The impetus behind this book is to facilitate more awareness of the ignorance and apathy towards spousal abuse in our society.
The official "You Don't Know What Love Is" website.
“Imagine Living Life on the Run! For A Crime You Didn’t’ Commit. "
“You Don’t Know What Love is--A Toast to My Dead-Ex-Husband", drives readers literally into the disturbed and unconscionable mind of a sociopath. Author, Sandy Wilson, depicts in this amazing autobiography, her unique personal story of sex, drugs, crimes and rock and roll.
This book is a powerful page-turning work of narrative non-fiction that concerns the 19 year emotional struggle a woman endures throughout her relationship with a drug-addicted, abusive, convicted criminal that ends with his predictable, self-imposed death.
After years of living life one step ahead of the law, facing constant emotional and physical abuse and slipping into a dark hole of loneliness, drug abuse and depression, she finds the strength to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer.
Fort Worth, Texas 1994
The day was blistering hot and my eyes were watering from the intense sunlight. I reached across the car to pull my sunglasses from the glove compartment, and began wondering if I could really go through with this. Could I bring myself to attend the funeral of a man I truly despised? The only reason I agreed to show up was to support my son. I had lost so much time with him already and really needed to be there for him now.
The long drive with my daughter, from Dallas to Fort Worth, gave me time to put things in perspective. The realization that nothing could or would ever surprise me about my ex-husband sank in deeper than ever before. Not even his death came as a shock. From the moment I met Gino, we’d lived life on the edge. His sudden passing only served as further proof that, after all these years, nothing had changed. Those foreboding words I’d mulled over in my mind, now seemed prophetic, “He should have been dead years ago.”
The arid weather and dust that were torturing my sinuses, mixed perfectly with the burning thoughts going through my head. This was turning out to be the longest drive of my life. The air conditioner chugged at its max, almost fruitlessly. I cursed the beads of sweat that were trickling a path down to the waistband of the new dress I’d bought for this occasion. My palms were so sweaty; I could barely maneuver my car between the two identical granite markers that flanked the entryway to the Sunset Hills Funeral Home.
Oak leaves churned under the tires as I pulled the car into the parking lot of Gino’s final resting place. The funeral home was a church-styled structure with tall windows, and taking it all in, my heart began to pound with nerves and anticipation. I just knew it would feel completely frigid on the inside with the air conditioner cranked up. I started to take my sweater, but tossed it across the seat. I didn’t intend on staying long enough to need it. I told Carmen that I’d be right back, and got out of the car.
The front door seemed heavy as I opened it and walked into the icy foyer. The perky blonde receptionist looked up from her desk with a carefully practiced look of compassion and courtesy, as she began to explain the directions to the graveside ceremony. She circled Gino’s gravesite with a red magic marker.
“Follow this road,” she said, running a manicured fingernail across the page, and then added, “Sorry for your loss.” Her kind words rather stunned me. I thought, “If you only knew what I’d been through with the deceased.” I nodded politely and muttered a quick, “Thank you,” and stepped outside.
The heat from the scorching sun quickly warmed my chilled body, as I walked back out into the Texas heat. By the time I was settling back into the car for the drive to the gravesite, I noticed the map lying on my seat. The red magic marker had bled into the cheap copy paper, and now it looked like a big bloody stain.
As I drove up the pathway, I glanced again at the bloodstained map, searching for Gino’s burial site. I drove through what looked like a beautiful and peaceful place to be laid to rest; not at all like my ex-husband’s chaotic life. Glossy-leaved pecan trees, together with rows of pink petunias, lined the walkways. If it were another time of year, I’d consider walking. Not today in this heat, or with my legs which felt weak from so many emotions coursing through me.
My thoughts turned to my daughter, who had been sitting silently in the passenger seat the whole time. Carmen had a bewildered look on her face and I felt at a loss on how to comfort her. I’m sure she was experiencing many different emotions about her step father’s death. With a quick pat on her hand, I shifted my car into park and grabbed my purse. Before I opened the door, I peered ahead and hesitated for a moment, not quite ready to join the few mourners that had already gathered. Some of them were huddled together, talking in groups. Others talked in pairs.
I watched these people mill around and began having second thoughts about my decision to attend this funeral. Technically, they were strangers, but I knew each and every one of them. Not by name or by their faces, but by the type of individuals they were: drug-dealers, addicts, common criminals. These were Gino’s kind of people.
