For my third Halloween, I dressed up as a clown. It was one of those cheap dimestore getups that reek of vinyl that somehow attracts a child and repulses the nostrils of anyone over the age of 10. There was a crinkly plastic smock that covered my petite frame, painted crudely with giant buttons and garish colors and all of the other perversely cheesy attributes of a clown. The mask was fragile, with the rubber band breaking the very first time my mom slipped it over my freckled face. She mended it with a bit of motherly magic before we headed to the kids’ Halloween party at the neighborhood recreation center at the park.
I don’t remember much about that night, to be honest. I don’t remember the decorations, or the other kids’ costumes, or even the candy, which I assume there was copious amounts of everywhere.
What I do remember is the little boy. Jose or Juan, his name I can’t recall for sure. I don’t remember his face, or if he was even wearing a costume. What I do remember are his dirty little boy hands. They were small and brown and the fingernails were crusted with grime. They pushed my tiny body down to the ground.
The next thing I remember is the shock of being on the ground and the pain and the immediate waterworks that only a kid can turn on. The injuries didn’t amount to much, just a couple of skinned, bloody elbows where the vinyl costume didn’t offer much protection. My mother scolded the little ruffian as he fled, while she gingerly picked the gravel out of the modest wounds and dried my eyes. The incident put me in a fussy mood that no amount of Halloween candy could soothe, so my mom brought me home soon after and put me to bed.
And that might have been that. Except my father, coming home from the swing shift that night, sweaty and tired, with muscles aching from lifting heavy boxes all day, asked how our day had gone.
“Well, tonight was the Halloween party,” my mom ventured.
“Oh yeah, how was it,“ my Dad asked absent-mindedly, shoveling a forkful of a Salisbury steak Hungry Man dinner into his mouth as he flipped through the newspaper.
My mom hesitated. They had only been married for six years, but she thought she knew my Dad pretty well by now. He generally took a back seat to household affairs, but she had seen flashes of that Irish temper. “Well, there was this little boy at the party that pushed Joy down,” she said quietly.
Dad’s emerald eyes caught fire. “Pushed her down? Why?” His chin was already tensing up.
Mom sighed. “I don’t know, he just did. He was just a little bully, I guess.”
“Did he hurt Joy-Kim,” Dad asked cautiously, invoking my first and middle name, just like everyone on his side of the family did.
“She’s fine. A couple of skinned elbows. She’ll have forgotten it by tomorrow,” Mom said to placate him.
But Dad did not forget. As he sipped his nightly beer, the angrier he became. No little twerp was going to injure his daughter without punishment.
The next day, he left early for work. Mom didn’t think much about it, busy with household chores and the taxing duties of taking care of a three-year-old kid. Dad went down to the recreation center where the Halloween party had taken place. With his Irish charm, he coaxed the name of the little bully out of the pre-K teacher. With a little more coaxing, he got his address. The teacher assured my dad that the little boy would not be welcome back into the program, but my dad had his own version of justice in his mind.
That night, Dad came home from work at his usual time. I had been put to bed a few hours before. He peeked in at my sweet, slumbering form before setting down at the dinner table.
My mom had cooked up one of my dad’s favorite dishes: halibut. He savored a couple of pieces, his muscles unknotting slowly but surely. Then he said, as casually as he could, “I took care of it.”
“Took care of what,” my mom inquired absent-mindedly, while washing up some dishes.
“The boy. The boy who hurt Joy-Kim.”
A dark cloud formed in my mom’s mind. “What did you do,” she asked suspiciously.
“I went to the park and asked for the boy’s name and address. Then I paid his parents a surprise visit. And boy, were they ever surprised to see me on their doorstep,” Dad chuckled darkly. “I told his mother what happened, while the little whipper-snapper hid behind his mother’s skirts,” my dad spit out with disdain.
With further venom, he added, “I asked to speak to his father, but the mother said he doesn’t speak English.”
“Anyways,” my dad said cockily, “I don’t think that little boy will bother Joy-Kim anymore.” And with that, he drained his Guinness in a healthy swallow and released a satisfying, well-earned belch.
And dad was right, I never had to deal with that pint-sized bully again. And I’ll never forget what dad did for me.