What Could Layla Do?

A short story I’ve worked on to bring awareness to rape survivors and the importance in listening to them. This creative piece shows the double-standard in society and the effects that our actions can have on others. Warning: This content portrays rape, self-harm, and domestic abuse and may be triggering to some people.

Realistically, what could Layla do? There were already whispers behind her back, giggles following every mention of her name, looks of disgust painted onto the faces of the people she once called her friends. If Layla was being honest with herself, there was absolutely nothing she could do. She was in a situation that she could not win; she was trapped in a maze with no exit, just wrong turns. If she defended herself, she looked pathetic. If she remained silent, she looked guilty. Layla had lost the moment she agreed to go to the party with her friends. She’d lost the moment she’d accepted alcohol from the cute stranger. She’d lost the moment she’d taken a drink. She’d lost when she woke up in the woods behind the house that the party had taken place in.

Her clothing had been torn; her phone drained of battery. Her stomach had turned over as vomit climbed her throat. A dull pain throbbed between her legs and there were tell-tale signs of blood in the fallen leaves that crunched underneath her. There was a chill to the air, something colder than just the standard welcoming of winter that accompanied Wisconsin. She struggled for a long moment, sitting in silence. She listened to the waking of the world as the sun had risen on the horizon. Birds chirped and animals stirred. The chill penetrated her skin and traveled down to her bones as every noise became a taunt to the night before.

Who was she to call? Who was she to tell? What was she to do?

Layla gathered her scattered scarf and jacket. She pulled up her pants and adjusted her clothing as best she could to look presentable. To look normal. She already accomplished the act on a daily basis. An act put on with some make-up and smiles to hide the truth of her home. So, she pulled on another mask and walked the four miles home.

No one should be awake at her house. Her father had off today, she was sure, which was in and of itself a scary thing, but that meant he’d sleep in. She would spend the day locked up in her room and tiptoeing around her father whenever she needed to leave it. Her mother would be catering to the man she called husband, and whenever the mother and daughter crossed paths, no eye contact would be made. They’d lost their relationship a long time ago when positions were switched.

Layla tiptoed her way to the back door and unlocked it as quietly as she could. The old wooden floorboards creaked underneath her weight and her heart wrung in her chest when she heard her father call her name. He wasn’t supposed to be awake yet. He wasn’t supposed to know she’d been out all night. He wasn’t supposed to see her enter. There was a lot he wasn’t supposed to do and, likewise, there was a lot that wasn’t supposed to happen to Layla, but life has a funny way of dealing out fate and her hand was the unluckiest of them all.

Her father dragged her into the living room, his grip tight on the back of her neck, pudgy fingers digging into her tender pale flesh. Strawberry blonde locks brushed against her cheeks, strands of it sticking to the damp trails left in the wake of hot tears. Her father glowered down at her, spittle flew from his lips, and his hand was up in the air before crack, crack, cracking against parts of her body. The dull pain that was centered on the part between her legs spread to her arms, her throat, her sides, her face, but the only thought going through poor Layla’s head was, Thank God it’s a long weekend.

He dealt out his punishment for a long hour, an hour that turned into an eternity in Layla’s time. There was movement, occasionally in the shadows of the doorway, her mother’s face adorning those shadows whenever Layla tried to focus her eyesight. She came to see if it was still going on, there was no telling by Layla’s cries because she’d learnt a long time ago to stay silent. Sound only angered him more. When he finally let her go, Layla hurried to her room. She climbed her stairs; her body now numb except for the dull throb between her legs. A small part of Layla knew that pain would never disappear.

She curled up in her room, locking the door behind her. She gasped and she cried and she bit down on her hand to try and control the tremors in her body. Oxygen escaped her and yet it pressed down, down, down on her. It crushed her under a weight that she never thought she’d climb out from under. Her insides knotted together, and she struggled to keep down more vomit. It helped that her stomach was empty. It helped if she forced the thoughts from her mind. It helped that she couldn’t remember any of it. She plugged in her phone and waited for life to be returned to it but then she was faced with the same dilemma as when she awoke in those crunching leaves, in the too chilly air, in that forest of damnation.

What was Layla to do? Who was Layla to tell?

She told her friends first. She could trust them. They would help her. They would know what to do. That hadn’t been the case. Even though they’d discussed sex and dating and hooking up at the party the night before, their demeanor to Layla had changed when she met them in person on Tuesday. None of them had responded to her messages. She’d found out why soon after.

Rumors had already spread. Someone had seen her outside with the perpetrator and asked him the details that he’d been all too happy to toss out.

Layla had thrown herself at him.

She’d asked for it.

She wouldn’t leave him alone.

He spilled the lies like a venomous serpent, poisoning her life and reputation. No one cared to ask Layla what had happened. No one cared to listen to what she had to say. They were content to whisper behind her back. They were content to spin webs of stories that branched in every direction but the truth. But what was the truth? What truth was there in a night Layla herself could hardly remember? Her body said something to her each time he approached. It turned over as invisible insects crawled along her skin. The fine hairs on her arms stood on end with every smile he threw her way, with every glance he raked down her body, with every word that spilled from his mouth. Could that be truth enough? Could the feelings she had be truth enough? But even then, who could she tell? Who could she trust? There was no one on the police force she could tell. They would report back to her father and turn a blind eye when he beat her. The officers who proclaimed to be on her side, the side of the people, who promised to abide by and protect the law turned their back on the illegal and harmful acts of one of their colleagues. It’s fine as long as it’s him. It’s fine as long as it’s her. It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine because he is one of us. We share the same uniform. We share the same profession. So, it’s fine. Nothing is happening in that house.

She turned down a hallway and stumbled back when another student rammed their shoulder into her own. Her notebooks fell to the ground and the laughter that had been mere giggles moments before grew louder. Her cheeks blossomed into bright patches of pink as she sunk to the ground to pick up her things.

“No wonder Drew had a good night,” one boy said. His friend snorted.

“With an ass like that, who wouldn’t?”

Layla moved faster and hurried the rest of the way to her class where she took a seat in the very final row where no one would be able to sit behind her. This was her only solace in a place people constantly talk behind her back. She can tell herself they’re looking at the large calendar strung up along the back wall. They’re not looking at her, they’re looking at the upcoming events. That belief could only carry so far. The notes would be passed, and the class would eventually end, and the catcalls would continue, and the whispers would follow, and her name would be passed from one set of lips to the next.

She struggled to understand the why of it all. Why did it matter? Why were they talking about it? Why did they care so much? Why couldn’t she speak? Why couldn’t they ask her? Why couldn’t they listen to her? Why was his voice and his words so much more powerful than her own?

Was it because she lacked a penis? Was it because she lacked the pronouns? Was it because she was foolish enough to accept a drink at a party from a cute boy? Was it because she was Layla and she’d made the wrong choice? But what about him? What about his choices? Did they not matter? Would he not be held accountable? Did people care only to talk on the matter of sex and talk about hook-ups, but when it happened to a fellow classmate, they turned into monsters spewing the same venom as him?

Some saw her as a victim. Some saw her as a slut. No one saw her as Layla. No one saw her as a person.

She couldn’t remember that night and, as she continued to hear the whispers, the whispers that seemed to show everyone else knew more about what happened than she did, she started to think she didn’t really want to know anymore. There was no one to talk to, there was no one to tell and Layla began to numbly wonder,

What could she do? What power did she hold in a place where whatever she chose to do she would still wind up on the losing end?

She found her answer in her father’s razor blades.

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