Layla C. Shifflett, 1980-2014

I met Layla on the school bus, back in 1994. She was friends with Susan Haring, and she was riding our bus that day to go over to Susan’s house. I had always had sort of a standoffish relationship with Susan. But this new, attractive, laughing girl was with her and I couldn’t help but be drawn to them.

And somehow, despite me being relatively shy, our initial meeting turned into acquaintance, which further bloomed into an easy friendship. Layla went to Susan’s house pretty frequently, which meant that she rode our bus frequently. I looked forward to those afternoons on the bus, where we could all just be kids and not give a crap about anything but goofing off and who likes who. But also because I got to see Layla.

Layla was my first “girlfriend”, in the way that when you’re a freshman in high school and don’t have a car, job, money or options you can call another person your “girlfriend/boyfriend” even if that means all you ever did was talk on the phone a lot.

I never kissed Layla, never felt her skin, never did anything prurient in the least. And after a little while, she called me on it; I didn’t have a good answer, and that was the end of that. I was 14 and inexperienced, and I knew that she had other “boyfriends” before so she had to know more about this “relationship stuff” than me, so I was insecure and doubting and just not equipped to process how I felt, nor how to be mature about the whole thing.

We stayed friends the way that you do when you break up with someone amicably.

After high school, I didn’t see Layla again until well after I had moved to Philly and was dating Megan. I was visiting Meg out in West Chester and Layla ended up being our waitress that evening. It was great to see her; she was her same old self. That was in 2004. That was the last time I saw her.

I heard the awful news last night that Layla had passed away after losing the fight to a long illness, at the age of 33.

I’m struck by how much debris is bubbling up in my brain

  • Her claim of having invented the “rats nest” hairstyle (before it was cool, obviously)
  • Sitting next to her in Spanish III with Sra. Johnson. One time, Sra. told Layla to put her “Gluteus Maximus” in her seat and Layla’s reaction was that she thought Sra. was saying she had a big ass. I calmed her by saying, No, that’s just the name of the muscle.
  • A long winter walk along the bank of the Brandywine near my mom’s house.
  • She loved horses. She could ride the shit out of a horse.
  • Her mega crush on Amy Eckles brother
  • She got her hair done like Jennifer Aniston (layers? I forget) back when that was the thing to do
  • The sound of her voice, echoing off the metal riveted walls of the school bus
  • We used to pass notes back and forth a lot. We used to write actual snail-mail letters to each other. Once, she sent me a lock of her hair. I remember it smelled like her shampoo. I still have it in a box in the basement, somewhere.
  • The way she said her stepdad’s name, “Bob”, had a little lilt at the end.

I didn’t know the adult Layla. But I’m sure she was as vibrant as the Layla I first met, 20 years ago.

1 Response to “Layla C. Shifflett, 1980-2014”

  • Cindy Gruetzmacher

    Hi Chris. I just happened to come across this beautiful piece that you wrote for Layla after she passed away last year. You captured so many little details that were so Layla. She always spoke kindly of you. I remember the day I drove you home. I can’t remember if you were at our house visiting with Layla or if you missed the school bus. We were coming over Cannery Road and you said I drove like a race car driver. I might have been driving too fast??
    Anyway I just wanted to say Thank You for remembering her and taking the time to put your thoughts into words.
    Sincerely, Cindy (Layla’s mother)

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