A wave of disgust washed over me as I realized I would be in such close contact with the low life’s I’d tried so hard to get away from. I reached in my purse for an antacid, trying to stop the burning feeling rising in my gut. A few moments later, the burning sensation subsided to a dull roar, and I managed to get out of the car. Perspiration immediately welled from every pore in my body, but I doubted that it was just the 100-degree heat causing it all.
Carmen and I took a seat on white plastic chairs in the last row, as we tried to be as inconspicuous as we could. It was impossible to sit still though, and I swiftly started to fan my face with the bloody gravesite map. Each backward flourish displayed the eerie bloodstain that was Gino’s gravesite.
I was thankful for the canvas tent that was set up to shield us from the sun. It cast us into eerily dark shadows though, that made it hard to make out details. I focused on the casket, trying to get a clear vision. It was nice, mahogany wood and looked very expensive. I briefly wondered who’d paid for such an elaborate box. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t dirty money from ill-gotten gains.
The casket was surrounded with gorgeous flower wreaths that were packed with carnations, gladiolas and daisies. Apparently, he must have had more money than I originally thought. Either that or knew more friends in higher places than the slime he used to run around with.
A little further past the casket, in front of the gravesite area, was a long table with a large black and white photograph of Gino. He had always taken a good picture, and this one was no exception. Seeing his face after all these years startled me and wrenched at something deep inside. He still had a picture perfect smile and cheery expression that belied the years of hard living, which had finally put an end to his life. The image brought a huge lump to my throat.
Gazing at the photograph, I suddenly felt paralyzed as the painful memories of our past came flooding to the surface. For years, I’d kept the emotions confined, relegated to a dark recess hidden deep within my soul; unwilling to think of them, loathing to actually speak of them, and absolutely denying that they had any effect whatsoever on me.
The photo conjured up images of just how vengeful, cunning and ruthless he’d been. Suddenly, his face was smirking at me, grinning in that evil way, challenging me to disagree. I squeezed my eyes shut and counted to ten. When I opened them, he was smiling again.
As the buried memories were starting to overcome my senses, one of the infamous Texas winds whirled up out of nowhere from the depths of the parking lot, bringing with it the intoxicating scent of bluebonnets. For a moment, the air spun like a twister, plucking the soft white lilies on either side of the casket into a happy dance. Mourners gripped hats and shirttails, and for one tiny moment, I actually felt compassion for Gino. He was, after all, a human being, someone’s son, and father of my children.
The feeling of compassion and sadness bewildered me. I wasn’t sure if those were, in fact, my true feelings, or rather were they merely those that I believed I should feel. I’d always been taught to ‘have respect’ for the dead. The other feelings that weren’t anywhere close to compassion or sadness, left me feeling guilty and confused. I struggled inside with these churning emotions. How could I possibly feel true compassion for a man who’d nearly destroyed my life, and the lives of my children?
I was startled out of my thoughts when a black car pulled up next to the gravesite. It was my son Jason. It had been two years since Carmen or I had seen him. I was almost crying when he got out of the car, but tried to maintain some semblance of composure. We ran to him, holding back tears, but giving way to yelling his name and carrying on as if he’d just come back from the war. We threw ourselves into his arms, hugging and holding onto him. Jason stood there, as stiff as a statue, while his sister and I cuddled him. His skin felt cold as ice, even though we were sweating up a storm in the heat.
Jason was nice, but rather distant. He looked so handsome and self-assured. He only spoke with us for a moment; not nearly long enough. I felt abandoned by him and wondered how he could just walk away after he had been away from us for so long. These thoughts left me feeling selfish, even as my heart yearned to feel closer to him.
Carmen and I sat back down and waited for the ceremony to start. By then, the heat had become almost unbearable. I pulled a tissue from my purse and wiped the sweat from behind my drenched neck, hoping that this whole episode would end quickly, so I could spend more time with my son, Jason. Then, I happened to glance again at Gino’s picture. This time I noticed an inscription etched into his photo. The words were illegible from my seat in the back row, and for some reason, it seemed very significant that I find out what they said.
I’d risen from my chair and walked closer to the table with the picture on it, before I even realized what I was doing. In my absent mindedness, my heel caught on a grass patch and I stumbled. This surprise trip left me feeling panicked and I wobbled wildly trying to regain my balance. I must’ve looked a sight, with my arms flailing and my dress flying up. Thankfully, no one even seemed to notice. I made it more smoothly the rest of the way to the table, but kept my distance, peering closely at the picture. I managed to squint through both the sun’s glare and the tent’s deep shadow. I needed to read those tiny words, but I wasn’t sure as to why it was so important.
