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Lions Roar : November 2018
harm. Sometimes I wonder where are the parents of these two children and why are they allowing them to walk in desolate places. Sometimes I want to say to that boy and girl, Turn around. Do not go in there. Bad things happen in places like this: zombies will stagger out of graves; witches will boil something green in cauldrons; vampires will bare their pointy fangs. Boy and girl, there is danger in this venture, the possibility of death. Perhaps I overthink this. Since becoming a father, I overthink a lot of things. Perhaps I should not shield my son from the notion of death, because death is inevitable. Perhaps there is something beautiful in the celebration of the darker side of life. B EFORE HALLOWEEN WAS SAMHAIN, a festival that celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was a time when the boundary between the living and the dead disappeared, and on that day the ghosts of loved ones, our ancestors, came for a visit. The living. The dead. Light. Dark. The necessity of both. For my family, ghosts followed them everywhere they went. Ghosts of parents and relatives and their former selves sur- rounded them, which in turn, surrounded me. “Pray for your grandmother,” my mother would say. “Tell her to help you ace that math test.” “Pray for your uncle,” my father would say. “Tell him to lay off the booze wherever he is.” My immigrant family shouldered the weight of the lost. Daily, they memorialized them in front of the statue of Buddha, incense swirling, making the house fragrant. For them Hallow- een, the shedding of the self, the day to assume another identity, was no different from any other day. Their waking lives were a costume that weighed heavily on them. That made them sigh. That made them stare off into the distance. That made them start sentences with In Thailand... T HE THAI BUDDHIST TEMPLE in Chicago held a fall festival where the Thai community brought food and drink, and the day was filled with activities like a Muay Thai martial arts demonstration, classic Thai swordplay, Thai dancing, and a costume contest for Thai kids. I was five. My parents entered me in the contest. That year I planned to be Superman, wearing my Superman Underoos and a pink towel as my cape. It didn’t matter that I pranced around the house in red briefs. It didn’t matter that my stomach protruded over the waistband. Nor did it matter when I walked to the houses on my block a few days later for candy. Hello, it’s Halloween, and people—especially those in South Chicago—wore weirder things. What mattered was I possessed superhuman strength. The temple was the Thai community hub. Before relocating to a bigger property in the suburbs, it was located off of Hoynes Avenue, in a former Greek Orthodox Church. Here was the place where my parents took off their costumes and settled into what I believe were their truer forms. It seemed a weight lifted off them. They smiled. They talked Thai. They laughed loud. They ate Thai food that was not the same as in Thailand, but they understood this brick building with tall echoing ceilings, with the shadowed remnants of crosses, was a simulacrum of home. I couldn’t be Superman that day. Instead, my father dressed me as a rice field worker. I wore brown tattered pants that went to mid-calf and a brown shirt my mother sewed that V-ed deeply at the neck and was baggy on my body. Around my waist was a red and white tablecloth, used as a sash. My father penciled a mustache under my nose and gave me a straw hat. I was supposed to be barefoot and carried a sickle my father made out of duct tape and a back scratcher. I hated this costume. The other kids wore typical ones: ballerinas, princesses, comic book heroes, werewolves, and ninjas. I was the anomaly. “What are you supposed to be?” Fireman said. I shrugged. One by one, an announcer called out names, and we were supposed to walk onto a raised platform, as if a runway model. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 70