Haunted: Halloween with friends

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One of the best Halloween nights of my life was also absolutely the worst.

I’ve always loved Halloween. Growing up in the Northeast, the seasonal changes meant any costume was probably not going to keep you warm enough. Entire neighborhoods were filled with strolling cowboys and angels and super heroes, or my personal fallback, the hobo. All of us seeking teeth-rotting and acne-causing rewards. Usually with a sweatshirt under the costume.

Tole-papered home and tree (YouTube)
Tole-papered home and tree (YouTube)

The night before Halloween, at least in New Jersey where I grew up, was always a night of shaving cream, eggs and toilet paper. For some, that might sound like a quick shopping list – but for us, it was an excuse for general disruptiveness, a night of egging houses and cars, shaving cream on windows, and TP’ing people’s trees, cars, front doors, etc. For reasons I cannot understand, this mild mayhem was not only permitted but encouraged. The night before Halloween was called Cabbage Night, or Mischief Night, or as we called it, Hell Night. I read recently where in Michigan and Washington it’s called Devil’s Night. Surprisingly, most of the rest of the country knows little of this tradition.

From a kid’s perspective, I can tell you that’s a crying shame — because those were fun nights! As a homeowner, well, what the hell were our parents thinking?

None of this has anything to do with the night I’m writing about — just a little background to state that I love Halloween. When I became a parent, my ex and I dressed the kids in costume from the time they were born, went trick-or-treating with them when they could walk, continuing until the time it was no longer cool to trick-or-treat with their parents. Even that didn’t stop me from wearing a costume.

Sometimes a few of us would go as a group, dressing as the cast of a TV show. But if I was a solo costume, it was rarely a store-bought. I preferred making my own, either a character I could re-create, or something from the news. Shopping at Goodwill, or looking through the poor fashion choices I had made and hung onto, and deciding what could be done with them. Like a chef opening the pantry and seeing what’s there before deciding what to cook, I could wrangle up a costume, concept or character pretty quickly.

Taylor - MADDCut to six years ago. Last minute decision to attend a Saturday night Halloween party — instead of staying home and handing out candy. Put a bowl full of candy on the front porch, with a note saying, “Happy Halloween! Please take ONE!” And of course, someone did take one — one bowl.

Pulled together a classic “bad guy” wardrobe: black jeans and T-shirt, black leather jacket, shades and a ski cap. Then stuck “Hello My Name Is” labels all over me, filling them out with names of other people I knew would be at the party, or celebrities. When someone asked who I was, I answered: Identity Thief.

Great party at a friend’s house. All adults in costumes, no kids — a fun night of hanging out with other costumed adults. And just a mile from my house — an extra benefit on a crazy night.

I got home a little after midnight, and fell asleep soon after.

And then it came. The phone rang around 4:30 or 5 a.m. It was a close friend, calling to ask me if I could come to the hospital, to be with another close friend, who was in tears, destroyed.

Her 19-year-old niece had been driving a car that was hit by a drunk driver. She and two girlfriends were heading home from a teen dance party. He got on the 101, going the wrong way, and hit her car head on. The hospital did what they could, but a few hours later, she was dead.

Gone. Just like that. Hell Night.

The last time I had seen Taylor was a few month’s before, at her high school graduation party. It was a celebration of what she’d accomplished, but mostly it was a toast to her future. Her entire life lay ahead. She was attending college locally, studying to be an elementary school teacher.


Taylor MADD2Her friends were both injured, but survived. Taylor — an organ donor — also saved three lives that night. But her family and friends were permanently injured that night. There’s a hole in their heart that will never be filled.

The guy who hit her was 26 at the time. He had been at a Halloween party. He was going to stay overnight — but was kicked out, for being too drunk. He later tested at three times the legal limit for alcohol consumption.

As his murder trial was about to start, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and is serving 18 years in prison.

One family’s child in prison, another gone forever.

Six years after the accident, a Taylor tribute page on Facebook still posts frequent remembrances from family and friends, remembering and missing her as each birthday passes, at Christmas, posting favorite songs. There are more at this time of year. A picture showing her as a child carving a pumpkin, captioned with “Taylor loved Halloween!” There are also frequent “Don’t Drink and Drive” posts, or messages from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. There are also statistics — more than 10,000 people died in drunk driving accidents last year; Super Bowl Sunday is the second deadliest holiday for drunk driving accidents, etc.

There’s also a picture of a roadside sign, permanently positioned at the site of the accident, that says “PLEASE Don’t Drink and Drive,” in memory of her.

I pass it several times a week. Sometimes without seeing it. Catching my breath every time I do.

One Facebook post reads “I often wonder what it would be like if you were still here.”

At the driver’s sentencing, Taylor’s father — a big, strong bear of a man who has cried a million tears since that night, told the man: “You’re not going to get a life sentence. We have a life sentence that you gave us.

“You’re going to get out of jail. We’re not, and I hate you for that.”

Gone. Hell Night.

Taylor signHer mother, who lost her only daughter, somehow, has forgiven the driver. “I know my daughter would want me to let go of the anger,” she said at the sentencing. “There’s no recovery from this. There’s only the willingness to find the strength to walk on in life.”

One child gone, everyone else hurt, forever.

The driver’s family is destroyed as well. A young man who reportedly had never been arrested for anything and came from a religious background, this one mistake has forever changed the lives of so many people.

As the father of teenage boys, I’ve learned that even lessons that seem painfully obvious sometimes need to be said aloud. So here it is:

Don’t make the same mistake that guy did. Call a cab. Pay the inflated Uber or Lyft charges for the night. Don’t Drink and Drive.

Enjoy Halloween. Don’t have a Hell Night.

 (All photos from Mike Brennan unless otherwise noted)