Sexy Pineapple. Sexy Mr. Peanut. Sexy Day of the Dead ghoul. For the woman who finds cats and bunnies to be just a little too on-the-fur-covered nose, there are plenty of alternative options for seductive Halloween costumes. Well, almost endless. I call dibs on the Sexy Peacock. And not for the first time, either. This Halloween marks the 10th anniversary of my dressing up as an iridescently plumed, ill-tempered male bird. You heard me. Ten.
It started, as many things do, from a place of lazy desperation. I had just moved apartments in New York when Halloween came, and I didn't know which clothing was in which box. I had never bought into the need for a "sexy" costume before, generally preferring to duct-tape plastic animals to a sweatshirt, paint my face in stripes and dub myself a "zoo." But that evening I could locate only one box of clothing (note to self: label things?), and in that box was a long, shimmery blue skirt and a short purple bridesmaid's dress. I purchased feathers at a party-supply store around the corner, rimmed my eyes in colored pencil, and presto: peacock. Not too shabby.
When I arrived at a party that year, my friends were dressed with similar degrees of effort. A perfunctory professor. A weak witch. A slightly sloppy surfer. We were all in our mid-20s, a time when costuming efforts are tempered in favor of drinking efforts. You're a bit too old to spend weeks prepping yourself for Halloween and a bit too young to be staying up all night, glue-gunning rhinestones onto a toddler's wings.
"You look like a hooker from Deadwood," my friend, the half-assed hippo, diagnosed me.
"Is that bad?"
"Depends," he shrugged.
"On if you're OK with looking like a hooker from Deadwood."
Reader, I was OK with it. For an adult, Halloween can be rough on the fairer sex. There are two streams of costume pressure: attractive and ironic. And barring dressing as a Sexy Ghostbuster, it can be challenging to cross the streams. For me, the peacock hit the right note between alluring and ridiculous. It's classic but not common, qualifying as sexy without having to resort to ears. So each year my costume would grow in complexity, the way one collects ornaments for a Christmas tree. At this very moment, the top shelf of my closet is host to an array of peafowl accouterments: a pair of green satin ballroom gloves, a belt covered in feathers, and a fascinator piled high with purple tulle. There's even a pointy black beak with an elastic strap.
But recently I have begun to notice the intangible price I pay for my perpetual peacock. This started about four years ago, when I was walking home alone and my fake bird lashes began to irritate me. I stopped to examine my eye in the reflective surface of a drugstore window. My sister and her fiancé happened to be coming down the street at the exact moment I was leaning into my reflection, dressed as a giant purple-and-green bird.
"Look at this weirdo," my sister said, nudging my future brother-in-law.
"Yeah," he replied, "I'm pretty sure that's your sister."
What should have been nothing more than a funny coincidence had me genuinely embarrassed. I began to question the very nature of the peacock, wondering if the bird isn't an increasingly pronounced symbol of the life I'm not living. The perfunctory professor and the weak witch? They are married, living several states away, and have just given birth to their third child. The slightly sloppy surfer cleaned up her act, got a business-school degree, and just bought a house outside London. And me? I am still dressing in the same costume as I did when I was 26. That tulle headdress has grown awfully tight, little emblem of inertia that it is.
I get the sense that, to my friends, the disconnect between our lives is one of stability vs. glamour. They change diapers; I rotate feathers. I almost missed last Halloween because I was in France, doing research for my first novel, The Clasp. It's a comedic love triangle that morphs into a caper about a missing French necklace. The characters find themselves in Normandy for the second half of the story so, for research, I spent weeks living in an actual chateau. Granted, the shower only ran cold and the mattress felt made of oak, but still…not too shabby. The Halloween before that, I attended a party with my boyfriend, and we stayed out all night because there were no babysitters to be relieved. The Halloween before that I don't recall, but in the best possible way. And yet? Well, what is the average life span of a peacock?
It's not that my more traditionally "settled" friends have it good and I have it bad, or vice versa. A life is a life, and we are all happy and unhappy in mostly equal measure. It's that our days have become different to the point of being foreign, and every Halloween puts a fine point on the gap. While they're sliding ladybug and bumble-bee sleeves over newborn arms, I am pulling satin gloves over my own. How can I not wonder if the peacock is still who I am? If it is, great. Here's to another decade of tail feathers. But if it's not—and I suspect it's not—I am in my mid-30s and still dressing up as a practically flightless bird, a creature that can flutter and jump but can't actually go anywhere.
Therefore I have decided that this year is the final flight of the peacock. It took me the better part of a decade to realize it, but I have been obscuring the peacock's lazy origins by piling new accessories onto the same idea. The costume is a placeholder for significant decision-making, a gesture that says, "I'll think about the direction my life is going some other time, but for now? Watch the birdie!"
There are people I know, acquaintances, who reflexively ask when I'm getting married or why I still pay rent or when I'll be having my own kids to cram into bug costumes. These are people who do little to disguise their shock that I just came from a restaurant they haven't been to in ages, that I am still going there. That I still leave the house on October 31. These comments used to irritate me. They used to strike me as judgmental and presumptuous, and they probably are, but they don't bother me anymore. Because it's up to me to abandon my year-round peacocking ways on my own time. And if someday soon I decide to narrow the gap between our lifestyles, to take some of life's bigger leaps, I know it will still be me doing it—a stray bit of feather lodged somewhere in my hair.