Bethany Bruno: Memoir : February 2021

Southern Legitimacy Statement: … born and raised Floridian.

The Final Girl

“Come out and show yourself, Krueger!”

My eyes shoot open and my heart instantly thrusts its gears to full throttle, preparing me for the unthinkable sight I’m about to witness. As I look around frantically for the source, I find the culprit: my TV is illuminating the bedroom with the sights and sounds of the movie to A Nightmare on Elm Street. The final girl, Nancy Thompson, is in battle with her tormentor, Freddy Krueger. As Freddy raises his menacing knife-glove into the air, Nancy braces herself for the slicing of her insides. The street lamp makes the steel glimmer as he raises his hand into the air and swipes. Luckily, Nancy pushes him to the ground as his weapon narrowly misses her abdomen. She then frantically jumps out of frame and into what looks like a black hole, which is clearly a desperate attempt to save her own life. 

I sit upright in my bed, resting my back against the headboard as my heart rate slowly returns to normal. I glance over at the blackout curtains covering my window, noticing a few strands of sunlight bursting through the darkness. I check my phone to discover that yes, again, I’ve slept all morning and it’s now 12:37 pm. I push the OFF button on my remote, and I’m filled with that dreaded silence once again. Silence, these days, leads to painful memories. These memories include watching my father die slowly from the cancer eating away at his body, like fish munching on whole pieces of bread in a pond. Or, of me squeezing his hand tightly as I watched the jugular in his long-arched neck come to a slow and complete stop. If that’s not painful enough, how about the memory of when two weeks after watching my dad die, my mother and I sat in her doctor’s office as the absolute worst scenario was confirmed when Dr. Rankin said, “We have to get you started on treatment immediately.” A few weeks later, I had to help her shave her last remnants of hair as each strand fell softly unto my feet. 

These memories come in waves, like an angry shoreline along the Treasure Coast of Florida. Sometimes, if I can’t stand to face the images playing through my mind, a different sense takes over: the smell of the chemo room as its contents were dripped into her arm like a poisonous cocktail while I sat close by, helpless in protecting her from cancer’s fate. 

Since the death of my father and the current uncertainty of my mom’s survival, I’ve become obsessed with slasher films. You know, the kind of movie where there’s an unknown killer lurking somewhere outside your house, waiting for the perfect moment to jab you in the side with some sharp object. While my daytime hours typically consist of playing caretaker to my mom, my nights are filled with binge watching classic horror films while consuming every single edible source of food I can manage to find beneath the mountains of half-empty potato chip bags in the pantry. There’s something so satisfying about watching the good girl in a horror film become the last one standing over the defeated killer. The “Final Girl” has become my favorite superhero.

I somehow manage to drag myself out from the weighted comfort of my bedsheets and place both feet on the ground, trying to firmly find my standing for the day. I hear the flicking of a lighter and take that as my summons to join her. Right on schedule, she’s waiting for me on our screened Florida patio. In fact, everything about this image screams Florida- She’s sitting in a wooden beach chair, smoking a 305 cigarette (courtesy of the great city of Miami), as we’re surrounded by Sabal Palms and Pine Trees that engulf our backyard like large chess pieces on top of a grassy game board. My mom, sitting there, deep in thought, barely looks up at me as she mutters a “good afternoon.” I sigh, loudly, before sitting in the adjacent chair that faces the surrounding nature. “I wish I could sleep that long,” she says, “I don’t know how you do it.” I shrug, as I scan my sights on the various trees surrounding us.

With each passing moment of silence from me, her irritation grows as she fires back with more words. “It’s not good for you to sleep so much, now you’ll be up all night,” she says, “and you know I need you in the morning sometimes. What if something were to happen to me?” She always does this, nothing I do ever meets my mother’s standards for being a “good girl.” I’ve learned, over much time and practice, to treat my mother’s backhanded words of concern like a pesky mosquito. Somehow, someway, it will latch onto me when I least expect it. Her bite will deliver unavoidable itch towards my confidence. With time, it slowly fades back into an even layer, but the memory of that bite will stay with me always. I look over to part of a small clearing and see something shiny, but upon turning my head, her eyes catch my gaze.

“Yes, thank you for reminding me,” I say. I look back once more at the shiny spot and notice something bright yellow among the greenery. I cut her off before she can say something else to wound my ego. “Hey, did you throw one of Charlie’s toys over into the trees?” I say while raising my arm to point at the spot. She turns around in her seat, holding onto the arm rests as she stares at the patch of unknown yellow. She then quickly rises to her feet and speed walks back into the house through the opening in our sliding glass door, never saying a word. “Mom?” I say, turning my attention back to the yellow, which has now begun to move like a group of fireflies bringing light among the shadows. Did Charlie get out? I rose from my chair and move closer to the screen door of the patio. Then, like something out of a horror movie, my mother screams “there’s someone in the woods!”

