Over fifty years ago, I was molested for a number of months by someone respected within the community. I was made to feel dirty, and told to keep it a secret, threatened with harm if I told anyone about it. My fears were real, so I kept my mouth shut. But I have always refused to be a victim. I decided to write about the monster I encountered with the hope that reading my article, could help others who have been abused. Hope is eternal
John J. Raspanti
I’ll never forget the first time he changed.
His kind eyes turned dark, small, ugly. His face, usually full and cherubic, collapsed. The ever-present smile, at least when my Mom was around, disappeared. He leered at me.
I’m nine years old-somewhat on the small side. He’s close to 60, bulky, with thick white hair and glasses. He always wears a gray suit and shiny leather shoes. I look down at his shoes a lot. He resembles someone’s nicely-dressed grandfather, which he is, as well as being both a pastor and a music teacher.
I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, which is how I ended up in his grasp.
My family had moved from Northern California to Oklahoma in 1967. It was our third move in less than three years. My dad was a salesman for a steel company. He liked the job and was good at it. Mom worked occasionally, but stayed home more. We were close. She was always there.
My sister was six years older than I, and indifferent. I remember thinking how smart she was. She wrote poetry and stories, and argued with my mom on a regular basis. I felt like she didn’t like me, which inspired me to do things to annoy her, like barging into her room dressed as Superman and “flying” away. She could never catch me.
Oklahoma felt like another world compared to California. The people talked different. I heard a lot about southern pride. Had no idea what that meant. The adults discussed the war in Vietnam. What was a Vietnam? All I was trying to do was adjust to our new place.
We lived in a nice two-story home, with space all around. The house was huge in my eyes. Everything in Oklahoma seemed bigger to me. The backyard opened up into a field. No fence, just room to roam. The neighborhood was quiet and friendly.
The weather was shocking. When we moved in, it was snowing. Would do that for days and days. I liked it at first, until my feet froze. The change in weather reflected my change in schools. I immediately sensed the difference. It was relaxed in California, but not Oklahoma. Very strict, cold. I smiled on the outside, but grew to hate it.
On the other hand, my sister thrived as I fell further and further behind. School was boring. My folks found me a tutor. A couple actually. One was young, the other older. I liked the younger one, she smiled a lot, and didn’t put any pressure on me. She seemed to understand.
My passions were sports and acting. I dreamed about both. Dad had introduced me to old movies. I loved them. When we lived in Southern California, I often wondered where this place called Hollywood was. Funny thing, it wasn’t far from where I lived. I begged Mom to take me there. She’d look at me funny. Hollywood? Mom was often told how “cute” I was, and that I should be in the movies. I was game to try.
Sports was another way of expressing myself. I could run like the wind. When not hitting a baseball, or shooting hoops, I auditioned for plays, but my grades were poor. I had picked up ventriloquism quickly and entered the school talent contest. I won first prize. Performing was fun. Writing was also a new-found passion, but other courses, like science and math, left me numb.
I was eventually transferred to a “special school” called “The Little Red House.” Unlike my “regular” school, everyone was nice there, including the other kids. The differences were obvious, especially in the curriculum. It was like slow motion. I could feel the pressure. Catch up or stay back a grade. I was there less than two months. I made a few friends and found it hard to leave. Now I was going back to something I considered my enemy. No choice. I was back in “the system.”
One day I told my mom I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. She nodded and said she’d look into it. Things had been different at home since I had left the special school. Mom and Dad tip-toed around me. Even my sister, whom I could always count on to be sarcastic, was strangely quiet. She even smiled at me once. I figured it out. They felt bad that I was struggling. I didn’t. I always sensed that I was different. My road would always be my own, no matter where it led.
But I loved them for their kindness and support. Mom quickly found a music store that gave lessons. The teacher was local and well-respected, a pastor, and father of the young lady who had tutored me. We went to my former tutor’s house to get some information and set up my first lesson. We’d meet the teacher at the store.
That would be the first time I’d see “the monster” in person.
The music store where he worked was several miles from our house. It was downtown, located on a busy street. We parked in front, and entered. I was excited-anxious to learn to play the guitar. A few days before I had watched Chet Atkins pickin’ on The Ed Sullivan Show. I dreamed of doing the same thing. The inside of the store was old and rickety, with hardwood floors. Instruments filled the space against black walls painted with musical notes. Sounds echoed. I spotted a curtain in the back, and wondered what was behind it.
I heard him coming before I saw him. His shoes made a clicking sound on the floor. Click, click click. Mom was looking at a guitar as he strided up to her, gazing at me the entire time. He was smiling. No teeth, just grinning. I’d like to say I sensed something evil, but I didn’t.
Before I knew it, I was shaking his hand and being led to whatever was behind the curtain. We entered a dimly-lit hallway. There were small rooms on both sides. No one else was there. Mom was talking to the man. He had a high-pitched voice, and laughed a lot. He was telling her about growing up in Arkansas. We finally entered the furthest room in the back. Another curtain. He pulled back the curtain to a small room where I saw two chairs and a couch, a music stand between the chairs.
