My Dad could be a mean orange thing. He often ranted about life’s misgivings in the corner of the garage where we lived, complaining that, contrary to what we’d been told, the other side is not filled with full moons and bats. He didn’t enjoy the passive nature of a candy basket’s being, and the inherent emptiness destroyed him. All my Dad wanted was for it to be Halloween every day.
My Mom and I did our best to cheer him, but there’s no denying that he went through an exceptionally vicious version of the oft-heard sophomore slump. In his worst moments, he’d try to spread his suffering by saying, “We’re hollow inside, boy. And so is your Mom. There’s nothing there. They don’t want us!”
The first time I heard my Dad’s pessimism was in the garage, and I shrugged it off as a marker of a bad day, but over time you become who you hang out with, and my Dad’s words wore down my Mom and me. He once told us that each passing day is another grave in the cemetery of his life, which is difficult to hear coming from a candy basket with a smile on his face. What I’m saying is, it’s hard being a cheerleader all of the time.
In the garage, a sophomore slump happens when your expectations don’t line up with your new reality. Our neighbors, the other holiday baskets, warned us that some folks had a hard time coping with the fact they’re only needed one day a year.
Still, my Dad’s decline was surprising. We’re all born with a specific load, and, objectively, my Dad should have been capable of holding more than my Mom and me because he was the biggest. Yet that hole inside of him, which had been built for benefit, was only filled on Halloween, so, most days, he felt a nagging ache, the emptiness of his wasted potential.
I emphasized with my Dad - how couldn’t I? He was my family. We were produced from the same factory and sat, side by side, as a unit, on the same store shelf. We believed what the other Halloween candy baskets told us about our future, mainly that once our owner picked us off the shelf, we’d be in Heaven, where every day was Halloween. And unlike life on the shelf, where all you do is wait, they told us Halloween was filled with excitement and that we were the one thing that nobody could live without on Halloween night. It was all true; Halloween was Heaven. It’s just they forgot to mention it only lasted a day. My Dad couldn’t accept that.
You have to understand, growing up, we spent years in shipping containers stacked to the ceiling. Then, for years after that, we lived on pallets in a warehouse, covered in plastic so thick we were constantly suffocating. We thought those times were the toughest until we made it to the store shelf, which ended up being worse because you didn’t expect it to hurt.
Baskets get introduced to their anxiety when they’re living on the shelf. It’s the first time we’re on the Market, and even though we’ve waited for the moment our whole life, we’re not prepared for it or the failure that follows, day after day of not getting picked, wondering if the world’s playing some sick game. On the shelf, we lived in fear of ending up ownerless in another shipping container.
It was hell growing up, but you know who got my Mom and me through the roughest parts? My Dad. When he saw her get jealous of another unit for getting chosen over us or heard me fussing over the uncertainty of our future, he’d calm us down and point us back toward our ambition. He ignited the light inside of us by using his flame; it was because of him we’d rise above the line and shine on to another day.
My Dad slumped after that second Halloween for the same reason that he did after the first; because he placed too much of his value in his expectations.
When our owner decided they would celebrate Halloween at Grandma’s that second year, he felt rejected and useless.
All we got of the holiday was the aftermath when the family came home the next day, carrying grocery store plastic bags with enough candy in them to fill the three of us a couple of times over. The wrappers on the candy sparkled at us like trophies. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
Before they entered the home, the owner’s eldest daughter said the words that probably started my Dad’s sophomore slump.
My Mom winced as she heard them.
“Daddy, can you believe we didn’t even need our Halloween baskets?”
We tried to encourage him as he’d helped us, but he was a stubborn Jack-o-lantern candy basket.
Our environment did little to strengthen my Dad’s spirits. Us baskets lived near a window, under a rhinoceros-sized tankless water heater, next to a basket full of cleaning supplies.
Anyone living motionless in a garage will tell you the key to a comfortable home is location. Unfortunately for my Dad, the portion of our home where he resided was in direct sunlight and nearest the cleaning supplies.
We weren’t aware of a problem until Thanksgiving when the owner placed a half-open bottle of Draino Max next to my Dad.
From watching him, we discovered that inhaling its fumes got you high. The other baskets noticed he had taken quite a liking to drugs, and one of the Easter baskets told us a horror story about a decorative Marti Gras basket that got so strung out her glue, which attached the decorative beads onto her handle, melted off. We asked my Dad to take it easy, but it wasn’t up to him.
The Draino Max permanently altered my Dad’s appearance, and by Valentine’s Day, when it was finally removed, some of the black paint of his triangular nose had appeared to be smeared off.
And the heat of that summer was ruthless. It was warmer than the previous year’s summer, which, the other baskets explained, was similar to what they’d seen every year, and we all suffered some sun damage, but my Dad got it the worst because half of his body was in direct sunlight for most of the day. By the fourth of July, the constant, unrelenting heat had warped his plastic so that his right eye pulled upward and had a strange bubble in it. My Mom and I tried in vain to tell him that he looked great or that we didn’t even notice it, but our attempts at encouragement did little to delay his decline.
When our season finally came again, we wondered whether or not he would live long enough to experience another Halloween.
We told him it was coming, and the weather had changed, but he still didn’t believe us. He told us he didn’t believe anything anymore.
The other baskets were so kind during this period, and they tried to cheer my Dad up too, but his health continued to worsen.
When I looked at my Dad, he was listless, but I hoped that he got to see one more Halloween; it seemed that the world owed it to him in some way. I can’t blame my Dad for his faults because he’s a candy basket; he was born that way. It’s a shame that he couldn’t maintain his mental in the garage, but I still felt he deserved to experience the best day of his life one more time.
On Halloween, the owner’s wife and children burst into the garage dressed like superheroes.
The owner’s wife asked him, “Where are they, honey?”
“I know exactly where they are,” the eldest daughter said, speeding past her mother toward us.
Her sister was right behind her, shouting, “I know where they are too!”
They scooped us up with the same loving excitement they did on the first night we met them.
My Dad’s left side was warped, and his nose paint was smeared. He probably expected to be rejected.
But then our owner walked into the garage, picked up my Dad, and said, “I think I got the best one!”
I heard our neighbor baskets cheering us on, and my Mom and I watched in gratitude as our owner led the way outside of the garage one last time.
After the candy was poured out of us, while we watched the children count their treasure and our owner and his wife indulge in an assortment of tiny chocolate bars, my Dad smiled at us. We had had the best Halloween ever. With the bit of energy he had left, he told us he loved us, and he said he was proud of us for being strong. He told us to keep living. We would have wept if we weren’t plastic.
The following day, with a cup of coffee in his hand, our owner returned us to the garage, with my Dad next to us just as before. Except, my Dad was dead. He had passed away after experiencing his last Halloween, which was great because he got to do the only thing he loved doing one last time; it was just a bummer that he had to stay by our side until the spring cleaning that happened in April.
My Dad was a mean orange thing, but he was also my Dad, and I’ve come to terms with his death. We are candy baskets; we’re built specifically for Halloween, and that only happens once a year, so the weight of abandonment we feel on the other days can be tough. We were taught to believe that we needed Halloween to be valuable, but I’m starting to think that’s false. They say a man dies when he loses his dream, and I don’t deny it. But what I’m saying is that maybe it doesn’t need to be a holiday for it to be Heaven.