Sociopaths Make Lousy Husbands. Ask Mary Jo Buttafuoco

NASA Landsat satellite image of Long Island an...
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A Long Island housewife and mother of two, days before her 15th. wedding anniversary, Mary Jo Buttafuoco — as many Americans know and just as many might be happy to forget — answered the door to her home on May 19, 1992. Standing on the doorstep was 17-year-old Amy Fisher, who shot her in the head. Amy was her husband’s girlfriend, and their weird and sordid story dominated headlines for years and became the basis for three television movies.

Buttafuoco has now published a book, ghostwritten by Julie McCarron, about “why I stayed, what I learned and what millions of people involved with sociopaths need to know.” The cover photo shows a good-looking blond in a lacy tank-top, thick hair cascading over her shoulders, her long nails French manicured, sitting on a white shabby-chic sofa. She looks determined, sadder but wiser. The back cover image is truly horrifying — her shaved skull and the tiny entry wound of the .25 cartridge now permanently lodged in her skull.

If you’re in or near Manhattan July 29, she’s speaking at Barnes & Noble, 2289 Broadway at 82d Street and will chat with a therapist about how to recognize the warning signs of a sociopath.

Whatever your feelings about the sad, sordid mess, her story is worth a read, because:

Unless you’ve been under the spell of a sociopath — which I was for four terrifying months in 1998 — it’s almost impossible to convey what persuasive liars they are, to you and to the world: charming, funny, sexy, warm, attentive. And utterly devoid of remorse. They’re along for the ride, you being that ride, as long as it meets their needs. And, as Buttafuoco candidly admits, it takes two to tango. She could have left bad-boy Joey many times throughout their 25-year marriage, but she didn’t. She loved her town, her friends, her stay-at-home world in a coccoon of comfort. She didn’t feel like getting a job and disrupting her life. Many women make the same choices, with or without kids or in-laws they’d hate to lose, every day. Ignoring your doubts, suspicions, confusion or fears, keeps many lousy, even dangerous relationships alive for decades.

Getting shot, and recovering from a gunshot wound, is deeply traumatizing. She lost half her blood, and recovery was excruciating. “My head hurt constantly, horribly, all the time. The searing pain I felt when the Q-tip entered and probed the wound was an indescribable level of torture. Three people had to hold me down for this procedure…This cleaning had to be done four times a day.” Ever since the shooting, she suffered deafness, difficulty walking, dizziness, headaches and fatigue. We see daily reports of shootings; we never hear what life is like for those who survive them.

Women fleeing an abusive relationship need their own independent access credit, transportation and income, friends, a safe place — and a family that supports her wisdom and intelligence for making that difficult decision. “This is what happens when you don’t have God in your life!” barks her mother when, after decades with Joey, Mary Jo tells her she’s decided to leave him for good. “Her disapproval was what I feared and dreaded and did my best to avoid for years, and it all came raining down just when I was at my lowest.” When you’re trying to make the hardest decision, perhaps, of your life, is exactly when you need financial, emotional and practical backup. When I interviewed abused wives for my book, many of them said the same thing — their family of origin refused to help them in any way, frequently pushing them back into the arms of their abusive husband, no matter how horrific the relationship.

Some women, even without the bonds of marriage or children or shared property, still choose to stay with lousy, lying, abusive men. Life is good, until he breaks your arm or goes to jail or has yet another affair.

A letter to advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in the August issue of Elle from a New York woman in her late 20s sounds the same themes:

“Things are pretty solid. However, when we drink, he gets physical. He’s broken my cellphone, my digital camera and other personal items. He’s never gotten aggressively violent with me, though he’s pushed me out the front door onto the ground, spit in my face and recently grabbed me by the throat and taunted me.”

Which part of aggressively violent is missing here? “I feel closer to him than anyone,” she writes to Elle. “I’m scared of being alone. Can we work past this?” Yeah, maybe into the ER, or, if you stick around long enough while his rage escalates a little further, maybe the morgue. E. Jean, bless her, gives the letter-writer a clear, practical four-point escape plan. Get out fast and is the answer.

Mary Jo knows she screwed up and clearly admits how. If one reader finds the courage to kick her lying loser man (or woman) to the curb after reading this book, she’s done her job.

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