The happiest day of my life was March 4, 1988. I was six years old and my little sister was born. I was very excited for her to be kidnapped by goblins.
See, I was a big fan of the movie Labyrinth. The first time I saw it a few years prior, I watched only a little bit; sitting on the carpet at my grandparents’ beside the plastery white fireplace hearth (never used as a real fireplace in my lifetime, only as a cavern of impossible depth that housed a mysterious, dusty plastic potted foliage), I knew it was serious because it was on HBO, a network that with its starfield logo and super-serious music proclaimed that everything on it was a Big Deal, highly sophisticated and adult.
All I caught at the time before my parents took me home post-dinner was the part where Sarah has to cross the Bog of Eternal Stench and nearly falls in – and I was properly terrified. Like, kept up at night terrified, a wide-eyed and sheet-clutching adverse reaction. Which meant, of course, I had to see the whole thing.
Because as a kid I loved to horrify myself. I used to lie awake and think about people I loved dying so that I could feel that precious melodramatic tension in my chest and shed real tears. A story on the front cover of TV Guide about AIDS in the early 80s didn’t enlighten me as to what the illness was, but the stark typeface and pained expression of an African child let me know that it was a Big Deal, and so I pretended my stuffed dog, Muppy, got AIDS so that I could gather all the other stuffed animals and we could cry about it.
My imaginary friends at the age of four or five were Cheetara from Thundercats and General Scarlett from G.I. Joe. But because I never nurtured more than one fictional companion at a time, whenever I wanted to switch, the active lady would have to die, and I, wringing a damp tissue, would need to grieve her beside a lump of moss in the backyard that sufficiently resembled a grave to me. But the funereal day would be eased, time and time again, by the totally unexpected resurrection of whichever friend had died before – I’d look up from my mourning, “Cheetara! It’s a miracle! You’re alive!!” Like ten times.
So because in the face of my play-cartoons my glimpse of the relatively-adult Labyrinth put the fear of God in me, I of course had to own it, and so some adult must have made a present of the VHS tape for me, because for a period in my young life I viewed it on the daily. I hadn’t wore a tape out like that since the Japanese anime version of The Little Mermaid where she really dies at the end (paroxysms of grief every time, of course).
But despite its dark moments – monsters steal a baby! Disembodied hands throw a teenage girl in a dark hole! Stoic boulders speak forbidding warnings with mist drifting from their mouths right before Sarah’s nearly gnawed-up by a giant ambulating can-opener! Labyrinth is actually a dreamlike, hopeful story. Especially for weird girls like me.
Not that I knew it at the time. After school, my first-grade best friend Ashlie and I would settle in to watch Labyrinth together frequently. I preferred that far more than what Ashlie, who had a “cool” older sister in high school, wanted to watch – I mean, she was into Cocktail with Tom Cruise, which I patently did not get, and I didn’t enjoy trying on her mother’s high heels and dancing to the Cocktail tape at five or six years old. What kind of first-grader would?
Well. Ashlie was kind of odd. She liked Labyrinth for one reason: Bowie’s bulge. That’s not an unusual reason, of course, but she used to pause it at the part when he was wearing the white owl suit with the especially flimsy pants and point it out, whispering about it with uncomfortable proximity to the shell of my ear. Then she would make out with the door of her bedroom closet and pretend it was Jareth The Goblin King. Sometimes she’d go inside it for a bit while I sat in her room and played with her stuff. Y’know, whatever.