My family believes in demons.
Not the kind that go bump in the night or the horned, fanged spirits that mothers use to scare their children into eating vegetables.
Like other conservative Christians, my family thinks the devil works in much more mysterious ways -- tugging at the soul and tempting people to lie, cheat, and sin. Participating in anything that seemed vaguely pagan was like laying out a welcome mat for the devil in case he needs to wipe his hooves before entering your heart.
Add to that the fact that my parents are Indian immigrants who used to be unsure of how to deal with America's strange new traditions and you've got the inevitable: a childhood without sleepovers, where every birthday party was a prayer meeting in disguise, and where there was no way that their children would go trick-or-treating in skeleton outfits like their blasphemous young neighbors. No way in heaven or hell.
It wasn't the lack of candy that upset me. My dad would gladly bring home packets of Reese's Pieces for me, if I wanted.
But I was the kind of child who would ask, but never insist. And somehow, I knew for sure that I was missing out.
I vividly remember the hopeful-looking witches, ghouls, and green Power Rangers who would show up at our front door on October 31 -- even though our house was the only one on the block that looked dark and silent. They would first ring our doorbell, then knock. Sometimes, they'd peer through the windows on our porch, only to see our backs disappear around a corner as we hid.
"Devil worshippers," my grandma would say, as she peered out our curtains at their receding backs.
Things got better over the years, as I tried to drive home the point that Halloween was a cultural celebration now and had nothing to do with the Satanic forces my family heard about at church.
But it wasn't until freshman year of college, when I was away from home, that I finally got the chance to dress up. After years of anticipation, I was determined to do it right. I planned out my costume weeks in advance. I wanted to be a book -- The Tempest, by Shakespeare, to be exact. So I bought a shirt with text printed all over it and cut out two cardboard flaps from the box I used to move in.
"We are such stuff as dreams are made on," I wrote in Catholic school script on my inside front cover, before attaching the flaps to my arm with rubber bands.
My big debut was during New York's West Village Halloween Parade. It was crowded and loud. I remember being pressed up against a building and chatting with a Cleopatra who had fallen prey to the same fate. I stood on my tip-toes to wave at blood-stained goblin who flashed me crooked grin.
And then I felt a tug and a snap.
I turned around as quickly as I could and gasped out loud when I realized what had happened: Someone had stolen my back cover.
I looked around for the culprit, but the crowd surged forward. I breathed in deeply and let myself be carried away into the brisk fall night.
I didn't mind at all.
It makes me happy to remember that grand adventure. But I can't help thinking about all those Halloween nights I missed because of what my parents believed about God. When I sat in my dark house, munching on Almond Joys and longing to be part of that magical, topsy-turvy world outside. Where boys turn into dinosaurs for just one night and shy girls can become princesses with swords -- the kind that slay dragons and live to tell the tale. When all I hoped for was the chance to walk boldly up to a stranger's door and present myself as exactly the sort of person I so desperately wanted to be.