“When we got down to the other house, there were a bunch of teenagers hanging around outside. When we went indoors to get him, there were people everywhere, and music was playing. I don’t think any adults were home, and they were having a party. The girl I went down there with asked where her brother was, and some boy told her he was upstairs in the bedroom.”

“She led me by the hand up the stairs. There were a bunch of teenagers in the hallway up there too. One of the doors was open, and everyone was standing around laughing and saying things I knew they shouldn’t be saying because they were allvery badthings. We went into the bedroom, and her brother was on the bed doing all sorts of things with this girl. His girlfriend, I guess.”

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I heard my mother scream out on the tape,“Oh, God no!”Marcella asked her if she wanted to leave the room and wait out in the hall, but she refused and got quiet again so I could move on.

“They were both naked, and he had his mouth on one of her breastesses.” I sat there, shaking my head at the words I was hearing, but it couldn’t be more realistic. When I was little, I mispronounced several words, andbreastswas one of them. I distinctly remember calling thembreastessesinstead. “He was on top of her and he had his dang-a-lang inside her coochie-coo. When his sister told him to stop, he wouldn’t. He yelled at us to go away. Everyone started laughing and knocking us around.”

I took a deep, restorative breath on the tape. It wasalmost as if I feared what I was about to say next. “I ran out the room and left the little girl there I had come with, but when I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was this boy there, an older boy, and he smelled like liquor. He wouldn’t let me get past him, and he pushed me down on the steps and starting putting his hands all over me. I was so scared.”

My mother’s sobs were easily recognizable on the tape, but she didn’t say anything else. “He put his hand underneath my T-shirt and started squeezing me, and it hurt. He tried to pull my shorts off, but I started kicking and screaming just like Daddy told me to do if someone ever tried to hurt me. All of the other kids were standing there laughing, but then one boy helped me. He pulled the bad boy off me, and then he hit him.

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“They started fighting right there in the living room, and everyone was yelling and screaming at them. I ran out of the front door and down the street to find Momma and Daddy. I got back down to the house, and when Momma asked me why I was crying, I made up a lie because I didn’t want to tell her the bad thing I had done. I told her the little girl had been mean to me and told me to go back to her house because she didn’t want to play with me anymore.”

My mother spoke up then, happy she could actually finally be of some help. “It was Memorial Day! Laura and her husband had a cookout, and she did send them to go get her son because the food was ready. When Zoe came back alone, she was crying, but she didn’t tell me what really happened. I just thought she and the little girl had gotten into a petty spat because neither of them had taken a nap and it was late in the afternoon. The other kids returned to the house about fifteen minutes after Zoe, but no one said anything. They were all acting normalby then, and Zoe and the little girl started playing together again.”

Dr. Graham reassured Momma that she was tremendously helpful and then told her we were going to move on. “Zoe, let’s jump ahead a bit. Do you remember your fifth-grade year? The beginning of the year, when you were still in school in Dallas?”

“Yes, I do remember it!” My voice instantly changed on the tape. It was still one of my youth, but it was somehow more mature than the previous one. It also seemed more tense and uneasy than its predecessor. “I remember everything, including the day they hurt me.”

Jason yelled out, “Who hurt you?”

“Jason,” Marcella jumped in. “Calm down. I know this is hard on you.”

“Hell, yeah, this is hard on me! My wife was molested, and you all are sitting around here acting like she’s talking about a ballerina recital or something!”

“Jason, we’re all just trying to get to the bottom of this, but we can’t do that if you’re going to overreact throughout the whole process.” As an afterthought, she asked, “Do you want to go out in the hallway? I’ll go with you.”

“Hell no, I’m not going out in the hallway! I’m sitting right here on this bed with my arms around my wife!”

“Okay, Jason, that’s your prerogative.”

“Damn right, it is!”

My mother asked him to please calm down. Dr. Graham then asked me, “What

happened the day they hurt you, Zoe? What happened on your way home from school?”

“I was supposed to walk home from school with Dena and Kelly, but I had to stay behind for a few minutes to complete a science worksheet I forgot to do for homework the night before. When Mrs. Thompson finally let meleave, Dena and Kelly were both gone, and so was everybody else. The schoolyard was completely deserted, so I started to walk home alone. I was angry they didn’t wait for me, but I knew they were trying to rush home to seeFat Albert and the Kids,our favorite cartoon. Besides, it wasn’t their fault I forgot about my homework.

“I got to the walkway at the edge of the playground that led out to the street and noticed there was a group of boys standing at the end of it. The walkway was surrounded by woods, and I was scared to walk down it because one of the boys, Chucky, had teased me earlier that day at school. He said I had big breastesses for a girl my age and asked could he feel them. I told him no.

“The only other way for me to get home was to take the long way around, and I knew Momma would be worried if I did that because I was already late. I walked down the wooded path, and when I got closer to them, they all started whispering and laughing. It was Chucky and his younger brother, Steven, and some other boys I’d seen around school, but I didn’t know their names.

“They started pushing me back and forth between them and calling me bad names. Suddenly, Chucky and Steven dragged me into the woods. I dropped my bookbag on the walkway and tried to yell out, but one of them, I can’t remember which one, put his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t. They told me they would kill my momma and daddy if I didn’t do what they said.

“They did some really bad things to me. They pulled my panties off from under my skirt and yanked my shirt up over my head so I couldn’t see. Then Chucky pulled his pants down and was rubbing his private part up against mine. It hurt me, and the rocks and branches underneath me hurt. I felt his tongue on my chest, and he bit me on my breastesses, and it was very painful!

“Chucky got angry at me about something. He kept yelling, ‘I can’t get it in!’ He picked up a stick and started hitting me all over, like it was all my fault. He hit me in my privates, and I started screaming. That’s when I heard a woman’s voice call out, ‘Who’s over there?’

“Chucky and Steven jumped up off the ground and ran away. So did the other boys. Somehow, I managed to stand up. I was crying and covered with their sweat and spit. I pulled my shirt down and put my panties back on. I had cuts and bruises all over my body. Then, this lady came running into the woods. I’d never seen her before. She asked me was I all right. I just cried and ran away. I found my bookbag and ran home to Momma, but I couldn’t tell her what happened. I thought it was my fault. After all, I had done a bad thing by not doing my homework.”

There was a brief moment of silence and then I started screaming, “Why did they hurt me? Why did they hurt me, Momma? Why did they hurt me?”

That’s when Dr. Graham clapped and woke me up out of the trance, only to see them all sitting around with their mouths hung open. After I heard the tape, my mouth was the one hanging open and waiting for the imaginary bee to strike.

“Dr. Graham, I don’t remember any of that! None of it whatsoever! Was it real?”

“Yes, Zoe, it was very real. That was you—well, the younger version of you—relating the whole thing.”

I knew he was right, but I still didn’t want to face the facts. I just laid my head back on Jason’s chest and wished none of it was happening. Marcella was full of energy and appeared to have gotten a second wind from somewhere. “This is a great start, Zoe! At least now we know what the underlying reasons are for your behavior and attitude toward sex!”

I looked at her in amazement. “Have you lost your fuckin’ mind? What does any of that have to do with me cheating on Jason?”

I felt bad as soon as the words left my lips. It was bad enough everyone in the room knew I cheated on him without me making public announcements. “It has everything to do with it. Dr. Graham and I will explain it all to you a little later. But first—”

“First what?” I noticed her eyes were not on me. They were directed toward Jason.

“Jason, listening to Zoe throughout our therapy sessions and hearing about your apparent fear of sexual openness has caused me a great deal of concern. Dr.Graham and I discussed it, and he tends to agree with me.”

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