I’d like to tell you about Colin Campbell. Colin and I went to school together since kindergarten, third grade being the only time we weren’t in the same class. Up until sixth grade, he was as normal a kid as you’d ever seen. He played sports, had a sizable social circle, and got good grades. His mom had a high-paying job, and he didn’t want for much. He and I were never what I’d call friends, but we were certainly pleasant to one another.
But then came sixth grade at our new place of education, Caldwell Middle School. Homeroom had just ended, and as I was walking to my locker, I spotted Colin. I decided to stop and ask him how his summer was. He didn’t respond, returning my questions with a sullen, disconnected look. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I brushed it off, assuming he was nervous about the transition to middle school.
That same day, the bell rang, and groups of students streamed out of the school. As I exited through the building’s front doors, I spotted a stranger dressed as a medieval knight. Kids were laughing at the rudimentary costume, relentlessly teasing the way preteens do. I overheard people gossiping about how it was Colin who’d been dressed as the knight.
At the end of the following school day, Colin sauntered the halls dressed as a lizard; it was a raggedy homemade costume. The same snickers greeted Collin. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders gawked, pointed, and whispered. Colin ignored them, strolling through the school’s front doors with the same morose visage I’d seen the day before.
The day after that, Colin walked out of a bathroom dressed as a mime, with full face paint and lipstick, gloves, and all. Risking being brutally taunted as well, I jogged up to Colin as he left school and asked him what was up with the costumes. The same expression plastered across his face, he uttered only three words to me: ”I like costumes.”. And with that, he walked away.
School had started on a Wednesday that year, so the weekend came quickly. I was hopeful the time off would bring back some sense to Colin. But sure enough, that Monday, he came to school in a brightly colored bodysuit. I talked to my friends, asking them what the deal was, but they had all gotten the same response from Colin, ”I like costumes.” His action defied all logic, but he wasn’t hurting anyone, so I decided to let it be.
I came to learn that Colin had stopped hanging out with his friends, people he’d been close to since pre-school. He’d at one time been one of the most ‘crushed-on’ boys at Caldwell Elementary, and he knew it, but now he wanted nothing to do with girls. The one girl he had always liked, but also didn’t reciprocate those feelings, eventually asked him if anything was wrong. She got the same answer as the rest of us, “I like costumes.”
For weeks, Colin Campbell would adorn a different costume every day. He was an undead doctor, a rotting banana, a bloody ghost, an old-school gangster, and so much more. All of his costumed were homemade, and it showed.
Colin’s strange behavior lasted until our school’s Halloween dance, which also featured a costume contest. All Colin would talk about was how he would have the best costume and win the content. Everyone still thought it was weird, but they were also intrigued by what he would come up with. Retreating into his own world, Colin was wholly fixated on winning.
The night of the dance came, and Colin was nowhere to be found. The lunchroom had been extravagantly decorated: streamers, massive foam spiders, skeletons hanging from the rafters, animatronic scarecrows with glowing eyes, dangling cobwebs from wall to wall, and paper-mache pumpkins bigger than the real thing. It was rather well-done for a middle school, in retrospect.
One of the chaperones mentioned that Colin had helped them set up for the dance. When I inquired where he’d gone, they shrugged their shoulders and swigged a cup of punch.
The costume contest was held on a small stage at the back of the cafeteria. Behind the makeshift catwalk where the students would show off their costumes, towards the side of the stage that they would walk off, were two folding chairs covered in decorations. A skeleton in a comical “relaxed” position sat in one, and in the other, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow leaned awkwardly to the side.
I watched from the rear of the lunchroom as student after student walked across the stage in all manner of costumed, being judged by the level of applause. I half expected Colin to suddenly show up in some over-the-top costume that would instantly win the contest. He had, after all, been obsessing over this since he’d found out.
But the real surprise happened when a kid named Ben tripped as he was walking off stage, falling into the skeleton and the scarecrow. They crashed to the floor, the pumpkin head shattering on the lunchroom floor. Laughs, almost instantaneously, turned to screams. Students began running out of the cafeteria while the chaperones sprinted in panic towards where Ben had fallen. I couldn’t make out exactly what was happening, but I feared that Ben had been badly injured. Worried for my friend, I pushed to the front of the room.
What I discovered was that the truth was far worse. Stuffed inside the scarecrow that had been propped onto the chair was Colin’s lifeless body. When the pumpkin shattered, his grotesquely swollen face was revealed. Ben had downed an entire bottle of prescription pills, then assumed his place amongst the other Halloween decorations. Taped to his forehead was a crudely written note,
I like costumes. I don’t like me.