A couple months ago, I encountered a really scary situation that has forever changed me. But it could have ended up a lot worse. Since it didn’t, I want to share this story in hopes that it may help someone who may one day find themselves in a similar circumstance.
It was early May: a typical night out on the town. My friends and I ended the night at one of our favorite places, the popular Kafe Antzokia (Theater Cafe), jamming to retro tunes with our fellow 20-somethings. At closing time, everyone headed for the metro, per usual. I said goodbye to my friends, got off at my stop and headed out into the street with the throngs of other young people coming home at the same time.
About a block from my house, two men up the block from me turned around and started cat-calling at me a bit. Cat-calling isn’t so abundant here as compared with other places in Spain, but occurs from time to time nonetheless, and one can assume at this hour they were likely in a more uninhibited state than usual. I mostly ignored them but started to walk a bit slower. They turned left up ahead, just in front of my apartment. The throngs of people all seemed to be veering to the right. I slowed down a bit more. They started walking again, past my apartment . I crossed the street and prepared to enter my apartment as quickly as possible.
Key in the door. Turn, open, step inside. As I started up the staircase in the entryway, I heard a voice behind me say, “Hola.” Startled, I turned halfway around and said hi back while continuing quickly up the stairs. “That’s weird,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t notice anyone coming in behind me.” It made me nervous, but when the man turned to wait for the elevator, my nerves were momentarily calmed. I always took the stairs since we lived on the first floor. He was waiting for the elevator. Clearly he’s just another tenant in my apartment. Everything is fine.
As I headed up the stairs, I watched out of the corner of my eye as the man turned away from the elevator and started up the stairs right behind me. It was then I knew I might be in some serious trouble. Suddenly, the few key points I learned about self defense years ago came to me at all once:
“Tell him to pass in front of you…Look him directly in the eye and ask him a question…kick and scream like hell if he gets within two feet of you…”
“Tell him to pass in front of you”
I stopped at the the top of the stairs and snapped on the hallway light. I turned to face him and told him, “Pasa, pasa,” motioning for him to pass in front of me. He stepped back and said “No, tu primero [you first].” Step one didn’t work.
“Look him directly in the eye and ask him a question”
I was told long ago that if ever someone is following you on the street, you should assert your confidence by making eye contact and asking them something as simple as whether they had the time. Since we were now just steps away from my front door, I felt it was time to be more direct. I asked him if he lives in the building, to which he responded that he did. When I asked him where exactly, he named a unit that doesn’t exist. Now I was certain. Panicking inside, but certain that I needed to do something. I didn’t want to enter my apartment door, which we were now standing directly in front of. He could attack me as I open the door. Plus he would know exactly where I live. What do I do now?
“Kick and scream like hell if he gets within two feet of you”
He acted like he had just decided to wait for the elevator on the second floor rather than the first, so I started up to the third floor. When I was halfway up the stairs, the time had run out on the hallway light’s 20-second timer, and we were in pitch darkness. I heard his footsteps on the staircase directly behind me, running this time. I scrambled for the third floor hallway light switch and saw him coming right at me with cold, mean eyes. I started screaming, yelling at him to get out, calling out for help. I pounded on the doors of the third floor apartments and rang every buzzer I could get my hands on. As he pulled and grabbed at me, I managed to hit him in the nose, knee him in the groin and kick him. Lucky for me, he wasn’t particularly big or strong, and he didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons.
After what seemed like and eternity of hitting and kicking for my life, he scampered back down the staircase. Charged by adrenaline, I had won the fight. I stood in the hallway, shaking, waiting for someone to come out and see if I was ok. No one came. Had no one heard? How is that possible? I thought about calling the police. I didn’t even know what to tell them. And trying to think of how to recount, in Spanish, what had just happened to me to police was beyond my mental capacity in that moment. I couldn’t even remember what he looked like. What was he wearing? I don’t even know. Other than him being a few inches taller than me, the only thing I could remember about him was the look in his eyes. It’s the most cliche thing ever, but it’s true. You hear that over and over in assault and rape accounts, and I can now attest to its truth. The cold, hateful look in their eyes is so distinct you don’t really remember anything else.
A few minutes passed and I tip-toed back down the stairs to my apartment. I remember very specifically wanting to pretend it hadn’t happened at all. I got ready for bed, fixed a snack, watched some Comedy Central, and went to sleep. It was only the next day, when I saw the bruises and cuts on my arms and legs from the fight, that I knew I would have to deal with what had happened.
The feelings I had in the days that followed ranged from homesickness to hopelessness to anger and even shame. I mourned the fact that my claim to Bilbao’s fame as being really safe for a city of its size was forever tainted. I mourned the alteration, however slight, in my belief that people are generally good and trustworthy.