My whole world changed when Lizzy Parks invited me to her 6th grade birthday sleepover. Her mother had forced her to invite me, as she had caught me doing Lizzy’s homework for her, and correctly deduced that I was the only reason the girl was passing her classes. Instead of reprimanding her daughter or telling her to cease the behavior, her mother congratulated her on her ingenuity. Her only punishment was that she would have to invite the school lurch to her birthday party. I can’t recall how Lizzy and her minions made me do their homework, except that to this day I have an automatic fear response whenever I catch a whiff of “Cucumber Melon” body spray.
Lizzy was creepily well developed for a 12-year-old, and as a result, she was both reviled and revered by the rest of us peons. I, on the other hand, wore the same ripped jeans and black velvet cardigan every single day. My mother would have to sneak into my room in the dead of night in order to take the items to be laundered, because I preferred to wear it for days on end until I had little cartoon stink lines emanating from my body a la Pig Pen in Peanuts. I hardly ever showered, and when I did, I would hold the conditioner straight above my head and squeeze it until the entire bottle emptied itself onto my impossibly long, scraggly hair. That was the only way to get all the leaves and sticks out of it, you see. It really is a wonder that I wasn’t more popular.
So, Taffy, when Lizzy invited me to her birthday party, I was stunned. As I possessed no social skills beyond being able to type very fast in order to keep myself alive in my text-based RPG world, I had no idea what one did at a sleepover birthday. The idea was too scintillating to think about directly, like the fear of going blind from looking directly into the sun. This was it. I was finally going to be able to graduate from nerd-status to full blown power-nerd, with minions of my own. I was going to be respected at school. People would know my name. I would finally be able to eat lunch without having to keep my eyes darting around the cafeteria like an antelope that has caught the scent of a voracious pack of female lions.
When I arrived at Lizzy’s house, I immediately melted into the background of the sleepover, clutching my pillow to my chest like a shield. I survived the first part of the evening without incident, as Lizzy and her friends were accustomed to treating me like I was invisible, which was perfectly acceptable for me. I just wanted to make it through the night without someone making me wet myself. When the pizza arrived, we all gathered around the huge television set to watch a movie, read magazines, and have heart palpitations about JTT. Lizzy cracked open the Blockbuster VHS case, and I could have sworn that I felt a gentle, warm breeze wash over my body. It was you. You were in that VHS. You were waiting for me.
Mars Attacks! is both disgusting and offensive along almost every spectrum of sane judgment. Furthermore, it wasn’t terribly compelling for me as the science was ridiculous and unfounded. However, I knew that I had to keep watching or else I would have to actually speak with the other girls and reveal my complete lack of knowledge regarding pop culture. Grateful to have something to do that wouldn’t force me to talk, I sat with my eyes fixed on the screen and watched the ever-living shit out of that movie.
But then, you came on the screen.
All the air escaped my lungs and I felt like the world slowed down around me. The inane tittering of the girls behind me faded into silence, and all I could do was watch as your long, straight hair spun around your perfectly beautiful, 12-year-old face. The actress playing you, Natalie Portman, was not even remotely famous at the time. You were not an important character. I would guess that other people who watched the movie hardly rendered an understanding of your existence at the time. But oh, how I rendered it.
Your name was Taffy Dale, and you were the highly improbable offspring of Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close. Mr. Nicholson was playing the role of President Dale. Please forgive me, as I have to take a moment to acknowledge the idiocy of a nation that would elect a president who would name his daughter something like “Taffy.” It doesn’t surprise me that the Martians wanted to destroy your father and everything he stood for. I’m sorry that you had to live your life with a name like that. It’s a good thing you were the president’s daughter, otherwise when it came to getting a job you’d be totally screwed.
The plot of the movie was a blur to me, but I remember that you had such a blase response to the Martians that I fiercely admired your hutzpah. Even after your parents were killed and the nation was thrown into horrible turmoil, with people being evaporated and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head being unceremoniously affixed to the body of a little dog, you remained calm. At first, I tried to convince myself that I just had respect for you, that I liked your style, that I wanted to be you.
But at the end of the movie, as you placed a medal on that jackass who exploded all the brains of the Martians by blasting some yodeling all over the country, I had the most profound epiphany of my life:
I liked you.
My brain began to race uncontrollably. I wanted you to be in sixth grade with me, so I could ask you out on a date and we could hold hands and maybe kiss or something or file taxes together or whatever it was that people in love did. I didn’t really have a grasp on the subject yet. All I knew was that I was a girl and you were a girl and I thought you were cripplingly beautiful and I wanted you to look out from that 2-dimensional TV screen and love me back. Unbidden, visions popped into my head of wedding invitations with “Kit & Taffy” etched across lace in delicate calligraphy. I had never liked anyone before, and I thought it was just because all the boys I knew were going through puberty and had all those upsetting patchy lip hairs. As it turns out, it was because my sexual revolution had not yet occurred.
I was startled back into reality by a pillow smashing me in the face. I was suddenly made painfully aware of all the beautiful girls around me. I liked girls! And I was going to have to sleep next to them! If I made eye contact with any of them they would know my secret! I was overcome with fear and emotion, and promptly clamped my hands over my face. I couldn’t look at them, lest they read my mind and see all of my sinful thoughts. I scrambled to my feet and bolted from the room, stumbling over sleeping bags and being pelted with petty insults on my way out.
I begged Lizzy’s mom to call my mom so she could pick me up and take me home. Sitting in the backseat, leaning my head against the window and watching the stars gently pass by overhead, I was scared… but somehow I was happier than I’d ever been in my short life.
So, I wanted to write this to thank you, Taffy Dale, Natalie Portman’s 12-year-old character in Mars Attacks! You were the subject of my sexual coming-of-age. And even though you’ll always be trapped in that VHS tape, probably in a garbage dump somewhere, you will also always be in my heart.