As I struggled to decipher the inscription, I was able to gradually absorb the letters and formulate them into complete words. As the words slowly slipped into place, I suddenly felt light-headed and let out an audible gasp! I realized what was written on the frame. Blinking, I checked the inscription again, just to make sure it wasn’t my overheated mind playing tricks on me. Again, I could not believe my eyes and grasped the tent pole to steady myself from the surprise. Why was I shocked? His entire life was a lie - why not his funeral? As I straightened up, I clenched my fists, digging sharp nails, piercing my sweaty palms, as my entire brain began to throb mercilessly.
I was grateful to make it back to my seat and sat with my eyes closed, massaging my forehead. How I wished to God that this funeral were over. Then a faint sound drew my attention from the throbbing in my head. A strange, but familiar laugh rang out over the dull hum of the other voices. I suspected it could only be my former mother-in-law.
Gino’s mother had a loud and boisterous laugh, very similar to her dead son’s. I turned my throbbing head to her, seated in the front row. She’d lost weight and, although her hair was white now, she looked much the same. I knew her, but not very well. She and Gino’s relationship had always been strange and distant.
I quickly looked down so Gino’s mother wouldn’t see me gawking at her. I’m sure this funeral seemed utterly ridiculous and embarrassing to her after she’d read the inscription under Gino’s picture. In fact, this must have been yet another in a long line of disappointments for her when it came to Gino. I began to understand, more than ever, her emotional detachment and why she kept her distance as she did. I felt uncomfortable and knew she would wonder, as I did, why I was here.
As I reflected on the woman that raised my dead ex-husband, the sound of a woman crying in the background drew my focus back to the proceedings at hand. The sobbing girl was standing on the opposite side of the casket. Her long brown hair hung loosely on her young fragile shoulders. With concern, I started to offer her a tissue, but froze when she turned around. It was Gino’s third wife, Sheila. Although I’d never seen her up close, I recognized her immediately. She was only six years older than our son, and looked so broken and forlorn. The compassion I had felt drained quickly from my body, until all I could feel was the loathing I had for my ex-husband.
Jason began moving toward his place at the front of the funeral, as I was still reeling from my close encounter with Gino’s widow. I was extremely hurt by my son’s insensitive attitude, and having to deal with Sheila so up close and personal. I thought about making a speedy exit, but the eulogy had already started. I eased down into my chair and did my best to train my attention on the minister.
The calming presence of a man of the cloth did little to calm my jangling nerves. As he began the eulogy, I was able to clear my mind a little. Then he launched into a speech about how wonderful Gino had been, and any semblance of feeling peaceful, quickly departed. “Gino was a kind and giving man, with a big heart”, the minister said with conviction. “He has done so many things for others.” He went on and on about Gino, as if he was some kind of hero.
I felt sick as I heard the minister going on with his words of praise for Gino’s life. He certainly wasn’t talking about the Gino I knew. Instead, he was describing a man that lived a life beyond reproach. This homage to the man I knew as a criminal and sociopath, made it clear that either he didn’t know Gino or he had been manipulated by him in some way.
As I fumed in my seat, the minister continued his eulogy of fabrications and untruths. I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to jump up and scream out at everyone, “THIS IS NOT TRUE! YOU DON’T KNOW THE REAL GINO! HE’S NOT ‘GINO THE SAINT’! HE’S ‘GINO THE DESPICABLE’!” But this would have been senseless, since Gino had so obviously charmed this crowd before his death.
I, of course, knew better. I knew the truth.
The words grew louder and louder, as though they were coming from a bullhorn. Pictures from my painful past flashed inside my head like so many scenes from a horror flick. I didn’t want to listen to the preacher anymore. Gino didn’t deserve honor. He deserved nothing!
Even as my anger raged its war inside of me, my face remained devoid of emotion. I sat motionless and unable to display my true feelings. Instead, I held them inside while my gut was ready to explode. The utter gall of that man still enraged me. Even now, the raw power of my emotions defied belief.
Thinking about Gino, my thoughts scattered into so many different directions. My mind drifted back through time. The Texas heat searing through my body began losing its intensity until I could no longer feel it. The memories, so real now, were all too clear; they remained all too painful, as if it was all still happening today. And while my heart fought the journey, I was helpless to stop it. My mind betrayed me, playing the movie of my past, one that I could not turn off. Images, both vivid and terrifying, began to relive themselves with clarity. My senses were now flooded with the sights and sounds of where and when my life with Gino began.