I asked my mom if she’d dig up this photo. I wanted to show it to you because I remember this particular Halloween more than others.
That’s me in the middle. My sister Erica on the left; Ingrid on the right. It’s 1987. The year my sister Greta was born.
I remember this Halloween because there was contention about my costume. As you can see, I am Skeletor, the main antagonist in Masters of the Universe. Skeletor is evil and scary.
Naturally, this bothered my mom. She spoke in hushed tones to my dad. She asked me not to wear it. She didn’t understand.
Honestly, I’m not sure I understood either. I didn’t even like Skeletor. It’s not like I had a figurine or watched the show. We didn’t have a TV. I remember seeing the cartoon series at my friend Chris’s birthday party. My cousins Karl and Erik had the Masters of the Universe castle and other toys. So I was aware of Skeletor.
Looking at the photo now, I can still smell the plastic. I can feel that tiny rubber band held by two staples holding the mask to my face, getting tangled in my hair, pinching my neck.
Why did I want to be Skeletor?
I’ll be honest, I’m playing detective now. I’m going to psychoanalyze my six-year-old self. What you’re about to hear is speculation, because I really don’t remember. But if I had to guess why I was wearing a mask I really didn’t want to wear, one that disturbed my mother (even me a little) it’s because of an earlier event that week that happened at school. The kindergarten costume party.
My mom dressed me in a homemade teddy bear costume she bought at a yard sale. It was brown and had puffy circles for ears. She drew whiskers across my cheeks with a black marker. I could tell she was proud. After all, Aar-bear was her nickname for me. This was the perfect costume. So cute, she said. I don’t think I gave it much thought.
The problem was I went to school. Aaron Degerness was dressed as GI Joe. The other boys were pirates and vampires. Jake Brandt had fake blood dripping from his lower lip. They looked scary. They looked cool. The word cool, while the same amount of letters, is much different than the word cute.
They looked at me puzzled. What are you, they asked? Some thought I might be a cat. I knew I was in trouble. No, no, I said. I’m a bear. I thought faster. A grizzly bear, in fact. Grr…I said with my pillowy paws raised.
They didn’t believe me, and I didn’t either. How could I have been so foolish?
The walk-through was next. We filed behind Mrs. Guy, showing the neighboring classrooms our attire. I kept my steps on the heels of Sara Vatnsdal, hiding behind a pink ballerina. It wasn’t enough, though. They still saw, pointed, and snickered.
That’s all I remember.
My greatest fear is that people will laugh at me. It’s stupid, I know. I’m a grown man. Most days I know who I am. I’m confident in my identity. But fear feels like fear no matter how old you are. It still feels as real as when you were six.
And that’s why I dressed as Skeletor. Skeletor is the opposite of a cute teddy bear. Nobody laughs at Skeletor. Nobody mistakes him for a cat.
I admit, if that’s why I decided to become a character whose look is due to an accidental acid splash ( I just looked it up on Wikipedia), then maybe I overcompensated. Cuddly cute teddy bear to evil bare-bone skull head is a jump. But when you’re six years-old in 1987 you lack language to explain complex feelings you don’t understand. I think I wasn’t just trying to say, “Mom, all the kids laughed at me at school. I was humiliated for being a cute teddy bear. So my plan is to never get laughed at again for my Halloween costume. That’s why I picked Skeletor, he was the scariest thing I could think of. Don’t worry, I’m not headed to the dark side. I’ve just overcompensated a little.”