When the retaining wall crumbles

The flood waters are rising. I’m flailing around in the decades of repressed feelings about the many creepy, experiences I had as a child, a student and a young woman. One incident in particular troubles me. I was in my early teens. I went to Omaha to visit Kathy, one of my best friends from summer camp. I spent several days with her family between Christmas and New Year’s. They lived in a comfortable 3-bedroom house with a finished basement, on an old, tree-lined street. At the top of the stairs to the second floor, there were four doors. Starting from the left, going clockwise were her brother’s room, her room, her parent’s room and – on the right, the bathroom. One night I was heading back from the bathroom to Kathy’s bedroom when her father kind of accosted me. Didn’t say anything, just hugged me way too tight for no reason, kind of pulling me towards him, mashing me into his body. I slipped out of his grasp and into the safety of Kathy’s room.

The next day, I was in the study, just off the living room, calling my parents, when he came up behind me and again mashed himself into me. He was just so creepy, I couldn’t stand to be near him. Shortly after the second incident, I joined Kathy and her mother in the kitchen, where they were making a lemon jello cake. Her mother asked me to run down to the basement pantry to get another can of something. I was about to go downstairs, when her father came into the kitchen and volunteered to help me find it. I had no words for the wave of aversion that came over me, but I knew I was going downstairs with him. I said I had to go to the bathroom really bad, and ran upstairs.

It was decades later before I said anything. I had called Kathy for her birthday. Turned out she was I bad shape, seemingly in the midst of a breakdown. In the course of the conversation, I asked her if her father had ever molested her. “Why do you ask?” she replied. “I didn’t want to relate my experience, so I just said I didn’t know why exactly, but something she had said made me wonder. “My therapist just asked me the same thing,” she said, but she went on to dismiss the theory, insisting nothing had ever happened.

That was it. I never mentioned my experience to her, although I had spoken of it to a mutual friend. Kathy and I never discussed her father again. In fact, we haven’t spoken for years, and to this day, she says she insists I made the whole thing up. But no. I didn’t. Her father was a perv. And if he did it to me, I’m guessing he did it to other girls too.


The flood of people speaking up about sexual assault and sexual harassment has been troubling me. I grew up with so much of it. I was such a trusting, naive child. Even into young adulthood. It was a joke. I was a classical guitarist – more or less accidentally. I was singing in coffee houses when I was in college and heard there was a guitar teacher at Mount Holyoke College. It was classical – and I had just started learning to play folk and blue grass. But what the hell, I signed up.

Something clicked. Having to practice the guitar was a perfect excuse for getting out of awkward social encounters, for blocking out my mother’s suicide threats. It was safe. Two hours of scales and arpeggios every day. So I got good at it fast (for someone who began an instrument at age 18).

It was a win-win for my two paradoxical needs: applause and isolation. So, 18 months after I started to study, I headed to the Aspen Music Festival. It was scary: I only knew about 4 short pieces on the guitar and the place was teeming with world class musicians among both the students and the faculty.

The classical guitar maestro was named Oscar Ghiglia – and we all worshiped him. It seemed the norm within classical music: Great teachers had utterly devoted students.

One afternoon, the third summer I was in Oscar Ghiglia’s master class, I was sick in bed and the entire class came to the place I was renting in Aspen Square. We hung out for a while, and when people left, Oscar stayed behind and literally jumped me. I was shocked, confused. I resisted at first but eventually gave in. But after that, when he would come banging on my door, I would bolt the door, lock myself in the bathroom and wait for him to go away.

Why didn’t I stop studying with him? Reasonable question. I wanted to get good. I wanted the approval. I went to Italy for another master class and competition. We had fist fights when I refused him, so he took away my scholarship.

Finally, the last straw came when he burst into my little room in Gargnano and forcibly raped me. “There, don’t you feel better?” he smirked as he rolled off me. It was September, 1980. My mother was dying of cancer – and his wife was visiting my mother. I told him if he ever touched me again, I would tell his wife, and I left town the next day.

I never talked about it with the other women who studied with him, but I can’t imagine that my experience was unique.