Two years went by. I watched coworkers get engaged, get married, have babies. I made new friends. We moved into a bigger, nicer apartment. The morning I turned 18, I got up out of bed and hit PLAY on the cassette I'd queued up the night before: Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen." I went to work and was given a huge vanilla and strawberry cake by my coworkers.
Right across the street from our new apartment was a small shopping center with an old school mom & pop video rental store - quite a new thing at the end of the 80s. The day I turned 18, I started renting all of the previously off-limits horror movies in alphabetical order. I rented one called Ceremony, whose cover art had long fascinated me. It featured a snarling demon with curling rams horns and poached-egg white eyeballs. It sucked. The demon was in it for all of two minutes and the rest of the story was about a bunch of really boring teenagers doing really stupid shit. I rented The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, sat through the whole thing without moving or blinking and remained staring at the screen, dumbfounded, mouth hanging open, once it ended. Then I immediately rewound it and watched it again. I was a huge fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street flicks, so I eagerly rented all of Wes Craven's other films, including one called Last House on the Left. I watched that one once and never again. Afterwards, I took a long hot shower and waited patiently for the nausea to pass.
I dated a few guys - nothing serious. I wasn't interested in Serious. I was still a teenager. I was more interested in my new room, which was in a separate area at the back of the apartment. I had my own entrance, my own bathroom, etc. I chose my own sheets, my own bath towels, my own artwork for the bare walls. I started finding my own identity, my own tastes and interests. I bought new clothes with my paychecks, which back in 1988 went a lot further. I ditched the leopard prints and bought shirts with kittens on them, soft denim jeans which ended at mid-calf and laced up the sides with white shoelaces.
I became friends with my coworkers, even devoutly Christian, virgin Tammy, with her anti-abortion bullshit and her sunny blonde siblings whose names all started with the same initial. I remember Tori telling us all about a movie she'd watched on TV one night, in between customers, about a serial killer and the cop who was trying to catch him. It was called Manhunter and would eventually be remade as Red Dragon. I would always prefer Manhunter, and I will never forget that rainy day when Tori held us all enraptured, retelling the story to her small, eager crowd in between sandwiches. On yet another rainy day, I held everyone spellbound as I read from the days paper about the execution of Ted Bundy in Florida the night before.
I worked 30 hours a week or so. I made cheese trays for weddings, sandwich trays for football parties. I got to know the regulars: Gary, who always ordered a reuben, the young couple who always split a turkey and Havarti for lunch, etc. I got to know the dark side of our regulars too. The turkey and Havarti couple were actually having an affair, and her husband found out eventually. There was a rat-skinny man who would come in, order a large chicken salad sub, eat the whole thing and then use our bathroom to throw it all back up again. Gary the Reuben Guy was kind of a scumbag. He dated Tammy briefly, then asked me out when she wouldn't put out. I said no. I was eighteen, he was in his thirties. Ew.
I covered a shift at another branch across town when it was learned that the day manager - a young, pretty girl who had been a model employee - had been stealing cash out of the registers. Tori's younger sister Liz was what we would nowadays call a "hot mess" - suicidal, overdramatic, trashy. She would often call the deli while Tori was at work and slurrily demand to speak with her, claiming she'd taken a handful of pills and would soon die. Tori's uncle worked the night shift and had nothing but shit to say about Tori's stepfather Danny, who owned the deli chain along with Tori's mom.
A year after I started working there, Tori and Tammy were hired to cater an exclusive event at a nearby winery, at which they would both be dressed in black French maid uniforms - not the sexy kind, but the actual "I am a paid servant" kind. They would carry silver trays of wine and cheese around the crowded room and ask "Canape, madam?" or "Champagne, sir?" Hoity toity as fuck, according to Tori, who couldn't help giggling at the very idea. She was in her early thirties, pretty and thin with huge brown eyes. She was always smiling.
Not long into the Saturday afternoon catering affair, Tori's trayful of fancy snacks and flute glasses went smashing to the floor. Tori followed in the grip of a massive seizure. She jerked and thrashed and kicked, then went still, eyes fully dilated, staring at nothing and responding to no one for five full minutes. Finally, she regained consciousness and was rushed to the hospital and kept there while a battery of tests were run. Eventually, it was discovered that Tori had a brain tumor, sitting inside of her skull like a deadly little walnut. She would need brain surgery. And even the removal of the tumor would not guarantee a full recovery. Tori was sick, gravely ill, and might die.
She was forced to leave her job. She entered the hospital. Her head was shaved. When I came to visit her, she joked about being a bald eagle, but she was thin and shaky and looked very scared. She told us about the surgery, for which she would have to be awake while they sawed her skull open and poked around in the gray matter. I had only recently discovered the Hellraiser films and couldn't help but recall the brain surgery scene from Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. Tori was freaked out. I was freaked out.
I didn't tell her about the film.