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Ghosts of Halloween Past

Photograph by Getty Images

My daughter ripped open her first piece of Halloween candy in the car. The man with the kind eyes who owns the dry cleaners gave her the choice between a miniature Milky Way and a little packet of candy corn. To my great horror and revulsion, she chose the candy corn.

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I could smell it as soon as she ripped the package open. I almost gagged. I’ve got nothing against candy corn, but it happens to be the last candy I ever binged on before I got into recovery for an eating disorder in the early 1990s. I spent the Halloween of 1991 eating pounds of candy and hiding wrappers all over my dorm room. It was a dark time, and the memories smell like candy corn.

It’s not my kids’ fault that their mother hit bottom with bulimia during a holiday that most people enjoy for what it is: a time to dress up and eat some candy. My kids, who are both under 5 years old, don’t need to know the details of those final days before my recovery, but those ghosts still haunt me, especially at this time of year. It’s still hard for me to see their little fists full of candy without projecting my own troubles with candy onto them.

I don’t want my ghosts interfering with their enjoyment of a holiday that for them remains uncomplicated.

And my kids just want to enjoy Halloween with me and their friends. They want to pick out a costume (after changing their minds a hundred times before October 31), carve a pumpkin and eat some of the trick-or-treating booty. That’s what I want for them, too. I don’t want my ghosts interfering with their enjoyment of a holiday that for them remains uncomplicated.

So, I’ll do it. I go to Costco and invest in jumbo-size bags of candy to give out to little kids, ignoring that it’s the same kind of candy that brought me to my knees almost two decades ago. I vow to leave the past in the past where it belongs—in my memory and not on their plates.

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Every year the bad memories fade a little more as I watch my children squeal with glee over Tootsie Rolls and Twizzlers. They hold them up to me as if they are prized treasures. “Look, Mama! Look what I got!” They offer me some, and I decline saying, “No, that’s OK, mama wants you to enjoy it for yourself.” I smile at them and remind myself that for my children, it’s just candy, not some dark symbol of an eating disorder ravaging a life. After all, sometimes candy corn is just candy corn.

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