Published in Proteus, literary magazine of Southampton College

Accept the fact that whatever it was he did to get convicted, he didn’t do it. He will tell you that every time.

Learn the terms “incarcerated” and “rap sheet,” “feds” and “doing time,” as well as “in the can” and “in the hole. Understand the difference between “probation” and “parole, and “felony” and “misdemeanor.” Look up a new word: “recidivism.”

Realize that he won’t just come out and tell you that he did time. You’ll know there’s something about him that’s very different from other men you’ve dated. For one thing, he cannot sleep unless a light is on somewhere in the room. For another, when you flip over the mattress as part of fall cleaning, you notice a sharp knife under his side of the mattress. He’ll tell you he was incarcerated only when he has no choice: the feds insist on meeting you.

His parole officer sits at your dining room table and reads off items from the rap sheet – extortion, bank fraud, drunken driving, orders of protection, embezzlement, and illegal gun possession. Listen as your felon denies each charge from his past. Try to ignore the unpleasantness of his whining. Two other parole officers sit at your table; they travel as a team, you will find out, to visit all the local felon-parolees. See no reaction from these nice-looking men, who wear suits and ties. Blank. Zilch. No opinion; not even a wince or raised eyebrow. The officer in charge, however, all but tells your whining felon to shut up, you asshole.

Decide that, oh well, the man’s done some regrettable things in his life, but that’s all in the past. Now he has met you. You love him and he loves you. He will change. You will change him.

“We have to let you know, Miss,” his personal parole officer tells you, as if tuning into your attitude of it’s-your-word-against-his. “It’s our duty.” He’s a pleasant looking guy in his mid-thirties. You nod your head, and it occurs to you that all three men, the feds, must be carrying guns. Then you glance over at your handsome felon, who’s frowning and is still defending himself with great verbosity. In an instant, you tense up – does he have a gun, too? Where should you start looking?

In the days that follow, you are forced to admit that his behavior has been strange from the very beginning. He sits for hours on the living room sofa, silent, doing nothing. He hangs around outside, at the rear of the house or in the shed, for brief but frequent spells. Eventually, you’ll find out he smokes; something he told you he did not do when he first moved in. He saw your ad in the newspaper; he came to rent a room. Your other roomer, a younger man who likes to call you “Mom,” thinks your felon is psychotic. He worries about you. “This is not a normal, everyday guy,” he tells you. And he starts referring to him as “O.J.”

In time you will find out your felon has no driver’s license. He has been driving your car everywhere – to the stores, to the beach, to the dump, to visit his parole officer. You are very angry when you find out, and you confront him. “How dare you do this! Are you crazy?”

He shrugs it off, like he does so many other things. When the younger roomer finds out, he also shrugs. “What can you expect of an O.J.?”

He tells you none of his jail time would have happened if his goddamned lawyer had “secured the car” the way he was supposed to. Another expression you learn. The feds wouldn’t have found the gun – a 22 gauge rifle with 500 rounds of ammunition, according to the judge.

“Look,” a girlfriend tells you, “you fell for the guy because you were vulnerable and lonely. Your husband had just died, and you had all that love to give. Son of Sam himself could have shown up, and you would have given him your heart.”

If this is true, you don’t want to accept it.

To make sure your head is not screwed up, like your heart may be, make an appointment to see a friend, who is also a psychiatrist. Tell him you’ve come to love your felon because he’s “different,” and he’s “exciting.”

“From what you’ve told me,” the doctor says, staring at you, “the guy is a con man.”

You really don’t want to know this.

“I’ve worked in prisons,” he says. “You ask an inmate, `What are you in here for?’ He tells you, ‘They say I murdered my wife.’ So you ask, `And did you murder her?’ The inmate looks you straight in the eye. `Well, they never found the body.'”

There’s a message in this for you, but you don’t want to know what it is.

Be sympathetic toward your felon because no one in his family understands him. They don’t call or write or want to hear from him. That includes his elderly mother and his older brothers, who he usually only calls when he’s drunk.

Try to be tolerant of the getting drunk part. Quickly learn not to try to keep up with him, drink by drink. You don’t need or want the arguments or the threats – on either side. You will wonder if women “in the can” talk the way you suddenly do, under the influence, with venomous words pour from your mouth. It will feel like you’ve crossed that edge between insider and outsider. For the ferociousness of your drunken battles, one of you could be put in the hole.

