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by Siena Trautman

Blink. Blink. The notes on the board float away from Ella’s mind as she reads them, struggles to copy them down. Blink. Every time she closes her eyes she forgets that she’s not still in that strange room. She forgets that she didn’t have too much to drink. Forgets she didn’t stumble around until a nice boy offered to help her. Every time she closes her eyes, Ella forgets that it isn’t all happening right now. When she closes her eyes she can see him, she can smell him, she can feel his weight push down on her. Whenever she can’t see the real world she forgets it’s there.

Blink. Blink. The clock on her bedside table shows another night passing by without sleep. How can she go to sleep knowing he can take hold of her in her dreams? She can’t let herself sleep anymore, at least not until her eyes burn from being open and tiredness flows through her veins like syrup. Then she’ll lay her head down and she’ll dream of him. But tonight is different;tonight, she has an idea.

Ella used to be afraid of going to sleep for a different reason. Back before pigtails and teddy bears had been traded for dyed hair and homework. Ella used to be afraid of monsters hiding in the dark and they had finally caught up to her. Tonight, she wouldn’t let them catch her. She dug out of her old closet a tiny Empire State Building, a night light she’d used to fight off old monsters. Tonight it would fight off the real monsters. It was just enough to dust off the corners of her heart, just enough to make her feel safe. She lay down tucked in between the light and an old stuffed animal.

Blink. Blink. For the first time in a long time Ella wakes up unafraid. Her eyes shake off sleep as a farewell to a friend instead of an escape from an enemy. Today she feels strong for the first time since she met him. One day maybe she’d be strong enough to forget with the lights off. Tonight though, she will wrap herself in light and be unafraid.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

Ella finds some relief from her memories of rape by reaching back for the things that brought her comfort as a child. One of the worst things about sexual violation is the isolation and shame it creates in the victim. Imagine you can talk to Ella. What would you say to her?