By Rose Titus
I know it’s strange to just say it like this, but Joe was evil. I don’t mean that he was messed up, or disturbed, or anything like that. He was evil. Really. Joe was evil. It’s true. I know what evil looks like. Let me tell you this. Evil is good looking, and evil talks real cool. Evil has a lot of money, and evil drives a Cadillac.
Nowadays people just don’t use that word. Evil. They say someone isn’t coping well, something like that. But I really do know that Joe was in fact evil.
Someone your age thinks that it all happened a long time ago. But the seventies weren’t that long ago. And I was a lot like you then. I was pretty and young, and from a small town. Yeah. I know. I don’t look like much now. But I looked good then. Got a cigarette in that bag? Give me one. I need to quit. My lungs are shot all the way to hell, like the rest of me. But I can’t tell this without having a smoke. I came here looking for work too. I was nineteen, and had nothing. He was 37 and he had a lot.
My father took off when I was a kid; we never knew where he went. I decided to come here for work, start out as a cocktail waitress, and learn my way around. My mother and some of my friends were against my coming here. They said no good things could happen, all kinds of people around here. You see, I was also looking to find someone rich, someone who would take care of me, fairy tale stuff like that. Now I know how stupid I was. But it was a small town, no one went to college.
I saw Joe when he was playing poker. I was serving drinks. He was winning big. That’s what attracted me to him. He was the winner. He looked rich too. He wore lots of gold, a silk shirt, and had an attitude to go with it. Everyone thought he was cool, all us girls did. There was an older lady who worked there, she was the head waitress. She told us to stay the hell away from him. I wish I’d listened. The other girls did.
He wanted me, and let me know it. He asked me when I get off work. I went home with him that night. He rode me to his place in his Cadillac. It was my first time. He pretty much forced himself onto me. I guess I can’t call it a rape, because I didn’t say no, and I wanted to be with him. But he was so rough. I should have left him then. I should have gone back to work and forgot all about him. Maybe I should have just gone home. But I didn’t.
I moved in with him. He had a nice place, and he paid for everything. At first, things were okay between us. I wasn’t happy with the relationship, but I wanted to be with someone like Joe. Any rich ass could have taken his place. It wasn’t about love, or sex, or even about the money he spent on me. I guess it was about me being with the most arrogant bastard in town. It made me cool, because he was cool. I guess that’s cool by association. I didn’t love him, and he didn’t love me. Our love life sucked, or I felt like it did. He paid for everything, but I still kept my job because I liked bragging to the other girls about being with Joe. Joe’s big car, Joe’s big money, Joe’s big gun collection… “What does he do for a living? Where does he get all his money?” they would ask. I really should have thought about that…
I came from nothing. I still had nothing when I was with Joe. Maybe even less, because when I was with Joe, I didn’t really have myself. But Joe made me feel like I was something, because I was seen with him, I went home with him, rode in his car, wore the slutty clothes he picked out for me. He pushed people around at the club; he beat people up in the parking lot, and scared the shit out of everyone, even me. But since I had nothing, since I was nothing, at least I was his. I had to have something, and belonging to Joe was better than nothing. That’s what I thought, back then.
He told me how to wear my hair, how to dress, how to walk and how to talk. I was from a small town, so he knew best. My mother and sister came to see me once. Mom said I looked like a tramp. I wished then that I asked her to drive me home with her. I started smoking and drinking. Drugs too. Joe gave me the drugs. He did them, so I did them too. I didn’t wonder if it was all wrong. And I never asked where he got his money.
The smartest thing I guess was keeping my job. It always paid shit, but it was something. I almost lost it, though, when the cops came into the nightclub looking for me for questioning. Everyone saw them come in. Real embarrassing. I just told them all of what I’m telling you now. But that was after they took him in, finally… I’ll get back to the beginning.
Things were good, or almost good, between us. But he could be mean, too. He used to tell me I was stupid, useless, and nothing without him. I knew it was probably true. He said I was only good for sex and serving drinks, and I knew that was true too. I never went beyond high school, and didn’t get good grades, so I guess he was right. If I was smart, I would have left him.
