I have to do it or I’ll die.
It’s been a hard day. I’m sick. My car has a low tire and is six thousand miles over an oil change. It’s coated with mud up to the windows and has a big ugly dent in the side I can’t afford to fix. I need money. I’m fighting with a man.
When I park on the street, I’m facing a silver electrical box. It’s slashed with spray paint—an old tag—and is dented. Fair game, then. I reach into my wallet, unfold an image I’ve painted onto a priority mail sticker, the kind you get for free at the post office. I stick the picture up on the box as fast as I can.
Instantly I feel better, as though a weight as been lifted, a wound has been stitched. I can go home now. I can breathe.
I’m Final Girl. I do art in a place most people think is devoid of art and culture: Appalachia. And I do the art most people think is vandalism: graffiti. In my closet, a ventilation mask swings. I have a backpack filled with spray cans, a brush, baggies of caps. I carry a knife, a pair of gloves. I can stick up a picture in three seconds flat. I can close a car door without making a sound.
I speak through color: images I’ve hand-drawn into stencils, cut out, then spray-painted; pictures of women, of keys, of chains, and of birds.
How can I tell you about my life without telling you about me? Why I do this, who I am? There was a night. There was a man. I wanted to tell my story without spilling secrets; I wanted to stay in the shadows. So I drew. Graffiti became a way to endure a difficult, claustrophobic life, a life where I am often silenced.
Here in Ohio, there are few jobs. One of my best friends considers living in her car. Another is selling off her jewelry, piece by piece. I do things I never thought I would do.
I keep my wheat paste, for sticking up painted posters, in an old plastic take-out container; I’ve cut a hole in the lid the size of my brush. I keep my art supplies in a jewelry box, razor blades stuck in the slots meant for earrings. I never went to school for this. I was taught by another artist who was self-taught from books.
They will probably never write about people like us. We walk through museums on free days. Our work will probably never be in those halls.
Powerlessness is a characteristic of Appalachia, as is resourcefulness. So much is done to us. Our creeks run red with acid damage. Our hills are torn up for coal. Our mountains are cut off at the tops. In the woods, we still hear blasting from mines. So many things are stolen from us here.
And so, my very first piece as a street artist was stolen from me: My painting about rape was appropriated by a woman who said she collaborated with me to make it. She lied.
You stole one piece from me. Can you steal a hundred?
I’ve seen needles in the alleys where I work. I’ve stepped around smashed bottles. I’ve smelled piss. I’ve been interrupted by drunks. I’ve heard passersby make comments on my ass. It’s not a pretty place where I live and work—and so I don’t make pretty pictures. I draw women in chains. I draw women on their knees, praying, crawling on the ground. It’s not pretty, but it’s lovely: rusted and broken and wild. It’s resilient. The best sunset I’ve ever seen has been here, beyond a broken-down bus. The most stars. And I’ve given the most love, here in Appalachia.
My name, Final Girl, comes from horror movies. You know how slasher films end? The last man standing is never a man. And like the girls in those films, I believe I can survive, out here in this wretched country—limping, broken, but with a weapon in my hand: paint, a marker, a brush. I don’t know what will happen to me, but my weapon is ready. And a wall is just waiting.