Lindsay Griffin

Chapter 10: Final Girl

"The practiced viewer distinguishes her from her friends minutes into the film. She is the Girl Scout, the bookworm, the mechanic. Unlike her girlfriends she is not sexually active... ...The Final Girl is also watchful to the point of paranoia; small signs of danger that her friends ignore, she registers."

-Carol J. Clover

I'm awake and staring at the ceiling. In night colors, a shadow curves, arches its back, and thunders into being. Again the dragon.

I am five and I wonder if my sister sees him---the dark moving in my periphery, twisting and filling the space. All I can see is his cast shadow; I don't want to trace the line back to where he must be writhing in front of our night light. He sits in the corners of my eyes where I can't see color. My sister is asleep. I close my eyes because I know this is just a dream. Because I'm the big sister and there is a god and a mother upstairs who won't let it come to this. Dragged out in the middle of the night in my pajamas.

Dragoned out.

 

"For us, in imagination and in other practice, machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves."

-Donna Haraway

 

My boyfriend and I have a new hobby---Netflix. He's heavy into horror and I'm somewhere between the awkward and indie titles, so we diversify each other in our instant queue and we rate the things we hate. Romances are out. No B-comedies. Also, we are avoiding the covers that have pictures of people superimposed on a scribbled drawing world (there are alot of them).

We've rated enough titles to fall into the "Typical Netflix User" category, though if feels compulsive to sit on the couch for hours and add stars to our favorites. There's a giddiness to it, like finding couples that are fun to go to dinner with. Look how well Netflix knows us! It reshapes itself, and we are amused by its recommendations. Hate "Serendipity"? Try "Eraserhead".

Somewhere before our taste preferences created the "Dark Dysfunctional-Family TV Shows" row, we watched "The Girl Next Door." Netflix told us this thriller set in 1958 follows the harrowing story of two adolescent girls who, upon losing their parents in an accident, are sent to live with their Aunt Ruth, a sadistic psychopath. Propelled by the 'bad mother' narrative, we watched it. Some bad acting, a boring plot and then (spoiler alert) incest rape and female genital mutilation.

Yeah, I don't like it either. Sucky movie and surprise! I'm running out of the room. Can't go there. Anthony apologized, he hated that part. It was a cheap way to end a movie.

But later, when I move the stars to "Hated It," he becomes defensive. "It wasn't all bad. I mean, she was a good psychopath. It was pretty okay up until the part where you started crying..."

I can suddenly see the trouble with our Netflix future, how this shared account could become a secret genre battle. Hating "The Girl Next Door" makes Netflix believe that we hate psychological thrillers and gore, and only like quirky comedies. I want to tell Netflix that I hate when bad things happen to vaginas, but there isn't a star for that. Anthony and I sit, not speaking.

"Maybe just put 'Liked It'."

I push the button to "Didn't Like It" and say "We compromise." I think about changing it later.

But this is our Netflix baby. Growing. I hear there are "serial raters" out there, addicted to rating the movies and music they like. Addicted to the unknown "more" that could be waiting for them. They're teaching the computer algorithms their personalities. Making little 'me' babies. Finding themselves.

 

"One must feel sorry for those who have strange tastes, but never insult them. Their wrong is Nature's too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours than are we for being born bandy-legged or well-proportioned."

-Marquis de Sade

 

A dream and doesn't know what it means. The world is a waterslide-blue glow and I'm on my back in the tunnel. A basement. Naked and my arms won't move. I see a man is killing me. Over me with grey eyebrows and a melting chin. Dripping. Saliva like latex paint, and if it covers all of me I'll stop breathing.

My dream skull makes a name for it. Invents a word because I'm too young to think about the crimes to a body that are real. I feel how he is killing me, spit between my legs, across my chest, down my side. Skin not breathing. Smothering. It isn't sex. Sex is the future and I don't know any of its parts. So I invent the word and it is ugly.

When I wake, I write it on a piece of paper. And wait.

 

"I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down."