I focus my eyes back on the object, the once innocent speck of yellow has fully transformed into a broad figure who’s wearing a button-down shirt and ripped jeans. This shape is standing there, motionless and eerily silent. My mother whispers in a hurried pace to “get inside now!” as she waves her arms to motion my butt inside the house. But I don’t move. No, I sit there staring at the figure who is now terrorizing my mother and my already fragile state of emotional survival. My eyes quickly looked around me for something, anything to grab when I see it: the 3-pronged red handled garden hoe. This tool, which was purchased only last month, was intended to help me weed out my father’s now decrepit garden. As I raise up out of my chair and stand, the figure begins its slow stride back to the forest. 

The smudge of yellow within his shirt begins to fade into the green of the forest as I grab that garden hoe and haul ass out of the patio door, letting it slam shut behind me. My mother begins to scream for my return, but I refuse to listen. This son of a bitch is going to get his! I quicken my pace as I come to halt at the forest edge before shouting “stop running!” Before I know it, I’m within the forest, swinging my weapon at the branches standing in my way. I’m barefoot and as I take each step my feet are being pricked with the ends of pine needles as they puncture my skin. The figure, no matter how much I scream or threaten, keeps moving effortlessly through the maze of trees and swamp-like soil. Something has awakened within me, some sort of power and courage I never knew existed. Branch after branch hits my exposed arms, leaving small scratches and bits of blood in its wake. I’m desperately angry and I want to make him pay for having the audacity to threaten my life with his presence. But, the more I swing and further I walk into the woods, the farther away he distances himself. I come to a complete stop somewhere within the depth of this small forest. My breath has become small rapid inhales, as I clutch my chest. In the distance behind me, I hear her say, “Beth! Come back!”

I realize that I’ve left her alone on that patio and begin to power walk back towards the house. With each step, I feel uncertain of what’s behind me. Maybe he can see me and is running back to catch me? Maybe this was his plan all along: to get me out in the middle of woods, cut me up and weaken me so he can strike at the right moment? With these thoughts, fear grabs hold of me once again as II begin to run hysterically back. I swing the tool around me as I get closer and closer to the opening once more, ensuring nothing stands in my path. The woods open up to my backyard as I run inside the patio and then inside the house, bolting the deadlock door before I close the curtains. My mother is standing there, motionless. “I called the cops. I told them some pervert was out there watching us. I can’t believe…” she says as she breaks down crying. 

I drop the garden hoe, making a loud clunk sound on our tile floor as I head toward the front door of our house. I look out the window to find a single cop car, lights flashing, and a single office walking toward the woods. I open up the door and wave my arms frantically “Sir! Sir! He’s in there!” I say as I point towards the woods. The officer whispers something into his shoulder radio, before making his stride back towards the car. As I stand there, shaken mentally and physically, the officer takes notice of me as he walks towards me. “Did you see her?” he says, “teenage girl, about 5’6? She ran away from her parents and we got word that someone saw her in the woods here.” In shock and trying to make sense of what just happened, I just shake my head once and keep silent.

Then, another car pulls into our driveway and another officer quickly steps out of his vehicle saying “Greg, we saw her down Lakehurst. She’s gotta be on the next street by now.” Both officers run back to their vehicles and speed off into the distance, leaving me literally in their dust. I stand there for a moment and laugh aloud to myself, feeling hilariously stupid. What in the hell just happened? That was a teenage girl I chased after? But how? She was so tall and looked so…not like a teenage girl. I look down at my hands and sees bits of blood along the small cuts. My feet are covered in sticky pine residue and I have at least twenty mosquito bites all over my now itchy body. The adrenaline is wearing off as I begin to walk back toward the house when out of the corner of my eye, I see her. She’s running frantically back into the woods as I hear someone in the distance yell “Crystal! Girl, you better get back here!” 

I realize something at this moment, something that I wish I had learned earlier. This girl is trying to escape her own fate. You could be the final girl in a horror movie like Nancy Thompson, or some lost teen girl running away from a life that feels like absolute hell. At the end of our own stories, the only person we can save is ourselves. No matter how many times I swung that garden hoe, I couldn’t protect my mom from death. I could fight death in some wild dreamscape, but ultimately, I can’t save her from what may be the end. Cancer, to me, is like Freddy Krueger, in that he takes the people you love most away from you one by one until you’re all alone. Cancer has been the slasher of my own horror movie and I desperately want to fight back. But this isn’t a movie, and it’s not that simple, I’m afraid. No, this is much worse and the only way to beat him is with the acceptance of what may or may not come after his slashes.

I look towards the front door to find my mom, standing there with her arms crossed, looking at me. She motions me back inside the comfort of our home. “Did they catch him?” She asks. I smile and nod, as I reach down and pick up the tool off the floor. I catch a glimpse of myself, looking battle worn and exhausted, in the hallway mirror before returning to my room. As I set down the weapon, I reach for the TV remote and eject A Nightmare on Elm Street from my DVD Player. As I place the disc back into its case, this image from the film engulfs my mind. When Nancy, after watching a few of her friends get completely gutted by Freddy, is asked by her boyfriend why she’s reading a book about creating booby traps. She laughs, before smiling with a slight shrug of her shoulders and says, “I’m into survival.”

Her response is now scratched into my memory as a reminder for what happened today, and for what will happen with the next monster I face, whatever it may be.