Tiny Dancer | The New Engagement

Tiny Dancer: Page 2 of 3

By Nicole Goodwin
Tiny Dancer essay art

Most like most kids in poor neighborhoods we were zoned. Zone schools create “legacy kids.” Depending on how long you live in a place and how large your family was a teacher in New York City can work—up to 30 years and have taught generations of family members as children, that is if they survived the public school system including its teachers, the parents, the bureaucracy and of course other teachers who don’t want to be there either.  I think the eighties in fact was the last decade of the “legacies” as a norm. So in fact, I was Goodwin #3. The first being my attractive—but dumb molesting brother. Who till this day set the standard for me not being attracted to anyone I think is dumb. I don’t care how amazing you fucking look, you can’t be stupid and get this pussy. It ain’t happening with me. I stand by that practice. But I am kinder. Most “stupid” people have the big hearts. It’s a regular conundrum of Homer Simpsons. The universe is nothing save ironic.

In legacy families or any families with numerous kids we were forced to protect each other. To be together all the time. Till this day a lot of inner city kids say hang with their siblings as friends. I’m not saying its just an inner city thing—it more like a village mentality thing. And this went the same for me except one thing: I was the youngest sibling. Even though I was the tallest, the most endowed in the household once I was hit with the puberty bomb at age eleven, even when I was sticking out like a fucking sore thumb I was the youngest. Meaning I got the hand-me-down clothes, and the worst end of everything, and since I was a girl—who was already molested I was to be protected at all times. Because I was a mouse. I was a weak, little girl who couldn’t protect herself. But this form of protection was two pronged. It was also a wall of resentment and shame; because in a world full of rats, if you’re a mouse you’re hated. You either follow the flock or get mowed down. And those that mow you down aren’t usually strangers—they’re your family because New York City was the biggest rat race back then. Seriously, that is how they referred to living here. In order to survive you had to learn how to keep on your feet. And never be slower than the next rat. You had to pull your own weight. And keep up.

How does this deal with me seeing my first erect penis? Well, I broke the rules. I headed to school by myself. As a mouse I left the flock. And well, I was punished for it. So this guy on that grey day whispers to me “Sppppphhhhtt… Sppppphhhtttt hey kid, come ‘er.” And I said, “What do you want Mista?”

“Come’er, I got somethin’ to show ya?”

Now my mother said my curiosity was the worst thing about me. I have to agree in some ways. I till this day cannot resist secrets. Mysteries. The most wonderful thing about growing up in New York City and living here—till this day, is that no matter what corner you turn something could be happening. And that something could be anything. This city for me is a world full of possibility and chances. At my heart of hearts I am an adventure; I am a gambler. And what greater thing to bet with than your life? But I have to say, this type of betting ain’t for the faint of heart. It’s the big risk. One of the biggest there is. And if you lose, you lose everything. But what did I know back then. I was just “8” and born with an insane amount of curiosity. So I went to the guy.

Now in my defense, I was curious—but not completely stupid. I didn’t actually go up right to the guy. He went into the door way of this abandoned building, there were so many back then. And I remember how my mother and the news always reported some dead body was found in some abandoned building every day. But that was life in Brooklyn that was so common that every time no matter how it happened it was the victim’s or victims’ fault. Why because they didn’t “follow the rules.” The number one rule of the rat race follow the other rats, but also outrun them as fast as you can. Because if a rat or rats become hungry enough they’ll eat anything—including each other. Welcome to my New York City.

They guy turned around. He looked like a heavy set dude (which is a much kinder way of saying “fat” as a complement. Because when you’re heavy set your body is “meant” to be fat. And when you are meant to be something you were it well. And he was wearing a bubble jacket, meaning I didn’t KNOW what he was doing when he turned around). All I heard was giggling. Creepy, low murmured chucking. No more like the sound between a whispered cackle and a muffled chuckle. So he finally turned around and there it was. His brown penis. His brown somewhat hot-dogged shaped frankfurter penis. His pants zipper down, and his fucking smiling face like the Cheshire cat telling me to suck it.  (You motherfucker…I hate you ‘till this day I fucking hate you. I don’t know you’re name, if you’re dead or alive. Or even where you live or if you have family or not. But I will go to my motherfucking grave hating you I swear it.)

He didn’t get me though. I ran away. I feel like I was screaming, but I don’t remember actually screaming. I remember saying something like “I…I gotta go. I’m on my way to school.” I don’t think I ever ran that fast in my life. I ran so fast that when I stopped or slowed to a walk, a friend caught up to me. His hand touched my shoulder scaring the shit out of me.

“Hey Nicole!”

“Oh shit! Oh…oh it’s you.”

