Brevity Fifteen

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I Enjoyed Being a Girl

By Sheyene Foster Heller

Click a tape into the VCR. And play.

As the song begins, a girl in a pink lace dress and white lace gloves sits on the edge of a faded plastic chair in the middle of a high school gymnasium. She and a troupe of a dozen other girls cross their legs, tap their toes, spin and snap fingers in unison. The-girl-in-lace flips when a fella sends her flowers, drools over dresses made of lace, talks on the telephone for hours with a pound-and-a-half of cream upon her face. Or rather, she purses her lips in concentration, repeats these lyrics in her mind, and goes through the motions of her routineójumping, wiggling, following the steps of the girl on her right.

I recognize this song, the way those shrill notes echoed off the gymís white cinder block walls. And the dress seems familiar, layer upon layer of scratchy pink lace, poofy sleeves, and a big pink bow around the waist. Iím you, the-girl-in-lace tells me, with her flushed cheeks and pudgy arms, her frizzy red hair and lack of focus, all reflected through the television screen. Okay, okay, youíre me. But what the hell are you doing? I want to ask her. And why?

The problem was timing. I was always two seconds behind. Or the problem was synchronicity. I spun the opposite direction of everyone else. In short, I was flexible, but unruly, and could never remember any of the routines. I was an instructorís nightmare and an embarrassing troupe-mate, a girl whoíd be better off in cleats or sneakers than dance slippers.

Still, the-girl-in-lace attempts a smile, a nervous toothy grin, and watches the other girls closely, repeating their steps with deliberate effort. She wants to get it right. She wants to catch up. When the song is finally over, she picks up her plastic chair and walks away with the other girls, off screen, out of the gym, beyond this giggly girly universe where she has no friends, and back to her true tomboy self.

I know that Iím no dancer, I say today. I never was. But how can I explain the tights and leotards, the years of leaping and spinning? How can I explain the step-ball-change procession that marched me though childhood and held me in place?

For years, I spun around houses in sequins and tutus, ran circles around all grown-ups, leaped and box-stepped, skipped and twirled. In a way, I was already doing the most spontaneously girly thing imaginable: moving with music. Songs on the radio, tunes on TV, rhythms reverberating in my headósometimes frantic, sometimes cutesy, always just beyond the reach of modesty or control. But I wasnít really dancing. What I was doing was something much more fundamental, beyond routine or cliché. I was relishing what it felt like to be inside my body, expressing the utter joy of movement. These were simple, natural sensationsóthe tensing of calf muscle, the precariousness of balance, the rush of air with each spin. Like many girls, I was exploring the world with my body, making both of them my own. Even in my pudgy stages, the world was covered with soft carpet and green sequins. I floated and touched down and rolled in it allónot like a lady, not like a girly girl, but like some wild, slippery thing.

Organized dance was different. I canít recall a single step without the help of VHS. I have to see the image of myself, the girl-in-lace clopping around with a dozen of her nine-year-old classmates, to actually believe it.

Ten years of organized dance. But why?

As I watch those old video tapes, dubbed by motherís friends who also had dancing daughters, I have absolutely no idea. I do not look happy. I look terrified, biting my lower lip, my arms bent at awkward angles, struggling to sneak scratches at my itchy tights. I also look envious, eyeing the other girls with their glimmering curls, their flawless timing, their gloss-coated smiles. I am not like them, and I know it even then.

I am a cyclone of chiffon, a force which threatens to destruct this world of smooth steps and good posture. I am a vortex, small and imperceptible, feeding myself on mistimed motion and latent heat. Iím no good at playing the girl. Iím a hurricane.


Sheyene Foster Heller earned her MFA through Goucher Collegeís low-residency program in creative nonfiction writing this past August. Heller currently lives in Los Angeles and teaches English and creative writing courses online. She is also finishing her first memoir, Natural Disasters. Selections from this book have been published in W.W. Nortonís In Brief, Brevity, Nebraska Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Pennsylvania English, American Cowboy, and elsewhere. Heller recently was a recipient of the AWP Intro Journals Award in Nonfiction, and the piece selected (based on a chapter of her memoir) is forthcoming in Tampa Review.

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