-Georgia O'Keefe

 

This is the language I am speaking to myself. When I am sitting in a class not speaking. In my parents' church not speaking. When I am looking into the faces of my lovers not speaking. It's because of the color. Who am I to say purple. My truth not in lines. They will see through me. And who am I. And truth wasn't the word I was looking for. Colorblindness, maybe. Or a secret synesthesia. Let 1 be white. Of course there are things I can't say. Here and here and here. And of course, I like the not-saying. Hands pressing my shoulders down, the ache of my belly, and then black lines on the page. I need the form, a structure to kick against. Inside? I see my words, too. All black lines. My pages sideways a prison, bars of words and I can make them disappear.

 

"Half the people in Hollywood are dying to be discovered and the other half are afraid they will be." -Ethel Barrymore

 

Holly was so much boy--trying to cradle me, dissolve me under her fingertips. The small, arching details of her body a vacuum and she wanted to enclose me, hold me as if I were a doll.

But I am as big as a house. All straight up and down lines and no matter how she tried, she couldn't make me fit neatly into female.

Here, with her hands tight--tiny fingers lengthening into perfect long triangles--she would press the tips over mine, with eyes round as if to say, "Look! Your hands against mine, so small." And I would look at the gap between her perfectly oval palms (raised slightly to create the illusion) and my broad sweep of squarehands to find the place where she felt boy, trying to make me feel girl.

Still, I kept thinking that the reason I was there was to undress myself as woman, and undress someone else as woman, to see if we two could interrupt order, the procession. If I could string my womanness across two bodies I might discover my missing parts. But she was missing, too. And now pretending I wasn't 5'9 to her 5'1.

When she kissed me last, I ran my fingers outward through her hair. Backward a wave goodbye.

 

“The man who does not know sick women does not know women."

-S. Weir Mitchell

 

About the dragon dream, my mom fixed it. She bought me a squirt gun and every night before bed, I would raise my gun to the ceiling and shoot the dragon. Shoot the dragon, kill the dream. Water spots on the ceiling.

She was all about the preemptive strike, prevention. During the early '80s, high-profile abductions led to highly-publicized missing children reports, and Congress created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to collaborate with local officials and monitor the FBI database. My mom gave us coloring books--pictures of kids next to suspicious-looking adults, men with moustaches. The captions read things like: "Don't let anyone touch you", "Don't get into a stranger's car", "Don't go into the bathroom with anyone who makes you uncomfortable." I still think about the last one. When you're a kid, everything makes you uncomfortable. You're still learning the 'how-things-are-gonna-be' rules, and why would anyone want to go into the bathroom with you if you're old enough to go by yourself? We colored in the books and kept our heads down.

Once, at the airport, Mom parked at the curb and ran in to give my dad some papers he had forgotten. She left the car running and locked the doors. I was six or seven, so it seemed like she was gone forever. A police officer tapped on my window. "Excuse me."

I opened the door.

 

Later, Mom told me never never open the door. Even if he is a police officer (he was) and even if it seems like she's been gone for a while (she was). Nothing bad happened but couldn't I have rolled the window down a crack instead? That would be safe.

I wanted to say that would be stupid---roll down the window when a police officer asks you to open the door---but her furrowed brow called for silent reflection. A world with bad policeman running amuck and she wanted us to stay in the car. Nothing bad happened, but the door was wide open.

 

15 years later, I told a therapist about the blue-light dream I had, the dream of the man and the spit covering me. She wanted to know if I had any vivid or bizarre dreams that I could remember, so I let her have it. She told me this was over-the-top indicative of sexual abuse; textbook, really. "A little kid often describes semen as spit," she said, matter-of-factly, raising her elbows to the arms of her chair. She was looking hard into my eyes with her melted Barbie-head expression. "You may have been raped as a baby. Do you remember anyone who made you uncomfortable?"

On the way home I told my mom the lady was a whack-job. Baby rape and this is therapy? Semen-spit?? It's bad enough to have someone's spit on you when you're a little kid--it could be just that. Or it could just be a fucking dream.

My mom was quiet and concerned, and I tried to comfort her by telling her more about my conversation with Crazy.

