There are moments in our young lives that represent a crucial turning point in our social development. The first crush. The first day of school. The first bra. But less documented, and certainly less-celebrated is that pivotal first moment when you experience a shame that would have been avoidable with just a little bit of foresight and planning. For me, that moment occurred in fifth grade, when I took part in my elementary school’s annual Halloween parade and classroom party dressed as a bag of trash.
October, 1984. I was ten years old. This was not the era of complicated, homemade costumes pulled from Pinterest. Most of the children were dressed in one of two options:
Option 1: A cheap, store-bought plastic costume that included a too-tight smelly mask and a weird one-piece jumper that generally just had the identity of the costume spelled out on the front so clueless parents could immediately recognize the character on their doorstep.
Option 2: A thrown-together costume using stuff from around the house. These typically included hobos, punks, and bedsheet ghosts.
I went with Option 2. But I had let the season get away from me, and found myself wracking my brain for an idea on the day before Halloween. What would I do? I searched the house for ideas? Hobo? No – that’s been done to death. Old lady? Nah. Ghost? All of the sheets had flowers on them. Damn damn damn.
Suddenly it occurred to me. A bag of trash. Of course! I had everything I needed. A trash bag with leg holes cut into it. A couple of empty Spaghettio cans. Some duct tape. Pieces of newspaper. It was genius. Nobody else would have the same idea. Perfect!
The next day, after lunch, everyone went to the bathroom to change into their costumes. I remember stepping into the trash bag and feeling a weird mix of regret, dread and entrapment. There was no turning back now. I made my bag of trash, and now I had to walk in it. Actually, i had to march around the school in it. And then I had to sit in it for a while and think about what I had done.
I’m a bag of Trash. I don’t remember being shunned by my peers for the costume, exactly. I mean — there were a lot of puzzled looks and questions, but there were plenty of weird costumes and I didn’t stand out as grotesque or mockable, exactly. The kids and teachers showed as much respect as you could possibly expect for a bag of trash. Nay, more. There were no pointing fingers or turned up noses. There was just me having to repeatedly answer the question “What are you?” with “I’m a bag of trash.” It just….gets to you after a while. You start to identify with the costume. You learn that a bag of trash is very, very angry and wants to be left alone. By cupcake hour I was done with the questions.
I threw my costume out in the kitchen trash barrel after school. Of course, nobody noticed. Because why would you notice a Bag-of-Trash costume in the trash bag?
The next year I put together a stellar costume that took weeks of planning, sewing and constructing. I was a jaunty Jack of Hearts. So I survived the whole Bag of Trash affair and came back swinging for the fences. Lesson learned.
I guess the moral of the story is this: In any life situation, if you find yourself answering the question “Who are you?” with “I’m a bag of trash,” it’s time to evaluate your choices.