The ministry of making art in Appalachia
–by Final Girl
Alone, I showed my passport. Alone I boarded a plane. I flew for graffiti, for a street art festival of women artists. I flew to London to participate without knowing for sure I could do it. Alone, I arrived. Alone I found the train. Alone I found the room. I ate alone in a pub full of men. I walked alone to the station to meet strangers.
Final girl! Final girl!
Then a woman was calling my name, my true name. A woman ran across the station to me, and sometime between her calling me and reaching me, she became not a stranger. And there were two women who became not strangers too. We embraced upon first meeting.
Because it was and was not our first meeting.
Hadn’t we been together in the dark? Weren’t we the same? Our fingernails were stained. Our clothes were stained. And in our short days together, we traded secrets like girls do. Our secrets were of grit, though, of brands of paint and recipes for paste, of times arrested and stories of escape.
I taught a girl to hold a scrap of cardboard to prevent overspray. She taught me to tape the back of stencils. I studied girls who freehand. I was complimented for my shapes.
To get to England, I had cut life-size stencils, then sliced them into dozens of pieces and rolled them into a tube. On the dirty ground of the Banksy Tunnel, I sealed them back together with tape.
The day of the festival, I used sticks to support the stencils, branches from who knows what tree I had found in the corners of the tunnel, plucking them from the broken glass and busted caps. When my own cap clogged, I blew through it to clear it. When the paint in my can congealed, I sprayed it into my hands and spread it onto the wall with my fingers.
When I pulled the stencils away from the wall—always the scariest part—there were gasps.
I turned and realized people were watching. People were waiting. Not to yell at me or arrest me. Not to comment on my ass or ask if I had permission; I had permission. Not to argue with me if street art was art.
They knew it was art. They had come to see it.
To see Final Girl.
In England, I became Final Girl. Final Girl signed books, Final Girl traded stories. Final Girl cried when she left the tunnel, but because she is Final Girl, she wiped her tears with the back of her dirty hand. She cut the stencils, rolled them, slept alone, boarded the plane.
Coming home was hard. This river I loved, I still love. This mud is married to me. Now I am alone again—but there’s a difference: now she is with me always.
Now I see the posters of the man who taught me—hurt me, loved me, lost me—and I know them for what they are: obsessions of a man, only a man.
Zabou is better. Queen Donkerkop is better. I am better.
From Donkerkop I learned color. From Zabou I learned a show.
From Chinagirl I learned art can come in all shapes.
From Zina I learned to block out the world and work.
I think of the men I met in the tunnel; the only questions they asked me all day were Can I take your picture and Do you need anything?
I think of the painter who brought me a ladder.
I think of Jarvis who painted the backdrop of my piece.
I think of Anique who brought me coffee and tea and held the camera and told me if the stencils were straight.
I think of the stranger who brought me soup and I sat on the curb and drank it cold through a straw.
I think of Ayaan, who brought us together.
I am alone. I am not alone. I love you.
All those times I thought I was alone, I was not. I have never been alone—even in the dirtiest alley, even on the darkest night. I carry the women and girls I met with me. I am with you. And Final Girl is always in me.
Final Girl is an Appalachian Street artist. Her essays have been published in Bending Genre, Hillbilly Speaks, and Apology Not Accepted, and her art appears in many secret places. You can see her work at and https://www.facebook.com/