But he didn’t start beating on me until things got bad for him. I woke up one morning early and he was having an argument with some strange men I never saw before, they were down in the kitchen. I looked out the window and saw all the cars parked out there, expensive ones. Three of them. And the fight was getting loud. I went down to see what was up, and asked what was going on. He turned on me and said, “Bitch! Fuckin’ get upstairs!” Then he slapped me. Hard. I fell down. I thought the guys would say something to him, but they all just kept arguing, like I wasn’t there. Like I didn’t matter. I went upstairs and cried. They all left together. He was gone for hours. He came back and was in a good mood, so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want anymore problems. I figured, maybe it wouldn’t happen again. Yeah, right.
One night, Joe had a party at his place. I wouldn’t call it our place. It was all guys, though. If they had girlfriends, they didn’t bring them. I should have started to worry when I saw that… They got drunk and stupid, especially Joe. Joe started to brag about how he knocked me around when I got out of line. Sometimes I needed to be slapped around, he said. I kept my mouth shut. One of the guys asked if I was any good in bed, so Joe said, “Why don’t you all find out for yourselves.” I was like, “What? You gotta be kidding, right?” He said, “Shut up, bitch.” And that was it. There were like, I don’t remember an exact number, maybe twenty of them. I was shoved on the couch, and there wasn’t anything I could do. Joe sat in a chair in the back of the room, laughing about it.
After that night, I wanted to leave Joe. But I had nowhere else to go. The girl I had been rooming with before I met Joe moved in with her boyfriend, and I couldn’t go back home. I mean, the last thing I said to my mother was “Fuck off!” so I knew I wouldn’t be welcome there. Even if I was, I couldn’t admit that she was right, could I? I left home to make something of myself, and I couldn’t admit that I had failed. I couldn’t tell my friends that I worked with about my problems with Joe, because I had only said good things about him—none of it was true, though. And I couldn’t go to the cops. It was 1979, and the cops were all men. I had been walking around town looking like a streetwalker and proud of it. Well, that’s probably how I felt then. I know now that I should have just gone home. Back then I thought it would be an isolated incident. That’s what I told myself. Every time he did something really cruel, that’s what I told myself.
It was only going to get worse.
One night I went to work with a black eye. This other waitress asked if everything was okay, as if she wanted to help me. We weren’t on good terms. She kept saying that she only worked there to save up to go to school, and she never slept with any of the customers. She went back to the room she rented and studied. That pissed me off. Who the hell did she think she was? She asked me if I was okay. I told her to get the hell out of my face. She said, “Hey, like I’m just worried about you. That’s all.” I told her that all that was wrong was that she was just jealous, and to get her own boyfriend. She stopped talking to me after that. I guess now maybe she really wanted to help. Maybe she would have, even if it was just someone to talk to.
My sister called one night before Thanksgiving, and said that Mom wanted to know if I was coming home. She would send my uncle to come pick me up if I was. I couldn’t come home. My face was by then black and blue, and I looked like shit. I couldn’t let them see that. I told her no, never mind. Forget it.
Thanksgiving was a drunken brawl at Joe’s place. At least people were fighting with each other, so no one raped me for Thanksgiving. No one raped me that day, let us now give thanks! There was no turkey, just chips, dip, pretzels, beer, liquor, and coke. Yeah, I mean that kind of coke. This time some men brought their girls, which was okay by me. If there were other girls there, I figured I wouldn’t be in trouble.
After a while into the relationship Joe started bringing home girls he found at the bar where I worked. I watched him pick them up. I was just relieved. Some of my friends asked about it. I would say something like, you know, hey, get with it, it’s the seventies. We’re an open minded couple. I knew that Joe would probably kill me if I was ever with anyone else. So I slept in a chair in the living room when he was upstairs with his new girlfriends. I just didn’t care anymore.
Then there was the night Joe got arrested. He called up and asked me to bail him out. I said I had no money. He said, “Stupid bitch, go into the basement, look under the stairs, and get the cash. There’s a metal box, under the stairs. Come on. You know how much I love you, baby. Get the cash. Now!” I never knew about the money he had stashed down there.
I should have just grabbed the cash and the Cadillac and all my clothes and took off for parts unknown. There was plenty of cash in the box to keep me for a couple of months while I looked for a better situation. Or I could have brought the coke to the cops. There was coke down there, too. Enough coke that maybe I could have made a profit. But I was nineteen. And pretty stupid. Looking back, I had plenty of opportunities to leave Joe.
Why didn’t I? I look back and see all the ways I could have left.
