I know him better than you do, she says. I know Bobby better than anyone; I’m not a trick and I’m not game, and I know what I am to Bobby Gilbert.
Her name is Angel and she knows him alright; she married Bobby Ray Gilbert in prison.
Gilbert robbed a gas station one night, pistol-whipped and shot the attendant. Bobby laughs when he says, I got thirty-five dollars. The gun I used cost thirty-seven.
Once inside prison and to no one’s surprise, Bobby Gilbert killed again. A fellow inmate this time. Now serving multiple life sentences, Gilbert won’t leave ‘til the day he dies, and I surely won’t lose any sleep over that.
But Angel is proud when she talks about Bobby. Giddy, and proud. There’s a look in her eye and a tone in her voice—she sounds very much like one of Trump’s fans. I watch MSNBC every night, and I hear them talk to those Trump adorers; what about this and what about that, what about Covid, Obamacare, pardons and tax cuts for those at the top.
If you’ve ever been a teenage girl, or if you’re the parent of one right now, you know this answer or some variation:
Oh he didn’t mean it.
Oh he didn’t mean it turns and twists into, what’s wrong with you? Can’t take a joke?
Then it goes dark. He meant it.
And you just don’t get it.
There’s one of those guys in every crowd. You gather and listen ‘cause he tells a good story—you know it’s all horse-shit, beginning to end. But it’s Friday night, the band’s starting their set with “Sweet Home Alabama”—
then some dude with pointy-toed shoes and a REM t-shirt walks in. Makes some remark about President Trump. The next thing you know, you and your bros are outside the bar, beatin’ the crap out of Michael Stipe, there.
Crazy, you say? Well you just don’t get it.Then again, I said that too, in 2016. Remember the bus? Remember the Access Hollywood tape? Grab ‘em by the you-know-what?
That’s it, some cheered. It’s over, some cried. No, I said, you just don’t get it, and I’ll bet you a red MAGA hat and a T-shirt that Viviana Tulli said it once too.
She was only sixteen when Viviana Tulli met David Godell; Godell was just twenty-five, himself, a grifter, a criminal and already a con man par excellent. It was a stormy relationship, by all accounts. On again, off again, for almost eight years. In 2010, it was off again; Godell was in jail. But he called Ms. Tulli, wrote letters and whispered sweet nothings in Viviana’s ear.
Godell was paroled to a halfway house, and while he was there, somehow he got the idea in his head that Ms. Tulli, as he so artfully puts it, “was screwin’ around”. He faked a seizure, and made his escape from the emergency room. Jealous and wild and unshackled now, the first thing he did was call Viviana.
I wasn’t there but I know what he said; the same thing Bobby says to Angel, the same thing Trump always says to his fans: you and me, we’re special. Those guys over there, they just don’t get it.
We’re special, we get it, even if “it” is Covid-19. In Tennessee, where I live, as of this date, almost 5,000 people have died from the virus, and a majority of those people likely voted for Trump.
Trump carried this state in the last election. They buy the T-shirts and the red MAGA caps, and they say, just like Angel, I’m not a trick. Angel gathers the tips from her waitressing job, sends the money to Bobby and says, I’m not game.
I’m special. I get it. That’s what she means. A red MAGA hat costs thirty bucks—but wait, there’s more—the shock and dismay of those pasty-faced liberals comes with it. It’s a symbol that lets others know you get it. If you voted for Trump, that’s what a MAGA cap means, same as a letter or phone call from Bobby, or the wedding ring Angel wears on her finger.
How could you marry a man like that—as you can imagine, Angel hears that a lot. The beast bites your hand and gives her its paw; she’s special, she gets it. Viviana Tulli was special, too, when she got in the car with David Godell. Nobody loves you like I do, baby.
Two hours later, Viviana was dead.
Viviana was a prankster, say those closest to her. Thought water balloons were the world's greatest joke.
David requested a photo of Viviana for his cell; if that sounds like remorse, then you just don’t get it.
You just don’t get it. She must’ve said that. I’m sure she told someone, oh he didn’t mean it.
I’m equally certain David looks at that photo the way I look at old vacation slides. Like Trump looks at crowd size. Like Angel looks at the ring Bobby gave her.
He replays the scene and revisits the crime. It's a MAGA hat, to David Godell. His crowning achievement—and the world's greatest joke. Her throat in his hands, watching the fire die in her eyes; they sentenced Godell to forty-eight years.
The fire's gone.
Viviana Tulli means everything now.