Then she interrupted to ask if maybe I remembered the time she dropped me off at my cancelled ballet class and I waited for an hour outside alone and five years old, or if I remembered the babysitter who molested the neighbor girl, or the nanny whose boyfriend visited/got her pregnant. Basement neighbors? Older boys? 'Adopted' cousins? Was I ever afraid to tell her something?

She's afraid she is a bad mother. I don't remember anything bad, except she's always been afraid. And a mother.

 

do you like the text?
do you feel the text is a boy or a girl?
do you skip lines?
skip lines.

 

Anthony's son has a picture diary. He's the first child, with all the responsibility of saving the world or rebuilding it, so his pictures are a mix of freedom and formula. He wants me to draw a square for him to draw an ant in. I make a box on his page and write: "Look closely... It's a turtle." He reads the words out loud and realizes the trick. I think he'll draw an ant anyway, but he draws a turtle on its back which suits us both.

So far, he's pretty determined to hate reading. His dad says "Get a chapter book" and he throws his head back, half-cocked on his shoulders in disgust. He has a language with his body, and he's fluent. Running with hands up in adoration, burying his chin in his collarbone for defeat. Unrest is a glare and uneasy shift to his left. When your body moves in sentences, what good is a book?

Language discovered me. The things I couldn't say taking up residence in my forehead. I could sit still, read, for days. I wrote. I wrote, "I want to be a wrighter" and I misspelled it for as long as possible. An embarrassing misspelling, excruciating to finally come to terms with my error---my teacher crossed "wrighting" off a list of things I like to do and spelled it correctly up top. So I could never be a wrighter after all.

 

I want to give them that. The game. These little strangers that belong to my lover, I want them to have a language. Not from their mother, who yells at cars and texts in broken English, but from that space where word meets world. The reader. The author. I want to show them there is a way to write themselves.

But all my tools are broken. My mother blinks blankly when I demand a history. When I ask her to show me how it could be. If she could say everything, and be understood, could she speak her body? And where is she? Yelling at cars.

In the corner of the second page of his picture diary, after a scribbled circle portrait of himself, Carter has drawn a child's sun---those triangles spinning out from the quarter of a circle, barely large enough to contain his handwritten inscription: "sun is me to".

 

"I like to pretend I'm alone. Completely alone. Maybe post-apocalypse or plague... Whatever. No-one left to act normal for. No need to hide who I really am. It would be... freeing."

-Dexter Morgan

 

The lady in charge of the young women at my church was a school teacher. Sticky-blonde hair, cut just above the shoulder---always the same shape, even in the rain. Her accent was so distinctly Utah, the sweet terminal way of dropping 't's, sliding 'i's into 'eh's. So normal, so vanilla I hear her everywhere---street corners, grocery stores. Hundreds of Mormon housewives and school teachers; all sporting the same haircut.

When I was fourteen, she asked me to write a poem for my dad to present to him on Father's Day. She explained that other girls would be playing the piano or singing or telling a favorite moment and could I please write a poem because she heard I won an award.

I wanted to say no. That I wasn't a poem machine. I wanted to tell her that my dad would see through a bullshit poem, and I didn't have time to do something better. But she added, "Just try. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."

 

It didn't happen. But I was trying. Activating the gag reflex with my stress levels even, because that's what church was for---stressing out. I was trying to say all of the Dad words that the church words could agree with. God the Father twisting in the background---a shadow of the supreme being, clouding the purpose. Was I writing to my dad or to everyone's dad? And why.

On Sunday, I approached the teacher with my crumpled papers. "I don't feel comfortable doing the poem thing."

Her seafoam knit blazer matched her oversized skirt. Looking at me with heavily-lidded pioneer eyes she said, "Did you even try? Don't you like writing poems? He'll love it. Write something; I have you on the program." And she went into the bathroom.

When a toddler says "Dad" it means "Look at me." No matter how many times Dad calls "What?" from the other room, the answer is always a pause and "Dad?"

Pay attention. She missed something.

 

"You wanna know the secret of pain? If you can stop feeling it, you can start using it."

