Ah, Halloween in Chisasibi! People sure do get into the spirit around here! I love it! Halloween, like many other things during my stay here, has special meaning for me because of the memories of my first stay here. But it is also aquiring new meaning and nuance during my second long-term stay.
Halloween weekend 1998: I’m nearing the end of my first stay in Chisasibi, which will have lasted 3 months. I’ve done the interviews that I needed to do for my master’s research project in anthropology. I’m stressed about leaving because I have no idea how I will get home and a big part of me doesn’t want to leave. I went and fell in love with this town. I’m 25 and foolish and also fell in love with someone here. All it would take would be for this one person in particular to ask me to stay. I sit and wait and hope.
Two nights before Halloween is a Thursday and I go out for a drive with my friend C. We have a few drinks and some pot. When we get back into town, we head to the general store. Before we get a chance to get out of his car, three guys surround us and start shaking the car. I’m buzzed and I’m panicking, my heart is pounding and I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack. I’m not sure if it’s from being high or from being scared. They finally stop and walk away and C. tells me that they’re after him for something. I get out and decide to get home. I walk across the parking lot to the Mitchuap (community centre) and go in to use the washroom to try to calm down. Instead, I get spooked because there is a Halloween activity and I’m surrounded by witches and ghosts and ghouls. In addition, I turn and I see one of the guys from the previous incident and I fear he’s following me. Everyone looks menacing, probably because I’m high.
I leave the Mitchuap and hit the little trail that snakes through the clusters of houses between the town centre and the area where I’m staying. It’s dark but I know the path by heart from having walked it so many times in the past three months. I know where it turns and how. I know when to lift my feet a bit higher because there are tree roots creating a slight obstruction, just enough to trip a person who isn’t looking. I get to the cluster where I live and my friend J’s car is just coming out. He was looking for me to tell me that he found me a ride. A guy he works with is driving down to Ottawa on Saturday, Halloween day. I’m both relieved and devastated. This leaves me one day to say goodbye.
The next day I pack and I walk all around town, silently saying goodbye. That evening I sit and wait. In vain.
And at 4AM, on October 31, 1998, I leave Chisasibi for the first time in my life (there will be other departures, each with it’s own brand of pain). As I sit in the car on the way out of town, it feels like my insides are being pulled out from behind me. The pain is nearly unbearable. But the rest of the ride is pleasant as the gentleman who is driving is very interesting to chat with. We converse about a multitude of topics. He drops me off in Ottawa, his final stop and I wait for a bus to Montreal. At the bus station in Montreal, at about 10PM, I’ve been on the road for 18 hours. I’m physically and emotionally drained and I wait for my partner to pick me up so we can drive back to the Eastern Townships where we live. It feels like I’m waiting forever. It’s surreal, being so worn out that my brain isn’t working properly and being in a big city after being in a small town for 3 months, and being surrounded by creatures of the night because it is Halloween. Finally make it home at some point and I’m not too sure what happened next except that I spent the next several weeks trying to re-adapt to my home.
Halloween weekend 2010: I’m 37 and I’ve been in Chisasibi for about 3 months but, instead of nearing the end of my stay, I’m only nearing the end of the first quarter of my stay. This time, I’m here for a longer haul. In two days, I’ll have been here for longer than I’ve ever been here before. It will be November and I will be here in November . . . for the first time. Waiting for my first winter and spring in Chisasibi to happen. I’m still in love with the town but not so much in that foolish way that I was when I was 25. This time, it’s a deep and easy going love. And this time, there is no one special person that is complicating my relationship to the town.
On Friday, I’m working at the school and I’m surrounded by teachers, staff and students who are in the Halloween spirit. I’m bursting with energy and thinking that I’m sure going to enjoy spending a year with these folks.
On Saturday, the trick or treating happens. It’s October 30 but, for reasons that no one seems quite clear on, the powers that be decided that the trick or treating would be on Saturday instead of on Halloween day. My son and I get ready as it starts to get dark. It’s cold out and we need winter coats. Fortunately, his costume fits over his coat. We head out. There is snow on the ground and it occurs to me that I’ve never seen snow on the ground on Trick or Treating night and I chuckle to myself. It’s going to be an interesting winter!
We trick or treat for about an hour and a half then my son wants to go home. We turn on our Halloween lights so that kids will know to stop by. I see a whole bunch of students that know me from the school. I don’t really recognise them but I hear them whisper to each other: “It’s Jacky!” If this were Montreal, it would squick me that now the students know where I live. But here, that doesn’t matter. Everyone knows where everyone lives. I smile and I think, again, it’s going to be a great year. I’m so glad I’m not leaving tomorrow.