Janet Sheridan: Don't invite me to your party

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— I was once invited to an adult costume party where guests were expected to dress as their worst nightmare. I broke out in hives. Such a party is my worst nightmare.

I react to wearing costumes like a dog reacts to fireworks: I howl and hide.

My phobia began with my 1st-grade teacher, Mrs. Halliday, who dressed up for our community Halloween party as a shepherd. She wore a brown bathrobe, pulled its hood over her head, and carried a bamboo fishing pole as her staff. It was probably the best she could do after rushing home to spend hours grading our papers, as surely she did.

When garbing herself, Mrs. Halliday didn't realize that Virginia Nelson and I had recently discovered the specter of death in a battered encyclopedia in the school library. Though we couldn't read the text, we fell into open-mouthed horror at the sketches of a gaunt, skull-headed creature wearing a hooded robe and carrying a scythe. This fiend presided over anguished deaths - and looked a lot like our tall, costumed teacher.

When Mrs. Halliday approached us in the gym, Virginia and I clung to the legs of our embarrassed parents, shrieked at top volume, and prepared to die.

The transformation of my teacher into the grim reaper ruined my relationship with dress-up. But I had to wear costumes. That's what children do for Halloween.

In 2nd grade, Mom, trying to lighten the mood, concocted a clown costume for me. As part of the get-up, I wore pants from my brother's outgrown pajamas, gathered and ruffled at the ankle, and safety-pinned at the waist for fit.

All went well at the party until, after repeated visits to the homemade root beer stand, I went to the restroom.

I could not squeeze the safety pin, wedged with folds of fabric, tight enough to release it. I spent several long minutes jiggling up and down, working on the pin, and muttering Dad's favorite words, before the inevitable happened.

I spent the rest of the party elbowing friends who wondered why I was wearing my coat.

In 4th grade, Mrs. Thomas announced a contest to see whose costume camouflaged them so well their fellow students wouldn't recognize them. I dressed as a witch, because wearing a mask I made from a paper sack, a wig Mom made from a mop dyed black, and Aunt Mary's mothball-smelling, black-velvet prom dress stuffed with pillows, guaranteed a win.

I was the first person eliminated. I had forgotten I was a head taller than all of my classmates.

Things didn't improve in 5th grade. I decided to take advantage of my height and wear a costume no one else could duplicate. I would go as a tree, a towering tree, graced by fall foliage.

Mom accepted the challenge. She used gunnysacks to create a loose-fitting trunk to wear over my body. She cut a knothole opening for my face and sewed a tipsy fabric owl on top of my head. My arms served as branches. I spent an evening cutting leaves from construction paper and stapling them to my gunnysack sleeves.

When it was time for the costume parade, I stood tall and waved my branches about, hooting like an owl, hoping I'd win. To my jump-up-and-down joy, I did.

For the rest of the evening, I paid for my victory.

Two 7th-grade hoodlums, Nicky Clayson and Bomber White, followed me everywhere, towing a 1st-grader dressed as a dachshund, commanding: "Hey, Davey, go pee on that tree."

To this day, I don't do well with costumes. I admire those who do - but I will not be joining them.

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