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Simpson liked to tell interviewers that "I'm a one-woman man." It fit the wholesome image, but it didn't bear checking too closely. Nicole and O.J. played the perfect, handsome couple; even after their divorce in 1992, they were often seen together with their two children or at parties. "Like all long-term relationships, we had a few ups and downs," Simpson admitted in the extraordinary letter his friend Robert Kardashian read after O.J. fled his house. "If we had a problem, it's because I loved her so much." But he also had a message for his current girlfriend, Paula Barbieri. "Paula, what can I say? You are special. I'm sorry we're not going to have our chance."
Friends described Nicole and O.J.'s relationship as far more complicated than Simpson admitted, or Hollywood mythmaking allows; his own words even confirmed the impression of a passion always running near full boil. "At times," he said, "I have felt like a battered husband or boyfriend, but I loved her." Though friends believe what he said, they also say his love did not prevent him from pursuing other women freely during their marriage. Occasionally Simpson would order Nicole to go back to her parents for visits so he could play the field for a while. Once during a lunch with a reporter, Simpson asked the restaurant hostess to put money in the parking meter next to his Mercedes convertible. She complimented him on the car. He offered her a ride, and off they went to a condo. Recounting his conquest later, he said with a laugh that he got her back to work in time for cocktail hour.
The marriage persisted through the fights, separations, reconciliations. The most public explosion came at around 3 in the morning on New Year's Day 1989 when police received a 911 call to the Simpson estate. Wearing only a bra and sweat pants, Nicole came running out from the bushes to let them in. She was badly beaten with a cut lip and a black eye, the officers reported, and kept saying, "He's going to kill me, he's going to kill me." Police asked whether he had a gun. "He's got lots of guns," she replied, and later complained, "You never do anything about him. You talk to him and then leave. I want him arrested."
O.J. appeared wearing a bathrobe and started yelling at the cops. "The | police have been out here eight times before, and now you're going to arrest me for this?" he said. "This is a family matter. Why do you want to make a big deal out of it? We can handle it." Nicole eventually decided not to press charges, but the city attorney brought up O.J. on a misdemeanor charge of spousal battery. He was fined and placed on two years' probation after pleading no contest. So impermeable was his image, however, that the conviction did not prevent NBC Sports from signing him to a broadcast contract three months later. Last week, city district attorney Gil Garcetti called the handling of the case "a joke, a terrible joke. This whole thing is the result of the justice system not dealing with domestic violence."