It was made of two cardboard boxes and a wire coat hanger. I cut armholes in the larger box, the body, and carefully covered it with the foil. On the smaller box, the headpiece, I cut a rectangular opening just big enough to see through and gave it the same foil treatment. The coat hanger served as an antenna. I fixed it to the back of the headpiece with heavy staples and tape.
The idea for the robot costume sprang fully formed into my eleven-year old imagination, and it felt perfect. I hadn’t planned on going trick-or-treating. I was in a new town, a new school, and I didn’t know any other kids very well. My plan was to pass out candy and maybe find a horror movie on TV. But when the idea for the costume came, I knew I would go.
* * *
On All Hallows Eve, I donned my creation and went out into the world alone. Poolesville, Maryland, was and is a small town, and it was even smaller then. Most people knew their neighbors, so it felt safe. Besides, I was old enough to go by myself.
I hit the single-family homes in my immediate neighborhood first. Then, I got smart and went for high volume: the townhouses in the next development. I’m not sure how long I was out, a few hours maybe. I had a pretty good candy stash and my foil shell started to feel heavy. One more stop, I decided before the trek home.
I trundled up to the next house and rang the doorbell. A kid, a little older than me, answered. He was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. His hair was tousled. I got the feeling he was on his way to bed. He looked me up and down. One side of his mouth curled into a smirk.
“They finally landed,” he said as he tossed a handful of mini candy bars into my bag.
“Yeah,” I said with a hesitant laugh.
I turned and started walking. I got to the main street, and headed down the sidewalk that would take me most of the way home. The flaps of my costume rasped against my thighs. My feet were heavy and sore in the moon boots I wore. Because of the width of the box I was wearing, I had to keep my arms bowed out from my sides. My little bag of treats, clutched in my hand, swung with each awkward step. It was quiet. I didn’t see anyone else out. The packs of highschoolers clad in predictable black with rubber hockey masks were gone. The moms and dads leading little ones dressed like bumble bees and princesses had all gone home.
I stop near a row of streetlamps. Moths move clumsily in and out of the artificial light. I fill my lungs with late October air. And something, more feeling than thought, shimmers into consciousness: I am standing alone at night wearing a cardboard box covered in tinfoil with a coat hanger stuck to my head.
I wanted to be an astronaut, or Mr. T, or the Green Lantern. I wanted my mom, and the other parents, to stand vigilantly in the background while my friends and I raced to ring doorbells. I wanted to be held and never let go. I wanted to run. I wanted to feel safe. I was trying to stop time, but I couldn’t hold on.