Still an Elf

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There is something truly magical about Halloween—and I am not referring to ghouls, goblins or foaming, green potions. I am, simply, lauding the fact that Halloween is the one night of the year that we are each invited to stretch our sorely underutilized imaginations and be whatever it is that we want to be.

We can save the world as firefighters or superheroes.

We can be our polar opposites and don the masks of villains.

Or, we can reconnect with the parts of ourselves that we thought were gone, lost when the world turned cold and ugly.

For me, the last few Halloweens have felt a bit like taking a ferry ride on a windy day. I couldn’t find my sea legs; I couldn’t find a costume that really felt like home. I tried ascribing my uneasiness to the fact that I was branching out—replacing my usual elvish and princess costumes with devil horns and sparkly tops. And, yes, the high heels fit, but it didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like me.

One of the hardest parts of cancer survivorship to grasp—and live with—is the way in which it impacts your sense of self, your sense of worth. Even after your hair grows back and the scars begin to pale, it’s hard to see beauty in the mirror. It’s hard to see anything, really, beyond the ghost of bandages and hospital gowns. The eyes that stare back at you cannot see the teenage version of you that dressed up as Arwen from Lord of the Rings. Those eyes no longer belong to the little girl that, for nearly every Halloween, was some version of a princess.

It was with this thought in mind—that I could never be a princess, never be an elf again—that I prepared for this Halloween weekend. I needed a costume, preferably a cheap costume, and yet no matter how many times I searched Pinterest, nothing was really speaking to me.

And, just as the panic was starting to settle in to stay, I found one of my elf ears.

The ear was sitting atop my old desk, inconspicuous among a stack of well-worn books and pens, as if I had simply taken it off and forgotten to put it away. I knew, even as I picked the ear up, that I couldn’t be Arwen. I was missing an ear and, even if Arwen’s silvery dress still fit, there was no way I could step into that role. Arwen was beautiful. She glowed. And what did I look like? What did I do? I had circles under my eyes from not sleeping well and scars from procedures that Arwen’s character would have never even heard of.

No, I couldn’t be Arwen.

But I could be an elf…missing an ear…if I donned a head bandage splattered with faux blood.

It’s silly-sounding, I know, but there was peace in parting my hair and pinning it up like an elf’s. There was something grounding about watching my face transform in the mirror, glowing gold and silver with make-up. There was something empowering about putting on my one ear and covering the other—the missing one—with gauze.

I’m still an elf.

Maybe I can’t be Arwen anymore. Maybe I am tired now and have seen too many ugly things—but I can be the elf that went to battle. I can be banged up and bloodied, and I can still be beautiful.

Because, dear readers, that’s the magic of Halloween. We can be anything we want to be—including ourselves.

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