Every year, when fake spiderwebs and inflatable witches start dotting lawns and costumes begin popping up in department stores, I flash back to a time when that day each year, moreso than any other, cemented my status as an outsider and served as a bitter reminder of my mother’s admonition that I might live “in the world’ but I was not “of the world”.

I dreaded Halloween every year, because for me, October 31 did not mean candy and costumes. It meant sitting in the school hallway doing busy work while my friends had a classroom party. It meant extra church services to pray for the souls of those led astray by Satan; those who erroneously believed Halloween was an innocent day for children. And it meant handing out chick tracks — like this one — instead of candy, hoping that our trick-or-treaters (or their parents) would later read them and see the peril of celebrating the work of Satan. (For those lucky folks unfamiliar with chick tracks, they are tiny primitive comic books that illustrate various Biblical and moral lessons from the point of view of deranged Christian fundamentalists. They contain rewritten history, a host of scientific misinformation, and tragic parables. They don’t mince words when they exhort children and adults alike: repent or burn.)

Because my mother believed that Halloween was “the Devil’s holiday” she not only refused to let us participate in any fun activities, she also saw it as a perfect opportunity to spread the gospel according to Linda. Instead of keeping us home on Halloween, silently sheltering us from unbearable evils like candy corn and tissue paper ghosts, she insisted we attend school and serve as a witness to our friends, classmates and teachers. So while the other children came to school in costume, marched in the school parade and gorged on homemade cupcakes, I sat in the hall, a silent witness for a faith I didn’t understand and would later reject.

And of course, silent witnessing was never enough for my mother. So one day a year, we were given a reprieve from the interminable bus ride and chauffeured to school. This gave my mother the opportunity to come in and explain to my teachers, principals, room parents, and friends exactly why I would not be allowed to participate in any of the planned activities. And even in my conservative, Bible-belt classrooms, I stood out like a sore thumb. (Keep in mind, this is the same district where my high school Biology teacher would one day announce with impunity: “We’re skipping this unit on the big bang and evolution. I’m not teaching this crap. Reread Genesis if you have any questions about how the world was created.”)

The kids alternately pitied and teased me. They were baffled by my lack of involvement and peppered me with questions about why I was not allowed to participate and what other holidays I was not allowed to celebrate. But they understood that I had no control over the situation and obviously I would like to be a part of the party if it were possible. It was the teachers and other parents who were the most insensitive. Unlike my classmates, their parents saw my lack of participation as a personal affront to their values, as an antagonism to their parenting skills. They mistook my mother’s rantings for a direct representation of my own beliefs and would lecture me angrily in an attempt to elicit a confession that I believed Halloween was just an innocent holiday and my mother was wrong and ridiculous. My teachers were similarly offended and additionally, they acted as if I was intentionally messing up their lesson plans (since I was not allowed to complete any Halloween-themed worksheet or activity). As an older child/tween, it was easy to give them what they wanted, completing the assignments and then disposing of them rather than taking them home or rolling my eyes and and shrugging as if to say, “You can’t choose your parents.” But as a young child who feared not only my mother and the church elders, but also the wrath of an angry, vengeful God, I was faced with an unpalatable choice: disrespect my teacher by arguing with her, or jeopardize my eternal soul.

Unlike some of my peers, who were reluctant to give up their Halloween traditions, I was only too thrilled when we were deemed too old for Halloween parties and trick-or-treating. My mother no longer insisted on coming to school to lecture my teachers, and I could beg off any party invitations by inventing a prior commitment. No longer was I the freak who was forbidden from “worshiping the Devil”, I was just another high school student too “cool” for Halloween activities.

It’s been nearly two decades since the last time I sat alone in a hallway pretending not to hear the shouts of delight on the other side of the wall. In most ways, I’ve come so far from that sad little girl that I don’t even think about her anymore. But sometimes I flash back and wish that just one adult would have been sympathetic and understanding, rather than ignoring or exacerbating my misery. Because you know, you really can’t choose your parents. And if they found it frustrating to deal with my mother a couple times a year, they might have taken into consideration the fact that I had to deal with her every day for eighteen years.