SANTA MONICA, Calif. -  

Why did she stay with Joey for so long?

Some 17 years after taking a bullet in the head from the "Long Island Lolita,” Mary Jo Buttafuoco is finally answering a question that has vexed her family, friends and former neighbors on Long Island: Why did she stay married to Joey Buttafuoco for a decade after her nearly fatal encounter with his teen mistress?

Joey Buttafuoco, his ex-wife says in a new book, is a "sociopath,” cunning and narcissistic, but also charming and quick with a plausible explanation for the most ghastly offenses -- and it took her a lifetime to figure it out.

The onetime Massapequa homemaker makes her case, and offers advice for others in emotionally abusive relationships, in "Getting It Through My Thick Skull” (co-written with Julie McCarron), arriving tomorrow. She'll make three Long Island appearances to promote its release.

 

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MARY JO'S NEW LIFE. This may seem a random time for Mary Jo to rehash an old episode, one even Amy Fisher, a married mother of three living in Suffolk County, says that people no longer talk about. But her timing is borne of a recent revelation, says Mary Jo, who recently spent two days with Newsday not far from the Ventura County, Calif., home she shares with fiance Stu Tendler, a Bellmore native.

The pair met through friends on a 2002 trip to Las Vegas, where her first words to him were, "Well, I guess you know who I am.” (Tendler replied: "No, who the -- -- are you?”) While a date hasn't been set, they wear his-and-hers rings. His has seven diamonds, one each for the two adults and five children in their blended family.

"He's 51. I'm 54. I'm a cougar,” Mary Jo says, winking at Tendler during lunch at a Santa Monica seafood restaurant. Mary Jo's fashion sense is Hollywood-via-the-South Shore: frosted hair and orange painted toenails. In 2006, she underwent surgeries to enhance her appearance and address issues lingering from the assault.

The wound inflicted by Fisher left Mary Jo deaf in her right ear and paralyzed in a portion of her jaw. If it suits her, Mary Jo will grasp your wrists, pull you toward her and hold your hands to her face: "See, how my jawbone feels different on one side?”

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Mary Jo publicly forgave Fisher, a move that preordained the shooter's early release. Even today, though, she thinks of Fisher "a lot.”

"Every day, when I look in the mirror and I can't move my face in a certain way.”

 

REVELATION. Mary Jo and Joey separated in 2000 and divorced in 2003. "At the beginning,” she says, "I was just too sick to leave him.

"I stayed because my children had been through enough trauma. I stayed because I'm a Catholic. I stayed because I believed him.” She means, she believed Joey when he said he'd never slept with Amy.

Mary Jo says two years ago, she and son Paul were discussing Joey and Amy's "latest antics,” a "date,” likely fabricated for TV cameras. Mary Jo asked "Why does he do this stuff?” and Paul replied: "Mom, he's a sociopath.” Mary Jo thought "sociopaths” had to be murderers, "like Scott Peterson,” but later that night she hit Google, "and the light went off.”

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Sociopaths, she learned, are people both toxic and charismatic, individuals who can commit an offense, then convince you they're sorry. "Con artists are sociopaths. Bernie Madoff is a sociopath,” she says. "Joey is a sociopath.”

It's only in the last few years, with her newfound understanding of sociopathic behavior, that Mary Jo said she has accepted that Joey likely was having a sexual relationship with Fisher.

She began writing.

 

THE BOOK. Mary Jo's entendre-laden title is a riff on an admonition she used to hear from her mom: "Get it through your thick Irish skull, Mary Jo.” "I wanted to make that joke before everyone else did,” she says.

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Though her author's credit says "Mary Jo Buttafuoco,” that's a name she uses here for marketing value alone. In daily life, she has returned to her maiden name, Connery.

Mary Jo says she wrote "Skull” not to attack her ex-husband, but because she's learned something valuable that she wants to share with others: "There can be happiness on the other side.”

She recounts dozens of examples of "sociopathic behavior” Joey committed during their marriage. A sample: Joey took $50,000 in proceeds from the sale of the couple's first house and used it to pay a debt to his cocaine dealer -- a fact he didn't reveal to Mary Jo until the day they were to close on their next home.

The Buttafuocos resolved that with a visit to Joey's father, who fronted the lost money in exchange for his son's ownership shares in the family auto body business.

Joey Buttafuoco, reached by phone at his workplace in Chatsworth, Calif., would not comment on this or any other assertions in the book, other than to say his ex-wife's story is full of "inaccuracies.”

 

THE FUTURE. Mary Jo briefly considered returning to school, but her life in California has been preoccupied most days by this book, Tendler, his children from earlier relationships and her own two kids with Joey.

Paul, 29, works in corporate America, lives nearby and has stopped using his family name. Jessica, 26, is a teacher at a children's dance studio in Pacific Palisades.

Mary Jo says a benefit of her notoriety is that she can now help others who have relationships with sociopaths.

"When you can understand the behavior,” she says, "you can break free from it and never look back.”