-Freddy Krueger

 

My ex-boyfriend loved global warming. Loved talking about it. Loved reviewing "the facts" with people in restaurants, calling them "dumb assholes" over the counter in coffee shops. Politics, the gays, and global warming. Whenever he brought any of them up, he would remind me that he's the one who reads the fucking paper. Making us all feel like killers.

We  didn't break up for the weather. It was much more complicated of course. But I wasn't one of his targets, one of his 'non-believers,' so we could usually masturbate the issue.

My version of global warming is, however, a little bit different. I trust that Mother Nature has a way of regulating herself, and if California or the entire coast goes under, emissions and population will decline, and voila! She is righted again. In my version, we are an afterthought. She holds the controls.

Lately, I have started thinking more about population saturation, or what one analyst has dubbed, "The Human Population Monster." I know it involves doubling, and carrying capacities, and the future looks bleak when you do the math.

So maybe we sense it. Maybe we feel the increase. Respond. Maybe we stop having babies. Maybe we help underdeveloped countries to stop having babies. We want to take care of it ourselves. Self-regulate.

So we invent a clean-up crew. The vampires, the Primetime serial killers. We flock to them as our heroes, make them moral even with codes and abstinence. But maybe we're sick, and our biology is begging for population control. So weird to imagine it. We make our decisions secondhand, drawn to things that could harm us, save us.

It's not really the case, of course. I wouldn't want to be the one to try to back it up. "Drawn to Our Demise" would be the title. But no one's buying.

Still, the secret thrill of thinking it.

 

Are you a killer? Check all that apply:

 

*Not a comprehensive list. See internet.

 

Our argument interrupts sex and he leaves the room. In a minute, I will pull the sheets up over my head.

When I open my eyes, I will be naked in the waterslide-blue glow of the lights passing through our blue sheets. Suddenly, I will remember the childhood dream as a memory; on a bed, under the sheets a man and doesn't know what it means. I'll be afraid. As if it's happening all over again. I will shake a little and not be able to say what is wrong. Then Anthony will be back in bed and he will hold me, confused. I will try to explain, as soon as I can breathe.

 But in these moments before, lying with my hand poised on the sheet, I'm frustrated about something I'm going to forget. Now.

 

"If you're too chickenshit to be a member of the dynamic duo club, okay then, great. I'll find somebody else. Somebody who can keep up with me."

-Seth, the Brundlefly

 

When we talk it's usually short for something. The fastest way to get from him thinking to me thinking and back again. Our own vernacular and I'm comfortable dropping nouns or verbs, making everything equal and letting him unpack it, repackage. We have accents born of words I've never used before. I call him "Honey" with my tongue flat across my back teeth, suggesting a long "u" hidden in the first vowel. When he says the word to back to me, he mimics my sounds by lowering his chin. Smiles.

We know we are playing. We are raising our voices at random in the middle of our sentences. We shout at loving things. He tells me he hates all other 'Honey's and I shake my fists in agreement.

He kept a journal during his separation. Preliminary notes to the divorce. His back was the first thing to give and after surgery, through the medicated haze, he began to dig. Up.

When he showed me the journal, I read it for what was missing. The artist is scribbling to save himself, his wife, the kids. But it isn't the artist's handwrighting. Teacher father husband and God sitting on his forehead.

He explained. She might pick up the book at anytime and see him for what he really is. Exposed. So he wrote carefully. Calculating. Ready to take it all back if the time came.

Shame is the better part of it. The man is flattened, monstering himself. No shorthand to exactly what thinking he is about. An apology.

I leave the journal open next to me. Access to a frozen narrative, a space I can't occupy. Not a story I can tell. And he doesn't tell it either. It's history in a foreign language. On this page a picture of a hand, a foot. He draws under the things he isn't saying.

The artist separates himself first in pieces. Chewing off limbs and leaving them there.

 

Who is reading this over my shoulder and what should I say to them? What waking dream am I chasing and what chases me? Matters that really don't. Shooting the dragon and cracking the window and when I start the fire it will be with this and everything that comes after.