“Marcella, I don’t know where to begin. I have plenty of excuses for this, but no real reasons. I’m so scared myaddiction to sex will destroy everything I have; my marriage, my relationship with my children, everything.” I darted my eyes away from hers and concentrated on the smoke rising from the cigarette, now burned down almost to the filter.

She pulled a tissue out of the quilted dispenser on her desk and reached across the desk, handing it to me. I gladly took it and dabbed my gradually swelling eyes with it. “Well, Zoe, the best place to start is always at the beginning, so why don’t we commence there and work our way to the present.”

I retreated into the bulky wing chair, letting my shoulders sink deep into the cushions, and crumpled the damp tissue in my hand. “The beginning . . .”


The first time I ever laid eyes on Jason, I thought he was a junior-mack-daddy-wannabe that probably sat around on a Commodore 64 computer drinking grape Kool-Aid out of a peanut butter jar while watchingGood Times.I couldn’t stand his ass.

The feeling was mutual, though, because our first physical interaction was when he gave me the finger and then spit on my saddle shoes. We were in the fifth grade, and from the day my parents and I drove up in our Ford station wagon, I knew he was trouble.

The movers got there about an hour after we did. I was sitting on the curb playing jacks when the big truck came flying around the corner, practically tilted on one side. I figured the driver was going to lose control of the truck for sure, and every valuable possession we owned would end up strewn all over the street.

Being the wonderful and unselfish little girl I was, my main concern was that my black Barbie didn’t lose a limbor anything in the process. Table lamps, my father’s eight-track tape player, and my mother’s dishes were all replaceable, but the hell if I was going to be able to replace my Barbie. She was my pride and joy. I had even painted her fingernails with glittered polish and made her a sexy dress out of the red bandannas my mother made me wear to bed so my pressed hair wouldn’t frizz up. Other than that, I was worried about my Snoopy Snow Cone Machine, and that was about it.

Jason and his parents lived directly across the street. He was outside that day trying to get some mail-order rocket to soar into the heavens. What a rip-off! The whole time I was watching him, the stupid thing never made it a yard off the ground. It was after about the hundredth try, when the movers had half the truck unloaded, that I noticed his ass rolling his beady eyes at me. I was using a piece of pink chalk to draw a makeshift hopscotch diagram on the street in front of my house when he approached me. His Kangol hat and leather bomber jacket made him look like a pint-size pimp. All he needed was a couple of gold teeth.

“Girl, you better quit! I’m gonna tell my momma on you!” I glared at him, smacking on a wad of Bubblicious like a cow.

“Little man, you better go play with your cheap broken-rocket and leave me the heck alone!”

He got all the way up in my face then. “Girl, don’t you be ordering me around! I’ll stomp your skinny behind into the concrete!”

“Oooooooh, I amsoooooooscared!” I rolled my eyes, chastising him.

Then, the miniature version of Shaft flipped me the finger, made a disgusting noise while he gathered saliva in his mouth, and then spit on my brand-new black-and-whitesaddle shoes. I beat his little ass too. We were the same age, but I had him by a good three inches in height. Milk wasn’t due to start doing his body good for a couple more years.

Two of the moving men broke the fight up. I accidentally scratched one of the men on the nose because I was not about to stop fighting until the fat lady sang. That’s when both our mothers came dashing out of our respective houses yelling, “Oh, my poor baby!” and things like that. It was mad funny. They took over, throwing our heads into their heavy breasts and feeling all over us to make sure there was no permanent damage. Jason and I just glared at each other like two sumo wrestlers ready for round two.

My mother helped me inside like I was handicapped. In actuality, I had never felt better in my life. I was the victorious one. Jason retreated to his house as well, and that was the end of it. My parents and I did just enough unpacking that night to get by, threw some sleeping bags on the living room floor, and munched down on some KFC. My Dad hooked up his eight-track, and I fell asleep listening to the harmonized singing of Earth, Wind and Fire. It was a Saturday.

