- Confessions of a Final Girl
I knew death before I knew myself. It lurked in my mother’s bones. It haunted her blood. At night, she squirmed beneath the belly of its blade. A body possessed by illness. In a morphine fog, she awaited its last, and merciful, plunge.
A panicky child, I clutched hope to my chest like a dull and useless weapon. My mother would survive, she would overcome. I fixated on fictional threats: mute, masked men; devil dolls and demons; a silver-tongued boogeyman hiding out in nightmares. I didn’t sleep. Eyes glued to open windows, I searched for the origins of my fright. And when I wasn’t looking, death stole my mother away.
I am fourteen. I am motherless and virtuous. I am one of the quietly bereaved and resilient. One of the caregivers, the do-gooders. The meek, dutiful, and stunningly polite. The Final Girls who give no sign they’ve been scared or defiled. The Final Girls who turn their angel faces toward the fading light because its phony glow compels the rest to endure all the bad things that await them.
Like all Final Girls, I expect death to come creeping in when I least suspect. For the door to creak, for my flesh to prickle, for its cold metallic shock to cleave me senseless. For it to turn my world to dark.
I stave it off by telling my story. I rehash the details of my past to comfort the suffering, entertain the curious. Friends with family in hospice, crushes to impress with my fortitude, neighbors down on their luck. But I’m bored of this narrative. I didn’t survive, I didn’t overcome. The truth is I came face-to-face with death and it tricked me. It snatched what mattered most before I had time to fear it.
My loss left me smitten with the abyss. I long to dance on its serrated edge, tongue its wicked gleam, but too many people count on me. So, I strangle my impulses, bind my desires, muffle my shrieks of yearning to be something other than the poor, brave girl who persevered when her poor brave mommy died. No matter how much I long to be, I’ll never be a Murder Babe.
The Murder Babes fuck and eviscerate the grey areas. They deny themselves nothing. Not danger, not desire, not blood. The Murder Babes don’t wait at home preparing for sinister forces to do their worst. They’re out playing their part—hacking away at what dares to prey upon them, wrestling with the wicked until they satisfy every itch, every ache, every deeply buried need.
The Murder Babes carouse and cackle. They lounge in the cozy empty the abyss affords, filing their nails and sharpening their knives. They say I’m wasting my time, that this world will kill me no matter what.
Sometimes I follow them to the brink, trailing like a sad shadow, inching toward them, closer and closer until their dead roses smell is my own, until I startle at the way my own voice slashes through the silence when I say, This Final Girl needs a break. Take me with you.
And that’s when my mother’s ghost appears, warning of danger, imminent and inevitable. She says I must remain vigilant. She says I must remain good and not give into the pain or the anger or the monstrous and overwhelming horror of being alive while knowing what death can do.
I can’t argue with my mother’s ghost. It just wouldn’t be right. So I tell the Murder Babes, Go on without me. Maybe next time. And they snicker and sneer and vanish into the evening gloom without a second thought.
What I wouldn’t give for a night to surrender to my most disturbed urges instead of writing about them. What I wouldn’t give to be swallowed by my sadness with no consequence, no thought of who’s watching. I want to make bad decisions, to hurt someone like I hurt—deeply and incompletely. I want the void to have its way with me, to leave me broken and spent. But dear daughter, my mother’s ghost consoles, reminds, shocks until I’m left shivering, there’s no use in tempting the void when it’s already within you.
- On Death Wishes and She Wolves
There is a certain luxury in being the Girl Who Dies First. The girl who doesn’t stay home to do the dishes, who has the courage and the chutzpah to just have fun. To not be the chaste one, the reliable one. To prioritize her own needs, her own body, above all others.
The girl who doesn’t change diapers or evacuate her youngest siblings from the house when her father and stepmother throw glass and fists at one another. The girl who shrugs off her mother’s late-90s fear that she might be snatched from the bus stop one morning and raped and stabbed with kitchen knives in the trunk of a stolen car, even though the real predator in her story is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed stepfather who routinely preyed upon the young daughters of single mothers like her mother.
To not be the shy, bookish girl who inhaled Grimm’s fairy tales and V.C. Andrews and The Clan of the Cave Bear, and, therefore, had a very weird sense of sex before she was ever kissed. To not become the girl whose parents told her she was paying for college late in high school, so she worked two or three part-time jobs and didn’t ask if this was normal or prudent or right and just figured it out. Who didn’t become the woman who had a hard time asking for help.
For isn’t every Final Girl the one who has been taught no one else is coming? The one who knows that if she doesn’t behave, the men will kill her?
What does it mean to live in a world where it’s more indulgent for the Final Girl to fantasize about sex and violence than outwitting yet another fear-mongering fuckhead with mommy issues in a goalie mask?
Honestly, this woman doesn’t really care for the Final Girl / Girl Who Dies First binary. Doesn’t seek to be a righteous Murder Babe.
Instead, she longs to be like the famed Yellowstone O-Six she-wolf: a larger-than-death alpha who spurned five suitors only to choose two inexperienced brothers, who routinely stalked 500-pound elk by herself, only to rip out their throats, again and again—a job usually reserved for four separate wolves. To raise three litters of pups without losing a single one in the first year of life. To be so legendary that her demise rested not in predictable Hollywood tropes or some moralized fable against lust but because her strength and courage infuriated those who hated the resiliency of wolves. That some anonymous Wyoming hunter felt compelled, encouraged even, to kill what he is not: a creature so beloved, fearless, and free.
Jillian Luft is a writer, 80s slasher fanatic and devourer of Cadbury Creme Eggs. You can find her on Twitter @JillianLuft or read more of her writing at jillianluft.com.
Michaella Thornton watched Romero’s Night of the Living Dead on VHS when she was entirely too young. She loves Hot Tamales and haunts Twitter @kellathornton.