I have a great deal of anxiety for the pumpkin sitting on my front porch. Not because of it—for it. I think of that pumpkin when I’m turning off the lights in the evening. I think of the pumpkin if I happen to hear an odd sound in the middle of the night. I’ll glance over to the porch, looking for that pumpkin, as I pull out of the driveway in the morning. When I see the pumpkin sitting there safe in the comfort of the early morning light, my anxiety eases, but, in the evening, as the sun begins to set, the cycle begins again.
This pumpkin is the first pumpkin I’ve sat on my front porch since I’ve been in my current house, and I’ve been in this house for thirteen autumns—an auspicious number of autumns. Yet, other than its novelty, it is a run-of-the-mill pumpkin, neither large nor small. It’s a standard orange pumpkin. It’s not even carved. You might be thinking that I have a phobia of jack-o-lanterns, but that is not the case. For the most part, I like pumpkins. I find other people’s jack-o-lanterns whimsical and festive. As for pumpkins in general, they’re great too. I love pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread and most pumpkin-spiced treats. I typically will enjoy a PSL or two each fall season. I am not pumpkin averse. In fact, I have a couple of pumpkins in my kitchen that will be roasted or baked or stewed up into something or the other. Those pumpkins do not cause me any anxiety other than the anxiety of cooking them before they rot on my kitchen counter. But the outdoor pumpkin—the one sitting as an emblem of autumn on my front porch—I’m anxious for that one. My pulse will quicken at the thought of it. I’ll catch myself holding my breath when I scan the front of my house for it. Thinking about it right now, late at night with most of the lights off in the house, is putting me on edge.
Last night was Halloween, and my anxiety for this pumpkin was perhaps at its height. On Halloween strange things may happen. Odd and pernicious behavior takes over the general decorum. Who can say what roams through our neighborhoods in the cold frosty darkness of All Hollows’ Eve? I can. I’ve seen what spirits possessed with ill intent can do. The memory lingers as one of the grand traumas of my youth. The gore of the scene is indelibly etched in my mind’s eye. Guts splattered across the pavement. The tortured sneer of the lifeless face. I had discovered the decimated remains of my first pumpkin. I carved it the day before, my mother set a candle inside of it, and we left it on the porch to be a festive light to those who passed.
I’m not sure how many people can pinpoint the moment when they first knowingly felt contempt for mankind. For me, it was November 1, 1983, and I was three years old. Even to this day, the sight of a smashed pumpkin fills me with anger and sorrow. The pranks that accompany Halloween are trivial and momentary actions for the tricksters—a short thrill and a fleeting laugh. For those who are tricked and pranked, the experience can be far more lasting. Traumatizing. Like seeing a clown for the first time. Even as an adult, I fear for my pumpkin. I know it’s irrational, but, if something were to happen to my front-porch pumpkin, I know I’ll experience anew those childhood emotions. I’ll be reduced to a confused and frightened child. On the other hand, perhaps sharing this story will be cathartic. Maybe it won’t matter if that pumpkin is crushed by some cruel hand. Maybe this new pumpkin means I’ve turned a corner in life. Maybe I’ll finally be able to listen to a Smashing Pumpkins album. Who’s to say?