Give up drinking totally.

“What do you see in him?” his parole officer asks at a monthly meeting. Friends and family ask the same question. They don’t want to know that you think he’s terribly good looking. Or funny. That he’s so well educated. And so handy around the house. Or that he’s good in bed. You don’t mention his background to most people; you know they won’t understand.

When your felon tells you he is basically unemployable, believe it. He says he will pay you the rent and food money very soon. Don’t believe it. Then, as fights escalate, and become more frequent, what with his drinking and joblessness, stop feeding him and fussing over him. Stop sleeping with him. Read “Women Who Love Too Much” and “Smart Women, Foolish Choices.”

A psychic who is visiting your younger roomer looks at your felon’s photo, taken in the early days of your romance. To you, he looks rather menacing, standing there on a sailboat out on Long Island Sound. To her, he seems “distant,” “possibly beyond caring, without hope,” “someone who has given up.”

Is this true? You don’t believe in psychics, as a rule, but maybe she has something. Maybe you have nothing. Nada.

Start calling his court-mandated psychotherapist several times a day to complain about your felon’s erratic behavior and to express concern for your welfare. “He keeps drinking,” you tell him. “And he’s been making threats.”

Learn that this is a mistake when you come home one morning to find the house surrounded by U.S. marshals Oh my God, you think, jumping from your car. “This is my house!” you shout. “What’s wrong?”

One man, then another, confronts you with rifles. “You can’t go in there, lady.”

You see your felon inside, three men surrounding him, rifles drawn, ready to take him away.

“He didn’t do anything,” you cry. “Why are you here?”

One complaint too many and the psychotherapist was duty bound to call the feds, you will soon learn.

“We’ve got to take him, miss. The judge wants to see him.”

You plead with the judge for your felon’s release later that day, after driving two hours, almost 100 miles, to the federal courthouse. “Yes, I will be responsible for him,” you tell the judge. They want to keep him and revoke his parole, but love wins out. You drive your man back to your love nest in the woods.

Where everything is lovey-dovey – briefly. Your felon gets a job, “managing a restaurant,” he tells you. He bicycles to work each morning and returns in late afternoon. On the fourth day of his new job you telephone him there. “Who?” a woman asks. “Sorry, nobody by that name works here.” You insist she must be wrong; she insists that she is not.

You question him about this when he returns home. He hands you one hundred dollars from his “pay” – money that he has borrowed, actually, to keep you thinking he’s been earning a salary. In fact, he’s been sitting on benches around town, killing time, talking with strangers. Forrest Gump, you think. Goddamn it, I’m involved with Forrest Gump!

Then, your felon becomes drunk and nasty again, cursing at you and calling you names, threatening you and your children. He doesn’t actually say it: “I’ll kill you and your children, too.” But he implies that if you ever call the cops, you’ll suffer for it, as would your daughter and son.

So now you fear calling the police. Would he carry out his threats? Do you want it on your conscience if the man goes back to jail? His parole will be revoked, and he will go away for two years or more.

Finally, make the decision you have dreaded: throw him out. Hand him one hundred dollars and drive him to the train.

Goodbye, felon.

You go home and collapse on the sofa. Eventually, you will get up and start cleaning the house, removing all traces of him. The after shave lotion on the bathroom shelf, his favorite mug from the kitchen cabinet, the coffee can of cigarette butts on the deck. All of it – into the trash. It’s peaceful now; you feel at peace. How much better it is to be alone than to be with someone so wrong. Many people have said this to you over the past months, but you wouldn’t listen. Now you will go forth as a single, peaceful woman and enjoy your life.

You look for the ring he gave you – his mother’s ring, he told you. A lovely gold ring with a large pearl and two small diamonds. He was saving it for someone very special; he was saving it for you.

But it’s not where you always keep it. In your bedside drawer, in the ring box, with your other, less valuable rings. Your felon told you how he almost hocked it several times, but never did – for sentimental reasons. And now, it’s gone.

Accept the fact that if you ask him if he took it, so that he could hock it, or give it to someone else “very special,” he’ll say he didn’t. He’ll say that every time. You wonder if it was really his mother’s ring.