved, she WAS always there. And, I wonder, what was this worth to me, back then? And, what’s it worth now?

We don’t talk anymore. I don’t know if we ever will again, because I don’t know if I can forgive her for not loving me ENOUGH. For not protecting me when I needed her. For being human.

For making me a Halloween costume that wasn’t up to my rigourous standards.

And, I wonder: is it worth it to keep hanging on, even though the Unicorn’s tail was attached to the backside of my pink leotard by nothing more than a couple unsteady stitches or a safety pin—can’t remember which—or is it better to just let the past go?

I think the latter is the answer.

And so, on this Halloween, this Samhain, this time of the year when the veil is thinnest, I choose to let go.

I love you, Mom, even though your sewing skills suck. I love you even though you let me down. I love you even though you’re flawed and human.

Now it’s time to start saying the same things to myself.


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