Anyway, I also noticed when I went down into the basement to get the money that it smelled really strange down there, like something died down there. I should have wondered about it, but I didn’t.
Why did I stay? Maybe out of stupidity. He did say I was stupid. Maybe I believed I needed him to be someone. I felt I needed someone, even if he was abusive and a drug dealer. Yeah. I finally figured that out. Took me a while, though.
If I was smart, I would have left him in jail and grabbed the money and the car. I really should have. He knew I was too dumb to see a good opportunity. I look back, and see all the ways I could have gotten away. I could have called home, or gone to my uncle, or told the cops or that poor girl I yelled at, or asked my friends for help, or whatever. I could have wiped him out of his money and drugs, too. Maybe I still deluded myself, thinking he was cool for having all that money and stuff.
It was all right in front of me. I just didn’t want to see it, I guess. Today they call it being in denial. Hey, like I said. I was nineteen.
So like an idiot I bailed him out. He was happy, so things were good again between us. I began to actually think he really loved me, so I was happy too. We started sleeping together again. I got pregnant, but I was nervous about telling him, so I didn’t. I wanted to wait until he was like you know, in a really good mood. I knew now that he was dealing drugs and into crime… He had guns stashed away too. A lot of guns.
I still thought that being with him made me cool.
Things were going along okay and he was making money again dealing drugs, so he started to seem happy again. There was talk of some people disappearing too, people who knew Joe and maybe double-crossed him some way. Five people who were seen hanging around with Joe in the past had disappeared. Four guys and a girl named Cheryl. Cheryl was the girlfriend before he picked me up in the club. She disappeared a month before he met me. I found that out from the head waitress. She whispered that to me when she saw me in the break room looking at a newspaper. There was a picture of Cheryl, and it read like this, “What happened to Cheryl Robertson?” There was a picture of her in the paper. She was young, and pretty, and blonde. She almost kind of looked like me.
I didn’t think much about it. Joe had good lawyers, and felt sure of getting out of trouble. He had money, and bought me a few things. I knew he was bad, but I couldn’t believe he would kill someone. Not Joe.
I must have been as dumb as he said I was.
Like, all around me there were warning signs of things that I ignored. I ignored that he told me what to do all the time. I ignored it that he hit me. I ignored it that he had guns and did drugs. I ignored it that he had money and no one seemed to ever say where it came from. I tried to ignore that he let his friends use me. I ignored that he had other women.
I could have told him “No” that night when he wanted me to sleep with him. I mean, I didn’t have to… I could have avoided all this trouble. I could have ignored him when he said to come to his place, that first night I went home with him.
But I thought I needed to be with someone in order to be someone, so I stayed and I bailed him out of jail that night.
He was good to me for a while.
Then came bad news. There was a witness somewhere, someone who said that she saw him fighting with Cheryl in the bar the night she disappeared. And more bad news. Some neighbors saw the cars belonging to the men he was fighting with on the morning he hit me. And one of them, the Lincoln, was the same car that was later on hauled out of the lake.
And it was getting obvious. I had to say that I was pregnant.
Cops called me in for questioning. They wanted me maybe for a witness. And no one was sure if I was involved with his crimes, like helping him or not. They also suspected I was a prostitute. Word of the gang-bang got around, and I was the subject of everyone’s jokes. People said I was a slut. When I was working, I heard customers whispering behind my back.
The cops thought I was part of it. I had to finally tell the truth.
I was scared, because I was carrying his baby.
He knew the cops wanted me to talk. So, now get this… He bought a big diamond and asked me to marry him, if I kept quiet. “You know how much I love you, baby. We’ve been through so much together.”
I don’t know what happened to me that night. Something inside turned on, like an electric light switching on. I saw things now, the way I never saw them before… Images flashed in my head. The picture of Cheryl in the paper, the black and white photo of the Lincoln being hauled out of the lake, the photos of his “known associates,” some of whom were missing or found dead.
And I remembered, especially, all his friends raping me that night.
“Joe, what happened to Cheryl?”
“The bitch ran off with some strange guy, that’s all, baby. Now how ’bout it? You know how much you mean to me.”
He figured that if I married him everything would be okay, I wouldn’t testify, and I would keep quiet. I put the ring on my finger, but I didn’t say anything to him, I never said I would marry him. I kept my mouth shut. But all of a sudden, all this stuff was going on inside my head. I had more than just myself to think about now. It was no longer about having the image of being his girlfriend, or saying I was his. I had to think about little Joe now. And I sure as hell didn’t want him to grow up to be like his dad. I left him, saying I was on my way to work, because they needed me early. But I went to the police instead.
