A Whole New World: On Learning to Live Again After Rape

The day it happened was the day I lost control.

The air was crisp against my skin as I walked around Barcelona, intoxicated and with no idea of where I was.

“I can’t find my friends,” I said. “Can you help me?”

His open face did not look harmful.

I remember asking for a phone charger as more of the world began to imprint itself on my memory, my understanding.

“I need to charge my phone, I need to contact my friend,” I said. The stranger agreed to help me.

Soon, I walked into a new world. It was now filled with shame, pain, sorrow. It was a world where I was now a woman who was raped.

The day after it happened was the worst day of all. I lost touch with myself. My body went into a shock trying to cope with the trauma. My mind attempted to talk me through what happened. There was a part of me that thought that it might have been, hopefully, just a figment of my imagination. Yet, when I looked down at my hands, they shook.

I couldn’t breathe evenly. I was afraid of standing by strangers, who were everywhere. I was in a new place, here to experience new things, new worlds, but everything was sinister now. My reason told me that I can just move on, but regaining control of my body was difficult. As I placed one foot in front of the other, each step seemed heavier.

It really did happen, that voice in my head said, quietly at first, then louder. The outside world became muffled, and I could only hear the uneven, frantic beat of my heart. To move forward, with living, breathing, It seemed that denial and forgetting was my only option.

I was forced to compose myself in the middle of the crowded streets of Las Ramblas in the beautiful city of Barcelona, where happy tourists snapped photos, ate ice cream and laughed. Slowly, my body became less rigid as I was learning to function again. With time, the heaviness of my steps became lighter and I had suppressed it far enough that it wasn’t weighing my down too much.


I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is walking down a dark alley wondering where I was. I shivered and pulled my sweater tighter around my shoulders. I felt trapped. I looked around me in search of my friends, but the dark and eerie streets were void of people. My short block-heeled shoes caused me to stumble on the rigid cobblestone streets. I was so disoriented that I don’t remember what things looked like, but I do remember the numbness I felt. How did I get here? As I reached into my purse in search of my phone, I realized I was missing my ID. Could this have been a sign of what was to come next? I remember standing in the middle of an intersection at about four in the morning, helpless. “What am I doing here? Why am I alone?” Panicked thoughts congested my head. Hours later it seemed as if I had died and suddenly came back to life, but I did not come back whole.

A big dark shadow hovered over me. My eyes squinted to focus. As I went in and out of consciousness, I realized that I was too weak to focus. I could not see the face of the tall black man thrusting into me. I could not feel anything. I thought that this had to be a dream. My body froze. I had absolutely no control.

“What are you doing?? Get off of me!” I yelled, gathering up whatever strength I could find.

“Can I finish?” he asked.

As I lay there on the unfamiliar surface of his bed, I had realized I was no longer a person. I was an object. My heart shattered as I heard those words leave his mouth. I placed my head back and looked up at the ceiling. My eyes were open but there was nothing to be seen. My lips stayed shut as I was stripped from my integrity. He soon stopped and continued to ask me if I needed anything. I asked for the phone charger he promised to give me and I was able to turn my phone back on just to see that things weren’t any better.

When I was a child, my obsession for traveling developed as a means of self-exploration. I had always taken travel and adventure into my own hands and making every experience life changing. I took pride in traveling because I believe it’s the only thing that helps you grow and truly explore who you are. But once I was raped, I was no longer exploring. I was escaping.

I knew I wanted to continue traveling around Europe as I planned, but something was holding me back. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but as I continued to lose control over everything, I just collapsed. The world had fallen upon me like a thousand knives hitting my chest.

The thought of going home made me even more uncomfortable because it was an inevitable return to reality. Having to tell my mom was the hardest moment yet. From the moment I set foot on my doorway, I suddenly went blank. I was ashamed and how could I explain everything to my sweet innocent mother whom may not even understand most of what I have to say. My mother is fluent in Spanish with some English experience, therefore, the language barrier made it more difficult to tell the story.


I rang the doorbell.

“Is she home?” I thought. I rang the doorbell again.

As I tried to compose myself for a few more seconds, the door finally opened. As I looked up at her, I immediately began to cry. My eyes felt heavy as I rested my head on her shoulders.

“Something terrible has happened, ma,” I said.

“What’s wrong? “Why are you home so early?” she said.

It took me about three minutes to let go of her tight gasp. I knew once I let go, I had to tell the story. I knew that once I began to tell it, I would remind myself of that loss of control, and I didn’t want that again. So I told her “Por favor no digas nada hasta que termine.” (Please don’t speak until I’m done telling you everything), She agreed to stay quiet.

“Friday night I was intoxicated and drugged. All I remember was leaving the club and walking to find a cab when all of a sudden I felt nothing. I woke up in a stranger’s bed to his having sex with me, and it was so scary. I didn’t know how I got there but the only thing I had remembered was asking for a phone charger and the stranger agreeing to help me. I went to the doctor the same day to get tested and check if I had any drugs in my body but it was too late. I had already surpassed the six hours drugs usually last in your body. There was nothing they could do. I was afraid to even tell them I was raped, so I got up off the emergency room bed and went back to my hotel. I convinced myself I could be strong and just continue the rest of my trip but I had no idea what else was coming. I decided to take a bus tour for the day to relieve my stress and discomfort and try to resurface that curious, optimistic traveler I used to be. From buying gelato, visiting the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral and sitting down at the beautiful Park Güel nothing seemed to make me feel better. I was all alone and afraid. I had nothing. As the day ended and I returned to my hotel, I thought about the next few days. I had no money because my card and ID were missing, and I had no cash. I put my difficult circumstances aside and just kept going because that was the only way I had control. If I stayed in the hotel doing nothing, I would remind myself of that loss of control again and I didn’t want that anymore. My footsteps felt heavier and my pain only grew stronger. I felt as if the universe was telling me to go home, and that my journey had just ended. I didn’t want to accept it. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I lost control. I didn’t want to accept that I was raped.”

By: Keirys Peña

Follow Keirys: