‘Did he just rape me?’ My cousin. My family. I lay there wondering how could this have happened? I did not tell anyone until 6 weeks later when I found out I was pregnant.’

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“I lay there wondering how I got here. How could this have happened to me? Why did he choose me of all people? I was lying in a hospital bed while the nurse was conducting a rape kit because my cousin raped me. Yes, you heard me right, my cousin raped me. I gave the cops a full description from the play back over and over in my head of what happened.

At the time I was living in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was working at Payless and I volunteered to assist with a remodel in Concord Mills Mall. I was scheduled to work the remodel for a week and was staying with a friend who lived in Charlotte. The first two overnights were very taxing. I was so tired and worn out so when the third night came around, I jumped at the bit to leave early. I was headed back to my friend’s house to call it a night, but she decided to hang out with friends and I didn’t have a key to her apartment. My friend is not the only person I knew who lived in charlotte. I have family members that live there as well so I decided to see what a few of my cousins were up to. I called and got the address to my aunt’s house and headed over there. When I arrived, there wasn’t too much going on. I sat and chit chatted with my aunt for an hour or so. After speaking with her I asked my cousins what they wanted to do. It was late so we decided to go to my other cousin’s house and have some drinks. Upon arrival I got out of the car not thinking of what would transpire just a few hours later.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

The three of us went upstairs, my two boy cousins and myself. We entered the apartment and my cousin greeted me with a hug. Honestly, I was ready to get my drink on so I was like, ‘Where’s the Vodka?’ He went into the kitchen, got the shot glasses and the celebration commenced. We talked about why I was in town, reminisced about the past, and what was happening in our lives currently. We continued to throw back shots and I can even remember calling my best friend on the phone so she could be part of the festivities. Not too long after hanging up with my best friend, I started to feel a little woozy. I was a hardcore drinker in my past so I knew that was nothing normal. I initially credited it to the fact I had been working overnights and my body had just had enough. I told my cousin I needed to lie down and he offered his bedroom to me. I took him up on his offer and didn’t think twice about it.

I was safe. I was with family. I was with my cousins. At no point did I ever think I was in danger of being raped.

I went into the bedroom alone. I took of my pants and got under the covers. The world was spinning. Parts of me wanted to throw up and other parts just wanted to die. I was too drunk and dizzy to think through the confusion of why this happened when it never happened before. Eventually I just went to sleep. The next thing I know – my body was rocking. I figured I was naturally rocking myself back and forth because I wasn’t feeling well, but there was pressure. Unrecognizable pressure. I immediately sobered up as much as I could. I knew then and there, something was not right. Someone was behind me. Someone was inside me. I didn’t know who because it was completely dark, but I had an idea. My mind and body froze. I was afraid. I was afraid of what was happening. I was afraid to say something. I was afraid to move inadvertently. I was afraid because alcohol was involved and I didn’t know what would occur if he knew I knew what he was doing to me. I laid there and waited for him to finish. My body was tight and stoic for the remainder of the night. I wanted to move but I just couldn’t. I just kept thinking over and over, ‘Did he just rape me?’ His cousin. His family. My thoughts running rampant about how I was going to get out of there.

The hour seemed like days, but eventually the sun came up. I still hadn’t moved. I waited until I heard voices to make an attempt to get up. At this point in time I was alone in the bedroom and swung my legs over the side of the bed. My panties were just there, on the floor. My heart fell into the pit of my stomach because even then I couldn’t convince myself that I’d dreamt it. It happened. He’d absolutely violated me and I’d let him. I was scared and ready to get the hell out of there. I picked my panties up, folded them, and put them in my pants pocket. I put my pants on, took a breath and stood up. I walked to the door realizing I was sore down there, prepared myself for what was to come, and opened the door. I walked out into the living room and saw my 3 cousins sitting on the couch and said, ‘good morning.’ I was greeted by all with a good morning. As soon as I heard his, voice my skin crawled. I knew I had to get out of there. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I wanted to do and say a hell of a lot, but nothing would come out. I let them know I had to get back to the other side of town to my friend’s house and prepare for my next overnight. My cousin, who is also my rapist’s nephew, asked if I wouldn’t mind helping his grandmother, my aunt, move into a new apartment. I didn’t know how to say no so I agreed.

I told him we needed to get moving so we headed out. I dropped my other cousin off and we headed to my Aunt’s house. I helped them with the move and tried my best not to think of what happened. When I was no longer needed to assist, I drove my cousin to work at McDonald’s and proceeded to go to my friend’s house.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

Once I got to my friend’s house, I told her what happened. She immediately said, ‘We’re going to the hospital.’ We got in the car and she took me. When we got to the hospital they asked me what occurred, I explained, and they called the police. While waiting for the police the nurse conducted the rape kit. My underwear and all the clothes I was wearing were taken. The nurse did find semen during the exam. I was prescribed a Plan B pill and anti-viral HIV medications. When the police arrived I repeated the story to the officer and provided a description of my cousin. It was the scariest thing I had experienced in my entire life. Hours later I was discharged and went back to my friend’s house. I sat, I cried, I sat some more. I was in utter disbelief. Outside of my friend, I did not tell anyone I was raped until 6 weeks later when I found out I was pregnant.

My son is my greatest and most precious gift. Being pregnant was very difficult. Initially I wanted to have an abortion, but life did not fulfill that desire. At seven months pregnant I decided to give my child up for adoption. I went through the process and picked out an amazing family for him. I did not tell anyone of my decision because I did not want to be judged. June 5, 2012, my labor was induced because I was going on 42 weeks pregnant. I had friends come and sit with me in the hospital and provide me with more comfort than I felt I was worth. At 5 a.m., Caiden decided to make his entrance into the world. He was 6 lb 8 oz and 21 inches. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and in that moment I knew he was God’s gift to me. My life would be and has been forever changed.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo
Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

It’s been almost 8 years. I was raped Sept 4, 2011 – 4 days before my 25th birthday. That day I will never forget. It was the toughest most rewarding day of my life. I could sit and wallow in sadness and despair because of what happened, but that would be detrimental to Caiden and myself. There is love, happiness, and joy in our life today. I do not have a relationship with numerous family members because they do not like that I openly speak of the rape. I have been accused of lying, consenting, and even planning being raped. I have be shunned and pushed to the side. I used to be bothered, but I learned family isn’t necessarily what you’re born into, but can be chosen. I have the most supportive and loving friends. They have supported me through my 170 lb weight loss as well as my addiction. I realized I was living a very unhealthy lifestyle. I was hiding behind my weight. In my mind, if I looked on the outside how I felt on the inside, I could prevent further trauma.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

I have worked tremendously hard to overcome that feeling and I am now 170 pounds lighter, both mentally and physically. Compassion, kindness, love, and consistency are all I need.

I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and I will be an even better person tomorrow.”

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Zoey Pardo of Concord, North Carolina. You can follow her journey on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more empowering stories of women overcoming their trauma:

‘There was a window in the bedroom. I tried to open it but soon realized it had been nailed shut. Then, the guy I knew from the party opened the door.’

‘I was 4 years old. I had on my plaid dress. He interrupted my nap and locked the bedroom door. When I told my dad, he said, ‘WHY did you need to share this? Can’t you see how upset your mother is?’

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