I started school the following Monday and was anxious to get there to meet all the new kids. I rushed through a bowl of corn flakes

and caught about ten minutes ofThe Flintstonesbefore grabbing my tin lunch pail and running out the door to get to the bus stop on time.

The bus was about to pull off, and I was panting by the time I caught up to it in time to bang on the door, signaling the driver to stop. After I got on the bus, he asked me who I was. I explained I was a new student who had just moved. He snarled at me, his au naturel breath almost knocking me backward down the steps and back offthe bus, “Well, you make sure your teacher gets your name put on my roster A-S-A-P ’cause I’m not supposed to be picking up no knuckleheads I don’t know! Now, find a seat, sit down, and shaddup!”

I searched for an empty seat and couldn’t find one in the front of the bus, so I started walking toward the back. All of the kids were checking me out, and some were even snickering. I noticed most of the seats were occupied, either by two girls or two boys, with the exception of the one in the far rear. A boy and a girl, obviously suffering from a severe case of puppy love, were seated there. He had his arm around her shoulder, and she was blushing from ear to ear.

I was ready to ask the driver if I could sit on the steps when I realized the only available seat was next to the horror film creature himself, Jason. He stopped playing with his GI Joe with the kung fu grip just long enough to smirk at me. I turned around and headed toward the front to beg the driver to ask someone to trade places with me, but he yelled at me again. “You taking too long! School starts in fifteen minutes! Now, sit yourbe-hindin a seat and shaddup!”

I scurried my ass back to the seat and noticed Jason had placed his knapsack on the vinyl seat beside him. “Could you move that, please?”

He didn’t respond, nor did he look at me, so I took the bag, threw it on his lap, and sat down. He was about to be a smart aleck, but I stopped him dead in his tracks. I rolled my eyes and gave him a head-from-side-to-side-with-afinger-snap combination. “Don’t say nothing to me, or I’ll give you an even bigger beatdown than I did Saturday.”

A couple of the kids heard me and started giggling and taunting him. He just grabbed his knapsack, held it tight, and didn’t look at me the rest of the way to school.

As if things weren’t going bad enough, I get my class assignment from the principal’s office, go to my homeroom, and his trick ass is the first face I see. Our homeroom teacher was Mrs. Williams, and she wasdispleasedto have a student transfer into her class in the middle of the fall term. She snarled at me too. Maybe it was my cherry-flavored lip gloss that was making everyone demonic toward me. “Little Miss Zoe,” she started in on me as she looked over my school records, “have a seat over there by the window and pay attention. You have a lot of making up to do in order to catch up to the rest of the class.”

There was one glimmer of sunshine in my day. I didn’t have to sit near Jason in homeroom. He was clear across the class, and that suited me just fine. He must have been a smart-ass with everybody because Mrs. Williams had his desk pushed right up against hers, several feet away from the rest of the class. Teachers always make the troublemakers sit up in their faces, and I remember thinking to myself, “Goodie!”

My first day at Benjamin Franklin Elementary was pretty uneventful. I made a couple of new friends, got to jump rope at recess, made a deformed clay vase in art class, and learned how to count to ten in Spanish. At lunch, I sat with this little girl named Brina that thought she was the next Diana Ross. I started to school her ass and tell her she couldn’t be the next Diana Ross because I was. She would fling her hair back after every bite of her Twinkie and took special care making sure she didn’t end up with a milk mustache when she rinsed it down. She spent the entire lunch period bragging about everything from her collection of ribbons for her hair to the straight A’s she made on her last report card.

Jason did decide to get bold for a minute and started spitting half-frozen peas across the room at the back ofmy neck through a straw. He made the mistake of hitting the PE teacher, Mr. Lewis, in the cheek with one and was immediately dragged by the ear to the office.

When I got on the bus that afternoon, I was lucky enough to find a seat up front. I made sure I was one of the first ones on the bus, pushing a couple of wimpy boys out my way so I wouldn’t have to sit next to Cousin It. Jason got on the bus about ten kids after I did. I stuck my tongue out at him and flipped him the bird. He tried to tell the bus driver on me, but all he got was an attitude. “Sit yourbe-hinddown, little man, and shaddup!”

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