Palo Alto Weekly 34th Annual Short Story Contest
Young Adult Honorable Mention

Folded Eight Times Over

by Ally Mediratta

Author Bio

Ally Mediratta is a rising senior at Menlo Atherton High School who finds solace in writing as a means of self-expression. When she's not writing, Ally spends her time debating competitively, reading political nonfiction, and watching Criminal Minds. She's a passionate feminist who strongly believes that therapy is cathartic and worthwhile, regardless of your life experiences.


My inspiration for my story was partly my own experiences and partly Chanel Miller's autobiography where she describes her life during and after her sexual assault on Stanford campus. It was important to me to be able to convey what life is like after a traumatic event because oftentimes, survivors are portrayed in media as though these experiences are glamourous and fast-paced when in reality, the upheaval of one's life can manifest itself in the smallest, everyday actions. I chose to not give my main character a name because this story isn't mine, but rather the story of survivors everywhere.

The pencil shifted back and forth restlessly in her hand. One sheet of printer paper lay untouched on the kitchen table in front of her, defyingly white. Short, shallow breaths forced her chest to rise and fall sporadically, completely offbeat with the tapping of her foot caused by a shaky leg. She closed her eyes, clicking her tongue softly. Her hand reached for her collarbone, and, in a familiar motion, she tapped it with two fingers. Opening her eyes, she labeled the blank paper with a title.

The woman chuckled quietly at her title, letting a hidden breath escape her lungs. The silence of the room was pierced by a ringing alarm, which she quickly shut off on her phone. She folded the paper seven times, trying to fold it once more, though she knew it's physically impossible to fold it eight times. Shoving the paper haphazardly into her small maroon purse, she pushed herself up from her chair. It started to pour outside, turning her world into the color green that only rainy days can give you; the trees swayed slightly in the wind. She put on a pair of rainboots after grabbing a grey woolen cardigan from her coat rack. She paused, feeling the water run down her face with a jolt of adrenaline rushing through her bloodstream. She got in her car, shoving the fast-food wrappers off the passenger's seat to place her purse gingerly in the center of the seat. Shutting her eyes again, she placed her hands on the steering wheel, grasping the plasticky vinyl that had grown worn along with the years. Rain poured on the windshield, the wind ramping up. The interior of the car heard every little sound, only muted, as if the outside world were on the other end of a phone line with bad service. The peace in knowing that she was in a locked car in her own little space was enough to get her to turn it on. She pulled out of the driveway, speeding through the residential neighborhoods until she arrived downtown. It was 5:32, so she hastily parked in the fairly empty parking lot before sprinting across the wet asphalt. She pressed her body weight on a heavy glass door with bold black lettering until it gave way. She pulled off her cardigan. It was a clear mistake to wear wool in the rain, so she tied it around her waist, taking note of the scratching on her stomach, slightly gratified by the physical acknowledgment of her existence. She hopped up the carpeted stairs as little water droplets fell off of her damp hair. a small wooden door sat at the end of a long hallway, and she finished the trek to the door out of breath, proud of the small accomplishment. Opening the door, she walked over to a grey couch, where she sat down and placed her purse by her feet. An older woman walked in from a side room and lowered her glasses at the damp woman sitting on her couch with a soaking wet cardigan draped around her midsection.

"Hi, Janet. Sorry. I know I'm late. I'm sorry." the woman on the couch said.

Janet smiled warmly and sat down in a leather chair across from the woman.

Janet pulled out a folder, and peered at a small post-it note she had stuck to the front the week before, then questioned, "Did you make the list?"

The woman put one finger up and opened her small purse to pull out a slightly moistened wad of paper. She unfolded it slowly, to reveal a blank page with just a title. She held it up defeatedly. The title read; So, You've Been Sexually Assaulted. What Now?

Frowning slightly, Janet scribbled something down on her note and put the folder down.

"What happened?" Janet inquired.

The woman sighed, "I tried. I don't know what to say."

Janet nodded, "Think about it now. We have time, let's figure ourselves out, yeah?"

