“Why do you go trick-or-treating if you can’t eat the candy?”
I still remember being asked that in second grade when I wrote that Halloween was my favorite holiday. “Because … well … I don’t know,” I finally replied, tapping a pencil against my desk. It was a very good question.
For me, growing up in the early ’90s with type 1 diabetes was a far greater struggle than it is today. That was pre-insulin pump, pre-continuous glucose sensor, pre-carb counting. When I was told to eat no sugar, I obeyed. So why did I enjoy spending a dark October night filling a bag with treats that I couldn’t even eat? At the age of 7, I shrugged the question off. Now, many years later, I finally have an answer.
I think of myself as a child, and I recall the thrill of picking out a costume with my mother at the local Party City. I think of decorating our house, of stretching artificial cobwebs across the shrubs and making ghosts out of tattered sheets and newspapers. I think of my older sister, Christine, reading me scary stories with a flashlight in the weeks leading up to Halloween night. I think of my father staying behind on the sidewalk, whispering “don’t forget to say thank you” as I approached a porch, pressed the doorbell, and shouted, “Trick or treat!” I think of comparing hauls with my brother, Mark, and how we would compete over who ended up with the most spider rings.
I think of the pumpkin carving, the chill in the air, and the crumpled autumn leaves blowing down 39th Avenue. Although I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, those were the details that made me fall in love with Halloween. It wasn’t the candy. It wasn’t the sugar.
Type 1 diabetes, like the scary stories my sister read to me, can be frightening, oppressive, and all-consuming. But it can also be a blessing—a literal and figurative mix of highs and lows. I learned at a very young age that the pleasures of life don’t arise from material objects, but instead from the people we choose to spend our time with. I learned to appreciate family, friends, and laughs, and to realize that, in the end, the candy isn’t everything.
Matt Paczkowski is a writer from Long Island, New York, with a master’s degree in fiction writing from Hofstra University. He has been living with type 1 diabetes for more than 20 years.