Mom sat down on the couch. The man had brought along a guitar. He said it was mine while I learned to play. He gave me a music book to learn some cords. I nodded.
He showed me how to hold the guitar. He had stubby fingers, like fat cigars.
The routine was set. We’d meet him in the front of the store and walk back to the room behind the curtain. I started to think of it like a cave. He’d walk between my Mom and me, chatting her up while patting me on the head. He had a gentle touch. Mom took her place on the couch and the lesson began. I was practicing a lot. He was very complimentary as he moved his chair closer to me. I was getting the hang of this guitar thing.
Just before our fourth lesson, Mom said she needed to go to the store. She’d be back before my lesson ended. She walked me to the curtain, and said she’d be back soon. The man appeared and took me to the back room. I could sense a change in him, an edge. The smile had disappeared the minute mom left. We sat down in the room. I began to strum the guitar. He took it away from me and said, “Do you know how pretty you are?”
His eyes were different. I remember flashing on a movie that had scared me. The character actually. Frankenstein. The eyes were the same, dark and small. Black as coal. We went on with the lesson. The edge remained. I could feel him looking at me. We heard a sound coming down the hallway. It was mom. I breathed a sigh of relief. The monster flipped the switch and returned to his pastor persona. He kept telling my mom how much I had improved.
On the way home, Mom asked me why I was so quiet.
Things escalated during my next lesson. Mom dropped me off. I walked into the store with my guitar slung over my shoulder. The monster came and got me. We went to the room-practiced a little. We were chatting when he pressed his face against mine. His lips brushed against mine. He kept his face there, staring right through me. No smile. More a grimace. He said something about other lessons. I could feel myself going numb, something I’d get very good at.
When he heard my Mom coming down the hall, he grunted.
“Say anything about this and I’ll kill her.” His fingers were around my throat.
The abuse got more intense with each lesson. When he put me on the couch, I disengaged, floating off to a safe place, waiting for it to be over. He showed me a knife, with a threat. If I said anything, he’d use it to slit my Mom’s throat. He slipped it behind the cushion, reminding me that my Mom always sat there. It would be easy, he said, to cut her and make her bleed. He told me he knew where I lived. He’d kill my sister. He mentioned my dog. Said he’d killed dogs before. I didn’t cry or make a sound. I stayed in my safe place.
Mom began to notice some changes in me. I wasn’t practicing the guitar anymore. She was puzzled. When she asked me about it I said nothing. I was staying in my room more. When I went outside, I checked behind me to see if the monster was following. I never saw him. I waited impatiently for my sister to get home from school. I stayed close to Mom.
A few days later were driving to the music store.
Mom said, “Do you even want to take guitar lessons anymore?”
I shook my head no.
She said, “OK, I’ll call and cancel.”
I almost began to cry, considered saying something, but the monster’s threat stopped me.
“You tell her, she dies. I know where you live, remember?”
I turned my head so Mom wouldn’t see the tears.
We moved back to California a year after the abuse started. I lost interest in most everything. I was basically existing, but felt hollow. I fought it. The monster had taken away my innocence. Child abuse wasn’t discussed in the 60’s. It was kept as a dark, guilty secret. Especially in Oklahoma, where Oral Roberts was a literal God.
When I was 20, I told Mom about being molested behind the curtain. She was stunned. Her face fell. She said felt like she should have known. I regretted telling her. She said it was her job to protect me. I told her it wasn’t her fault.
I rebounded somewhat a few years after the abuse. It was a daily battle. I was in a vast, dark place. I had learned to compartmentalize my emotions. I smiled on the outside, felt dead, sometimes on the inside. Didn’t trust people. When I was 12, I fulfilled a dream by appearing in a movie. My love for sports returned. But it was different. I was different. I preferred being alone where I couldn’t be hurt.
Self-destructive urges became more prevalent in my 20’s. I got some help. I was told my abuse had been extreme. I had blocked a lot of the memories.
In my 30’s, the nightmares began. They were disturbing. I always dream in color. A knife would appear, followed by buckets of blood. It was always the same. I fought to have a normal life. Became a father. Married and divorced a few times. My therapy sessions became intense, as I remembered more.
Pent-up anger became a problem. I picked fights with strangers. I had no filter. Listened to a song called, Knock,Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door over and over. I felt my world collapsing around me. But still I fought and found my competitive edge.
Competitive against the monster. He wasn’t going to win. It was him against me. What he had done would not define me. I’d teeter on the edge, but always come back. I was like a boxer who had been knocked down, but refused to stay down. I kept getting up.
Today the struggle is still there.
The nightmares come and go.
But I remain resolute. I won’t stay down.
The monster will not win.Back to share your story