The woman nodded, and she grabbed a pencil from a small jar on a table to her right. she scrawled the number one slightly under her meticulously written title. the paper ripped from the pressure of a pencil on its damp surface. The woman's shoulders dropped, and her eyes were transfixed on the tip of the pencil. She swallowed hard, and put two fingers to her collarbone, tapping away.

Janet interjected with a fresh sheet of paper, and the woman nodded, carefully folding her ripped piece of paper seven times, each fold causing more tears than the last, before setting it aside. She took the new sheet of paper, and carefully wrote her title once again.

"What do you want the first thing to say?" Janet asked gently, "what should she know if you could tell her anything?" The woman shrugged ambivalently, her eyes watering slightly.

"I guess-" she started, "I guess I want her to know that it's before and after"

Janet motioned for her to elaborate.

The woman complied, hesitantly clarifying.

"There is no normal anymore. it's not this year, last year, two years ago. It's before and after. my graduation was not three years ago. It was before. Meeting Tom wasn't five months ago, it was after."

Janet nodded thoughtfully, "That's perfect. that's number one".

The woman sniffled, and wrote 1. there is no normal. only before and after.

Janet watched the woman stare blankly at the floor, analyzing every tuft of the grey polyester wall-to-wall carpeting, studying the details of the most mundane feature in the room.

"Where are you right now?" Janet coaxed.

The woman released a shaky breath, "I'm here. I think. maybe I'm there, too. That's the thing, you know? It's like I'm not here or there. I left a part of myself there."

Janet picked up a notepad and quietly wrote for a moment. she looked up at the woman, and asked, "Can you describe your grief to me? I think it's interesting that you use the word grief and not trauma."

"Everyone asks me to describe trauma," the woman replied, "but trauma is the easy part. It's the grief that gets you. Grief is mourning the things you lost, though you don't know what you lost. It's trying not to cry in a crowd full of strangers because his hands are on you again, but you turn around and he's gone, and you can't breathe."

"What comes after grief, then?"

The woman shook her head, and mumbled unintelligibly, while she picked at her chipping nail polish. The blue flakes fell to the ground, dusting the grey floor with tiny specks of color. She looked up, tears spilling down her face, racing her nail polish to the floor.

"How are we so certain that something comes after?" she choked out through tears.

Janet sighed and tilted her head. "Something will come after," she promised, "it's not binary. You won't wake up and be over it one day, but you will wake up without it being the first thing you think of. There are happy days in your future"

"I know," the woman replied, wringing her hands, "I know."

"So you want to add that? The grief part."

The woman nodded slightly and wrote down 2. grieve that parts of yourself that you lost

"I know this is hard" Janet assured, "but this is progress. It really is. even if it doesn't feel like it"

"I Know. It's just hard to reconcile how different my ‘after' is", the woman responded

The two spoke for a few more minutes, discussing whatever can be discussed when trauma is the topic until a small egg timer started to ding. Janet smiled and placed her notepad down.

"Same time next week?"

"Of course"

The woman stood up before folding her new sheet of paper seven times and placing both pieces of paper in her purse. Janet handed her a tissue, and she blotted at her eyes, well aware that a tissue wouldn't remove the puffiness she had come to know as a side effect of recent life. The woman opened the door and stepped back out into the long hallway. She shuffled down the hall and slowly stepped down the carpeted stairs, the way a little kid would, both feet on each step, one by one. She pulled the glass door towards her, accidentally hitting her elbow on it in one swift motion. She winced as her arm turned slightly red, pushed her purse strap back up to her shoulder, and stormed past the door.

Puddles splashed as she walked, and her jeans soon became muddied by the constant barrage of rainwater. Her gaze didn't drop as she walked, laser-focused on her car. She pressed the unlock button on her key repeatedly and swung the door open as soon as she reached the car. She slammed the door shut and immediately a cry escaped her lips. Hot tears streamed down her face, and she screamed into the void that is an empty car on a rainy day. Her face grew warm and red, her breath panting between screams, as she pounded on her steering wheel until her palm grew numb. When her throat grew hoarse, she fell silent. With shaky hands, she picked up her purse and pulled out the dry sheet of paper. She unfolded it and smoothed it out over her dashboard. pulling out a pencil, she wrote, 3. let yourself get mad.

