I loved the first morning of October each year. I had my box of Halloween decorations ready to snazz up my office cubicle. Spiderwebs to line the partition walls, a cauldron filled with candy, orange lights to sparkle around my computer, little trick-or-treater figurines, plenty of pumpkins with long, twisting stems, and a cd of creepy music to play on repeat. Every other month, I felt as invisible as a ghost haunting my work space, but this month, people stopped by my desk and acknowledged my existence.
Women would stop by to take a small piece of candy and joke about how they were being so bad for eating so many snacks, or they’d walk over to tell me they’d need to pass since they were on a diet. These same dieters always returned from lunch with fast food bags they said were salads. Maybe they were salads but those salads are often worse for a person than the burgers. A few men also acted like I was pressuring them to break diets simply by having candy in view, but most took handfuls and told me stories about their kids or the elaborate lawn displays they practically pulled a back or broke a limb to craft. Not necessarily pleasant conversations, but still conversations which I craved.
Everyone needs their little thing to make them special, and mine was Halloween. I liked hearing my decorations were so cute or that I seemed so fun. I always hoped this appearance of fun would lead to them inviting me out after hours for a drink or something. It never did. Maybe they thought a fun lady like me would be too busy for their frivolous little complaint sessions.
This year, I outdid myself a little. I baked a plate of sugar cookies decorated to look like jack o’lanterns. A smile stretched across my face as I basked in the warmth of my pumpkin chai tea. Yes, today would be a good day.
When I arrived at my office, something unusual caught my eye. On Belinda’s desk sat a jack o’lantern with a witch's hat on top. She also had a plate of black and orange fortune cookies with a little sign saying “look into the future, if you dare.”
My jaw dropped. No one else ever decorated for Halloween. Nancy stood in front of Belinda’s desk, snagging a cookie without even mentioning her usual, “oh I couldn’t possibly,” spiel. Nancy never accepted my candy.
“This is so adorable, Belinda,” Nancy gushed.
“Thank you, my son carved the pumpkin. He’s eight. Want to see a picture?”
“Oh, how precious!”
My heart thumped loudly, and my hearing dulled. I told myself to shake it off. One little pumpkin and plate of cookies meant nothing. Wait until they all see my work of art. I clutched the box tightly and walked to my cubicle. I quickly set up my little display, and then started the music to call attention.
“Oh, Cindy, can we not play that music today?” Todd called over from his desk. “I have an awful headache and it’s only October 1st. Maybe save it for the 31st.”
“Oh, uh, sorry.” I turned off the eerie instrumental music with a frown.
The day turned into a usual one for me. Unsocial and filled with work. Everyone stopped at Belinda’s desk and I couldn’t understand. By lunch all she had was the one stupid pumpkin since everyone took her “fun” little fortune cookies. They all had positive messages inside that made everyone feel all warm and gooey. That’s not what spooky season is about.
Feeling as deflated as my neighbor’s saggy ghost inflatable that had yet to be turned on, I sulked through my kitchen. How was my little thing so easily ripped from my hands?
I mostly did the same thing every year, maybe things needed to change. A fresh update. I did a search for fun Halloween things online and came up with a great idea. I ran to the store and the next day brought a talking skeleton to work. I figured people would have so much fun hearing what he had to say when they walked by.
Belinda had a tray of Halloween fruits. Ghostly bananas, orange pumpkins, and apple mouths. Nancy was there again.
“Oh, Belinda, how creative! These are delightful.”
Belinda looked at me and smiled. “I thought it was so generous that Cindy brought in all that candy, but not everyone can eat that stuff. I figured I’d bring a healthy alternative so everyone can take part.”
Healthy alternative? Halloween isn’t about being healthy. With a huff, I lugged my skeleton friend in and set him up.
The skeleton laughed menacingly when Todd walked by and I watched him jump in the air and drop his handful of papers. “C’mon Cindy. What’s this now? That’s too much of a distraction. This is a workplace.”
I knew Todd was grumpy from being scared in front of everyone, but to my surprise others agreed.
“Yes, please take that creepy thing away,” Nancy added.
My eyes stung with preparing tears. I grabbed the skeleton and ran to my car. After a good cry and a few moments to freshen up, I returned like a dog with their tail between their legs. Not that anyone noticed. They were too busy chatting with Belinda about how thoughtful she was.
I should’ve stopped there, but I didn’t. I thought if they want healthy things, I know what I’ll do. The next day I set up apple bobbing. Belinda had little crocheted ghosts.
“What’s this?” George asked me.
“Apple bobbing! Try it out.”
George looked at the pail of water and apples uncomfortably.
Belinda stood and said, “Cindy that’s a cute idea, but so unhygienic. Maybe we can rethink it a little.”
Before I could even think of a response, the manager walked in. He called everyone’s attention to him.
“It has come to my attention that something brilliant has been happening in this office.”
I felt my heart perk up. The manager had never acknowledged my displays. What was brilliant? The apple bobbing? The fact that we now had two people celebrating Halloween, obviously inspired by me.
He continued, “Belinda’s kindness and thoughtful actions have been such an inspiration to everyone in here. How festive this desk is and how she thinks of everyone. People keep telling me they feel happier coming into work. I’ve been inspired to start a kindness reward. Belinda will be the first recipient, of course. I’m hoping everyone will win at some point. These good deeds–”
I tuned him out. Couldn’t listen anymore. I slumped in my chair, distractedly clicking around on my screen. Everyone cheered and congratulated and then went back to work.
I stayed later than everyone else at the end of the day, and packed up all my Halloween supplies. What was the point? I only liked it because it kept me from being invisible and now I was again anyway.
A part of me hoped someone would complain the decorations were gone and wonder what happened. That maybe at least Bob would ask what happened to the candy since he took handfuls each time he walked by. No one said anything. They were busy being fake nice to each other to win awards and praising Belinda for her growing number of decorations.
I stayed later than everyone else again, because I had fallen behind on a project. My heart wasn’t in it and my mind had gone all foggy. The cleaning lady, Gloria walked in.
“Hey, Gloria. I’ll be out of your hair in a minute. Feel free to do what you need to,” I said with a smile. “Hey, how are Luke and Lilly?”
Gloria beamed. “They’re doing well. Luke got a blue belt in karate, and Lilly came in third in her dance recital.”
“That’s so exciting for them both! They’re talented little ones. You must be so proud.”
“Where are all your spooky decorations? I love seeing them.”
My smile dropped to a frown. “Eh, people kept complaining about them. I figured they’d serve better somewhere else.”
“Oh, no. Why would they complain? You love this holiday so much.”
I shrugged. “It’s okay.”
Gloria looked concerned, but didn’t say more about it.
“Well, that’s all for me. I’ll leave you to it. Have a good night!” I said.
“You too, Cindy.”
It felt good to hear her say that she missed my decorations. At least they mattered to someone.
That night I went home, prepared my frozen dinner and sat down to watch a spooky movie. I couldn’t stop thinking about the office. Each year I did all this decorating in hopes of having a conversation that wasn’t really about me. No one asked how I was or showed real interest. Maybe my decorations weren’t the special thing I thought they were. Maybe it was time to find something real.
I took out my planner and searched the web. I wrote down a bunch of fall festivities happening in the area. Looking at my boring frozen dinner, I added in some autumn cooking classes too. All this time I’ve spent trying to win over people who never really cared anyway. What if I could find people who paid attention all year round? Maybe I’ll even ask Gloria if she wants to try one of these with me. She could be a good friend, and that's really all I've wanted this whole time. Just looked in the wrong places.