Thursday, April 03, 2008

twelve

So you might have heard about this. An all-nude club in Dallas employed a twelve-year-old runaway as a dancer for about two weeks last November. The story was in the Dallas Morning News, and all over the internet, for those of us who follow adult biz news.

The girl told police she was given shelter by a 27-year-old dancer and her boyfriend. Dancer and boyfriend took the 12-year-old to Diamonds Cabaret, where she told managers she was 19. She got the job despite having no I.D. and despite claiming to have forgotten the year she was born. On her first day she made $100.

That's not a lot of money for a stripper, but it is a lot for a 12-year-old. Her mother told reporters that the girl had "the body of a 20-year-old."

I don't know what was going on at that little girl's house, or why she ran away. Everything in the world seems wrong with a sixth-grader naked in a Dallas strip club, but I can't tell you for sure that she was worse off there than at home. I mean, I sure hope so.

I think about myself at twelve, with breasts like lumps of unkneaded dough, puffy child's face and birds-nest hair. Paisley jumpsuits and neon socks. (It was the 80's.) I think of how I barely knew my body. It was unmapped terrain, a vast continent I had not begun to push into.

That year, sixth-grade, I had a fierce, sudden desire to shove my classmate David Wilkiss into a corner by the gym doors and kiss him on the mouth. Later, I thought about that urge and felt sick. Grown men were out of my stratosphere. My prinicipal stopped me in the hall one day to give me a compliment about something or other and I burst into tears because he was so tall I had to crane my neck up to see his face, and that made me scared.

I would not even start masturbating for another year. The first time I found one of my father's magazines on top of the bathroom cabinet I read it cover for cover and then went out and hid in the wood behind the house for the rest of the day, grieving for the weakness of humanity and the evils of the flesh.

I do not know if that 12-year-old in Dallas was anything like my 12-year-old self. Some of my friends by 12 were having sex, doing drugs, going to nightclubs with grown men and women. I can't say for sure if they were a different kind of 12-year-old than me, matured somehow by experience, or if they merely carried the magic thinking and fuzzy logic of childhood into a strange, grown-up world.

I don't know what that girl had seen or felt or thought or done before she ran away. I know a lot more about what her life was like after. I can say for sure that the club was dark, and that it smelled of damp carpet and upholstery saturated with 15 years-worth of cigarette smoke and sour bodily excretions, and blizted over with a hundred cheap body sprays supposed to smell like vanilla and tropical flowers. I know that the customers sat against the wall -- heavy-lidded, impassive, impenetrable. I know the other girls walked past her in a sweep of sheer fabric and high-heels and straight-ahead stares.

I hope she wasn't scared. The adult world is scary enough when you're a kid -- with its rules you didn't make, its ambiguous impulses -- scary enough even with all your clothes on. Strip clubs are pretty rotten places to be scared. There is less sympathy than irritation. Less pity than unwillingness to see. No one will sit you down, cover your poor nakedness with blanket, give you something to eat and drink, protect you like children need and deserve to be protected. reassure you of the decency of the world and most of the people in it. Make anybody uncomfortable with your big eyes and your unripe legs and your basic ignorance about the world and they will stare right through you as though they could erase you with an act of will. So I hope she wasn't scared.

I was scared the first time I danced, at almost twice her age. I was scared to death. After my first day I went home and cried for no reason I could have explained to anybody. The weakness of humanity again, maybe, and this time I was a part of what I grieved for.

If being naked in a dark room full of ambiguous strangers was anything near as scary for her at 12 as it was for me at 23, then I don't know what was happening to her at home. Because somehow or other, she preferred the club. A hundred dollars is a lot of money when you're twelve. Jobs of any kind are pretty hard to get.I hope she's better off wherever she is now. I hope she'll grow up big and strong and well-adjusted. I hope stripping wasn't the best option she had. If it was, then all us who made the rules of this game, all of us who could extend our sympathy and do not, all of us who could help and instead pretend not to see, all of us are either going to hell or already there.

13 comments:

Jason said...

A lot of 12 year olds today don't look like the 12 year olds of yesterday. However, that club should have been more diligent in letting her in. I'm a 'live and let live' type of person, but in my opinion that club should be shut down for that nonsense. That girl is going to need some counseling. She's already on a destructive path.

Fifty-One-Fifty said...

Unfortunately, I didn't look twelve at twelve, although I was flatchested (still am!). I also didn't have the demeanor of one. So, I attracted the attention of older boys, and men. This fucked me up in the head a bit. This is an experience she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

LiaStarLight said...

Beautiful post, Grace.

Tara said...

I was dancing when I was 13 and it was my best option. It wasn't great, but it wasn't the end of the world or anything.

Anna said...

I didn't see that story, probably didn't come up in the news outlets I follow, though I think it should have.
It's weird that you're posting this today, I reflected on the movie Taxi Driver just a few hours ago. Jodie Foster plays a 12 1/2 year-old in it and she herself was 14 when they shot it.

"and maybe, this time I was a part of what I grieved for" - again one of your magical sentences that shake me up inside. I love your eloquence Grace.

I hope that little girl finds her way in life and that it'll be a good way for her.

And if she ends up anywhere near as cool as Tara, then not all hope is lost, ultimately.

Grace said...

^^Word. I filter everything through my own experience, I guess. At 12, I'd have been better off trying to fly a space ship. Then again, I was pretty sheltered in a lot of ways. I do admire the sheer pluck of someone who's willing to pit themselves against a hostile environment at such a tender age. And if this kid in Dallas turns out anything as cool as Tara, well, hallelujah. We need more Taras around here.

Croaker said...

I've seen 16 a 16 teen year old dancing in a club. No I didn't get a dance from her but I probably would have if someone didn't tell me her age. It is not place for a young girl. It is not a great place for any girl. I think it takes something away.

blogs said...

a similar incident in Toronto several years ago led to dancer licenses administered by the City

William said...

You generate such lovely prose. The writer's muse must dance on your shoulder whispering the lines.

Anna said...

hey Grace, when are you going to write a new post? I check back every day and every day, I leave sad... *whine* I can't get enough of your writing and it's, well, not enough these days! Please post something, anything! I mean, I'm sure even your interpretation of the back of an orange juice carton would be a good read. Pretty please with cherries and chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream on top?

qbert said...

Amen.

meredith said...

you left out the part where they started fingerprinting and background checking us to prevent this from happening again. every dancer in dallas must now register. howzat for backlash? you can read more about it in my article in the just-released edition of $pread ;-)

Grace said...

^^Wow. Yeah, licensing and fingerprinting and registration seem to be the wave of the future. I've heard good arguments for it, but it does seem a little sad to me to watch the fences go up on another frontier. Not to mention that is sounds like a pain in the ass.