She drove home carelessly, the way that most people do after it rains. By the time she arrived home, the clouds had begun to clear and the sun was shining. The droplets of water glistened on the flowers that the woman had planted, well before. She smiled and stepped out of the car. She entered the house to reemerge seconds later with a pair of gardening shears, sizing up her prized daffodils, and cutting a select few to be put in a centerpiece. After finding a small glass vase back inside, she began to trim the stems of the flowers. The stems fell to the inside of a porcelain white sink, a satisfying snap with every cut. She closed her eyes and envisioned the familiar sight of blood dripping down her wrists, the sensation of the pain she'd allowed herself.

Opening her eyes, she ran her little finger along the sharp edge of the shears, leaving a straight-lined imprint on the pad of her finger. She pondered for a moment, then quickly cut the last flower and placed the shears down, taking three larges steps back from the sink. Raising two fingers to her collarbone, she tapped instinctively.

The woman placed the daffodils carefully in the vase, arranging them so they all faced outwards. The sunny yellow brightened up her kitchen, a cozy room that had recently been lacking color. She positioned the flowers on her table, and clasped her hands together, smiling. Another alarm went off on her phone, which prompted her to get a Chinese takeout container from her fridge. She ate fried rice and watched the news, grumbling at the commentators, and switching to old sitcom reruns during the sad parts. It seemed as though life was full of sad parts lately, the stories that used to be mundane suddenly knocked the wind out of her. After dinner, she ran her fingers absentmindedly through her hair, well aware that knots had spawned from her lack of showering. She sat cross-legged in front of her dresser, slowly brushing her hair, grabbing it at the roots as she untangled it to avoid pain. Once her hair was smooth, she stood up and slowly pulled her shirt over her head, throwing it towards the corner of her room. Turning around, she peeled her damp pants off her legs and gingerly took off her bralette and underwear. Her shower was one room to the right, and she bounded over to the tiled floor, avoiding the mirror in her room, but catching a glimpse of herself in the small circular mirror hung above the bathroom sink.

She winced, and shut her eyes hard, slowly lowering herself to the ground. She sat with her thighs on the chilled ceramic floor, sitting up at first. Inch by inch, her fingers spread apart as her hands pressed on the ground beneath her, a reminder that she was on an unmoving floor that could not collapse in on itself the way that she could. Allowing herself to curl up fully, she placed her head on the tile, the right side of her face directly on the ground. Any fear of the unsanitary practice of putting one's face on a bathroom floor was quite immediately trumped by the fear of self-reflection, that the woman couldn't escape her physical reminder of where she'd been. The cold was soothing on her bare skin, a grounding constant compared to her fragile body.

Inhaling deeply, she slowly pushed herself up and instinctively pressed a fanned out hand to her left temple to shield her eyes from the mirror before stepping into the shower. Cold water gushed out of the showerhead and she allowed the icy water to pound her head for a few moments, as freezing cold streams of water ran down the sides of her face, her body transformed into a route towards the drain. She turned the knob to the hottest temperature, causing a small cloud of steam to slowly form by the top of the shower curtain. With time, her fingers pruned, and her face grew pink with the heat, softening her skin. The woman reached out to a towel rack and wrapped herself up in a light blue towel before stepping out and examining her face in the small mirror. The steam had made everything a little bit foggy, and she wiped the mirror with the back of her hand. A hazy version of herself stared back at her as if all the sharp edges she held within herself were dulled by the steam. It was her favorite version of herself. The apartment was quiet, the on and off rain had finally ceased, leaving the woman standing alone in silence. She pulled herself into baggy pajamas, and sat on top of her duvet, in bed. Two fingers promptly found their way to her collarbone, tapping along with her heartbeat.

She stood up and walked to her kitchen table. Her purse sat by the already-wilted daffodils. She propped it up, and rummaged through it, pulling out her list. Shaky breaths forced her chest up and down, as she walked back towards her bedroom. Grabbing a pen from her nightstand, she scrawled a phrase haphazardly. The woman placed the paper, creased from all its folds, face up on her nightstand next to her. The edges stuck up, refusing to lay flat on the wood.

4. take it day by day. get up in the morning and do it all again. the only way out is through.