His face changed when he looked at me. I suppose he saw something was wrong. That look he gave me. Made me feel safe. But I didn’t tell him what happened I never told anyone. I knew what happened was because I chose to break the rules. In truth I couldn’t stand it when I was reprimanded for being who I was. My mother said that I never had “common sense.” Her favorite statement when reprimanding me was: Well common sense will tell you…blah blah blah. Till this day, I am surrounded by people who love me, but they aren’t like me. They don’t think like me. They have been beaten into common sense. And when you have “common sense” it is not too common to dream. Dreamer think with their hearts, and venture out into the world. I cannot say that I am a dreamer or a proponent of common sense—I’m a strange hybrid between the two. But that’s another story about me entirely. 

Another reason is stranger than the surface reason. It’s the secret reason. I got tired of people feeling they “needed to save the baby.” I have a queer heart (no pun). I am lionhearted. Meaning I like to fight. I like to fight in the heat of the moment. I like the danger and the thrill of fighting my way out of it. I love the battle, the feel of Thunderdome. Two men enter, one shall leave! It’s because in the midst of all that danger, and fury and hell the warrior fights. And she fights not for the future and not to escape the past. Not for the accolades or the prize—it is because in that moment there is nothing else. No lies, no liars. No one to tell you no or that your instincts are wrong. If you make a mistake, if you misstep, is you mishap then you better be quick on your feet. Or your death. You either win or you lose. And in truth, survival mode the only thing that matters if your next breath or your last. To do that you must vanquish and crush all that oppose your existence (Did I mention I am a huge fan of Conan the Barbarian stories?) I don’t know where this bloodlust came from within me—but it too is me. And it has carried me through many things, and brought me to the doorstep of many different places. Some were wonderful. Absolutely, delightful and bountiful. Some of those places, however I am not proud of. Some of those places still haunt me. But those are other tales for other days. But even with my remorse and my one great regret called of being in the O.I.F war—I wouldn’t trade my lion-heartness for the world. I wouldn’t at all. Because it’s me taking control and responsibility of my life. It’s me shaping my world and choosing my destiny. And learning always learning from my mistakes. And no matter how heavy that load is, I’m gonna carry it. Because my experiences have made me who I am too. And if I trade that in, then I’d be selling myself out. And I refuse to do that. I will never try to fit into the rat race mold and category of “common sense” thinking again.

But underneath all that fury, all that lionheartedness I still wanted someone to save me from well my life. And myself a little bit. I fought all the time. And even though it was my nature, I am human and I need love. I get tired of feeling that I fight alone. Back then especially. Being a black girl you are told from jump that your life matters to no one. That no one is coming to save you. That you aren’t worth saving. And the darker or more African you look is just a reminder that you aren’t valuable enough for someone to risk their life for you. But at that moment, when that boy who was my friend looked scared and wanted to know what’s wrong I felt like I did matter. And even though I discovered how capable I was by getting away, it was nice or rather kind of the universe to let me know that I actually did matter. That the world was wrong, that my life did mean something to someone. That I was special—even just a little. Even if it was this one kid at that one moment. I didn’t want to lose that feeling. So I said nothing was wrong. But together we both walked our way to school. And that kindness till this day does my heart good. Kindness in the world to those who need it most. I may not be the nicest person—and I of that I am so fucking proud. But in this wayward world I am still kind. I am still kind.

Kindness is a strange, peculiar beast in a city like that was back then. It takes many forms. Hope is the weirdest form of kindness I have ever known in my life. I can’t understand it for the life of me. No one can; because it’s so indirect. Hope creates dreams—dreams create and recreate reality. Dreams tell the story behind the story and define us in was unimaginable. Dreams are the voice and the language of the heart. And only the heart can interpreter and translate the unimaginable into the real. Dreams are the bridge between the heart, the mind, the body and the soul. So when I say this you’ll finally understand. My dream, my first dream I ever had in my entire life wasn’t something I was groomed for. It wasn’t programed into me like being an astronaut or a scientist was. It wasn’t what my mother wanted for me (she wanted me to be a lawyer for the longest, “’Cause ya speaks well!” It’s a black southern mother’s pride and joy for at least one of her children to talk just like a white person. That doesn’t mean she loved me, it just means that I was just her best pony and I had a chance of winning the biggest pot in the horse and pony show. That’s all.)

Nicole Goodwin is the author of Warcries, as well as the 2013-2014 Queer Art Mentorship Queer Art Literary Fellow, as well as the winner of The Fresh Fruit Festival’s 2013 Award for Performance Poetry. She published the articles “Talking with My Daughter…” and “Why is this Happening in Your Life…” (Personal essay/Review for award-winning documentary Tough Love) in the New York Times’ parentblog Motherlode. Additionally, her work "Desert Flowers" was shortlisted and selected for performance by the Women Playwriting International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

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