I told them everything I knew. Everything.
The cops arranged for me to stay somewhere safe until the trial. They wanted to bring him down, plus the rest of the drug ring. He wasn’t the big boss, it turned out. He was just a part of the bigger picture. The FBI was in this too. It went really deep. Of course, I was too stupid to know about that stuff. I didn’t know names, or how much money was floating around, but I knew faces. Joe had pretty much kept me ignorant. Maybe he wanted me as his girlfriend because I was in fact nothing but a stupid nineteen year old girl.
But I was about to grow up, and get smart, real fast.
The baby would come soon. Newspaper reporters had my picture taken from the neck up. It wasn’t so fashionable then to be a single mother, like it is now. I was pretty, and it made a great story. The brave, beautiful heroine who brought down the big bad mob. Yeah, right. I was scared in that courtroom. I cried. I just wanted to go home, I wanted my mother. But it was too late. My mother wanted nothing to do with me anymore.
The baby was coming, and I needed a safe home for Joe Junior. I was sick of being afraid. Image wasn’t important to me anymore, not like it was before. I wasn’t going to let myself be in denial about it all anymore, either. I had to admit to myself that I was in an abusive relationship, and that I didn’t really have it all together, like I wanted people to think. I was nothing but a victim. But we’re only victims if we let ourselves become victims. Remember that. It sounds like a cliché, but it but that’s how it is.
My relationship with my family is still ruined. My mother still after all these years won’t speak to me. My sister went on to school and became a nurse. I haven’t seen her in years. My uncle died of a heart attack, and they never told me. I never got a chance to go to the funeral.
Joe Junior dropped out of high school despite my yelling at him to stick with it and do something like trade school. He got arrested a few times, nothing serious, just assault and stuff. I haven’t seen him in years either. He disappeared one day, took a few clothes in a duffle bag and just left. He didn’t say where to. He just sort of left. Got in his car, and went.
The money is gone too. The cops took what was left of it as evidence, they said. It was a lot of cash. I could have lived good on that for a while. Maybe paid for some kind of school for myself. But the cash is gone now. Then they dug up the basement, and found the rest of the bodies they were looking for all those years while they were investigating. They found Cheryl down there too.
So here I am, at the top of my career. A waitress working late nights in a bar. Yeah, right now I’m talking to you, remembering the best days of my life… Give me another cigarette, honey, will yah?
But I guess I walked right into it. I should have left him, but I stayed. I had something to prove to everyone else, so I stayed. I had to prove I was a mature woman, that I could handle it, and in control of my life. I wasn’t controlling my life. Joe was. And I couldn’t handle it.
And I had a lot of opportunities to escape, but I never did until it was almost too late. In the end, only the cops would help me, and it was only because they needed a witness.
Why am I telling you all this stuff? Because I see girls like you all the time. Young, pretty, thinking you’re just so smart. Listen. Guys don’t say nice things to you because they actually care about you. They just want what they want. Of course, back then, I wanted whatever I could get, too. I wish I could go back to my younger self, tell myself to get my dumb ass back on the bus and head back home and become anything but what I am now. I could have gone to school, or something. I could have done something with my life, instead of all this.
Listen, honey. Don’t make the mistakes I made. Go to the community college, go to hairdresser school, do anything, just don’t let someone like that completely take over your life like I did. Don’t let him start telling you how to dress, how to walk and how to talk. And don’t get into drugs and do shit like that to impress him or his friends either.
Because it is nothing but a trap. Believe me, I know.
And if you are in a bad relationship now, get free any way you can. That’s why I always tell this story. Because stuff like that happens all the time, everywhere.
Face the hard truth. Women are nothing to men like Joe. There are good men out there. But you don’t find them around here. Good men don’t drink, gamble, and pick up girls twenty years younger and make them into whores. The good ones are the ones I thought were dull. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they just weren’t cool. But now I know that cool is stupid. No one will take care of you but you. If you expect someone to take care of you because you are pretty, you are wrong. Go to school while you still can, and make something of yourself. That’s what I wish I had done, when I was your age.
And you know—I really need a damn drink right now.