For many of us, the name Mary Jo Buttafuoco brings on a swirl of uncertain memories, a tangle of tabloid headlines from the 1990s and a jumble of questions we’d half-forgotten. This summer that swirl can cease with her book Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I Learned and What Millions of People Involved with Sociopaths Need to Know. We caught up with her last week, mid-way through her book tour, and decided to forgo the usual questions — about the 1992 shooting by her then-husband’s teenage lover, her subsequent fight with drug addiction and the six surgeons who gave her a “life lift” just a few years ago. For those answers, pick up a copy of the book (and maybe start with the video clip below). Meanwhile, we asked her about survival, homes and unexpectedly finding herself — yet again — the parent of teenagers in her new marriage.

After I read this book, I thought: That’s the photo that should be there when we go to the dictionary and look up the word “survivor.”

Though you know, it’s taken me some time to think of myself that way: not a victim, but a survivor.

It’s also a book about  growing up, yes? I look at those early photos of when you and Joey first married, him in that Mod Squad hair and you just out of braces. Do you feel like a different person now?

Yeah, I really do! I look at myself and I’m surprised at how I was — so young, so afraid and fearful. People don’t believe me now, when I tell them I used to be quiet and not say much, and be worried about what people thought. People in my life now — my fiancé, the kids — they know me as someone who says exactly what I think.

Talk to me about all the houses in your story: that little starter house, your dream house in Massapequa where Amy Fisher shot you, that house Joey bought in Chatsworth when you moved to California with him.

The little house in Baldwin, that was great in its own way. We had our children there;  we had money in the bank. But it was where Joe’s drug use escalated.

The Massapequa house, that was my dream house. We were big boaters and beach people, and the location was what it was all about. We almost didn’t get it, as you know from the book: The money we’d saved for the down payment, it was gone to drugs, so Joey’s father bailed us out. But it still looked like my plan worked: Joe got sober, and the kids were happier. I was painting a part of the back deck the day, the day everything changed.

After Amy Fisher shot me, it turned into a nightmare house. People would drive by, laughing. We had to move.

Those little houses we rented in California never felt like home. Then he found that huge house in Chatsworth. That house personified evil. I only lived there for six months. It’s where he was arrested, too.

On this book tour, everyone asks: Why did you stay with him for seven years after? But we know that abusive spouses can just keep talking, painting a picture where what you thought happened didn’t, where if anyone’s at fault it’s not them. They kind of wear you out for a while.

Exactly! After I was shot, I was on a lot of medication, in a lot of pain. So I believed Joe. I would question him, and he always had an answer. He had a way of talking that suddenly made my doubts seem absurd. It took myself getting sober and figuring out what was truth and what were lies.

By “getting sober” you mean the Betty Ford Center, where you went when you realized you were addicted to painkillers.

That was a big pivotal turning point in my life! It was there that they made me begin to understand it was my job to take the next step. I thought I had moved on, but I obviously hadn’t. I was carrying around so much pain and rage and not dealing with it. They got me walking the walk, not just talking. That’s when I decided to forgive Mrs. Fisher, forgive Amy.

That kind of forgiveness — it’s mixed in with so many other emotions, ne?

It’s for your sanity, not for them, for her. It’s I have to forgive you for what you did to me, because otherwise you’re taking up too much space in my heart and my brain, so much passionate energy.

It was your son that finally put a name to Joe’s behavior: sociopath. Can you briefly talk about how he fits that description, and what we should look out for in those we might love?

They’re very charming, very charismatic. They say things that make you believe things’ll change. They can mimic the behavior of a normal person, saying what he thinks I need to hear, saying they’re sorry, when they really feel no guilt at all. If you see these traits in someone you’re with, run run! This is important to know: There is no curing a sociopath. We think we’re helping these people, but it’s an illusion. Get out even when they say to you, “Oh, please!” It’s hard, but within a few weeks you’ll feel a lot better.

Do you think Amy Fisher is a sociopath?

No. I think she’s got a lot of issues. She was sexually abused as a child — she got her education on sex the wrong way, a skewed and warped sense of sex that she’s kept to this day, with her new career as a pole dancer and the sex tape. It’s her business, but it’s sad. She has three children, and two of them are daughters.

Meanwhile, you’ve had a total body makeover, a new love and family, and a best-seller. Has the book’s reception been all you’ve hoped for?

I have been so blessed. I’ve been getting hundreds of emails from women who say, “I’ve been with someone just like that,” or “I’m so impressed by your bravery,” or “Thanks for showing us the truth behind all that tabloid stuff.” It’s just been incredible.

You’re also a nearly  full-time mom again, at 50-plus. How is it different now?

My fiancé says to me: You were so good at it the last time. Why not now?” He means that Paul and Jessie are great, and they are. I think they saved my life. But I don’t know. They were just little kids when I was shot, they were traumatized by that, and when they were teenagers I was very sick. I’m not sure they got what they needed from me. Now I’m healthier. I’m more present. I’m older. Maybe I get tired more easily, but I have a better sense of what to say when it gets tough.

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