My Story by Imogen Paton (founder)
A struggling single mum with two great kids, I met my ex partner when I was down trodden and vulnerable finding it hard to see a way back into work and wondering how to be the role model I dreamed of giving them. I owned my own property yet I couldn’t see a way to make enough money to sustain my family single handedly with what I felt was my only talent; the arts. My beloved father had died when I was 15 but I was very fortunate that he had left me enough money to use as a deposit on a flat (back when property was actually affordable) and through art school I had rented rooms and the property value had increased as the market boomed. However, I felt my life lacked direction and with the arrival of the children and then the breakdown of my previous relationship, I felt lost.
When my ex came into my life I thought the gods had finally answered, how lucky I was that such a well educated, handsome, addictively confident and attractive man would be interested in me, my dream man in every way had arrived and he recognised all the potential that was inside me.
In terms of my low self esteem and depression, he almost bullied it out of me, telling me that he didn’t feel sorry for me as I had options, I had a flat that could be used, sold, and the money invested providing at least enough interest to live on. He was right, who was I to be feeling so helpless when in fact I had so much? Here he was, a man with a degree in computer science, trained at acting school and owning his own successful business (which he had terminated shortly before we met to pursue his love of music) using terms like “hedge fund” that were not exactly my field of expertise, and I felt he merited my trust. After all, he had given me my life back but getting me out of my slump and I could be a better parent again. I owed him.
He would disappear frequently to begin with, saying he was five minutes away and five hours later still nowhere to be seen. But when he would show up days or even a weeks later, he was so intensely engaging. It played havoc with my emotions, so when he asked me to lend him £6000 from my mortgage overdraft facility, I nervously agreed. Telling myself what he had given me in terms of my “life back” was worth more than any money. He said it was to build a wall in his house that the surveyor had said needed to be mended before it could be sold and that I would have my money back within 6 weeks. I was vigilant, I did my research, checked it all out online and his property (jointly owned with his ex wife) was indeed for sale. I never saw the money.
During those following six weeks was when he first hit me. I had disagreed with something he had said and threw my bowl of pasta at him. He retaliated by getting up and slapping me across the face saying I had disrespected him so greatly, and he was right, I had, so I accepted his action despite the shock. I was careful never again to confront him with an outspoken opinion and tried to play into the role of subservient spouse figure to keep him happy and supported. Anytime I questioned to myself if something felt wrong somehow in terms of the level of sacrifice I was making, I quickly reminded myself that I had lent him £6000 and could’t walk away from getting that money back, it would happen, he just needed time to complete the sale.
The first six months of our relationship saw no more physical violence. He was present at my home almost all the time sitting at the computer working and reading the Zimbabwean news online. He lived for work, constantly glued to the screen or working on music that he was going to sell to various contacts he had made along the way and talking about all these projects and ideas of ways to help the people of Zimbabwe. His charitable talk would allow me to believe he had a kind heart. He would talk for hours on end, on and on and on to the point that you would switch of but had to be seen to be listening. I yearned for his attention and felt honoured that I could please him at least over small things like going to buy him the beers or tobacco he requested. As soon as it was time for the school run he would pounce on me erotically, and I found it hard to resist his advances and attention that i’d been craving for so long. Looking back, all these things were signs, but at the time, I was just in the process of becoming more entangled.
Nine months into the relationship I fell pregnant. He was elated. He spoke with such dignified passion about how our destiny to be together was really unveiling itself, how our child was a special gift that would bring great things. This was our moment, the beginning of our life both as a family unit and as pioneers of change for greater good. I remember him taking loads of photos of me that day, he said I was glowing, I was his universal blessing, and of course I felt amazing. Then he convinced me to sell up so we could grow and start afresh. The plan was to rent temporarily, then secure a mortgage through the company we would be setting up, spreading the money from my sale into building a property portfolio using a contact he had in Amsterdam. By this point he was also going away a lot on business trips and taking conference calls outside.
As the sale date approached, the house was still not packed up and our temporary accommodation still not confirmed. I was very nervous, worried about where I was going to be taking my children, how everything was going to be dealt with as smoothly as possible. I am an organised person by nature and wanted the house to be in labeled boxes by now and the accommodation booked, but he wouldn’t let me pack, assuring me he would sort it. Then four days before completion, he announced he had to go yet again to Amsterdam for crucial business. Whilst he was away I booked 3 Airbnb’s to cover us for the initial few weeks. I thought he’s be pleased. Needless to say, he wasn’t. He was furious infact. My choices were too expensive he said, and he made me cancel all baring the first booking, incurring multiple fines. It seemed so unreasonable but he had a way of making his argument carry such weight. Having returned the day before we had to leave my home, he packed up the house and began moving everything into the van that he had got me to buy. He said it made more sense to buy a van that we could later use anyway for transporting art etc that was all tied into our business plans. He took the first load to his sisters house and left it covered under a tarpaulin in her back garden. So many of my possessions and personal belongings including the expensive cot my mother had bought for my other two children when they were babies (the cot that despite its meaning to me, he refused to allow me to use for “his” child as he wanted something untainted by my past). It hurt but I tried to see it from his point of view and he insisted it was temporary so there was nothing to worry about. He found us a place to stay within a decent bus route to the children schools and we moved in. The beds were broken and there were mice everywhere.
Whilst in that flat, he would frequently go out on a whim in the evenings and of course I was unable to go with him because of my motherly duties of caring for my children. I spent what felt like every hour of every day trying to plan ways to surprise him, please him, get him to spend more time with me but it was blow after blow. I’d cook a special meal and he’d suddenly send a text saying he was at a meeting and wouldn’t be home until late. If I got upset, then I was being unreasonable expecting him to be there and further our life. If I cried he got angry and the violence returned. I was nearly six months pregnant, desperate for his affection and approval and buying dresses as thats what he liked me to wear for him. I remember sitting on the floor of the bedroom downstairs, sobbing uncontrollably. Again he swiped me across the face really hard saying he had to slap it out of me. I was heartbroken. I just wanted him to love me with actions as he said he did with words.
After five weeks and three different locations, we moved into our dream house at a cost of £38000.00 per year. I had to pay upfront as I was unemployed but he assured me it wouldn’t be long and we’d be putting in an offer to buy it. I had to believe him, what else could I do. Nobody knew about the violence or the money i’d lent him, all they saw was a happy exterior as I tried to conceal the dark truth and avoid the wrath of shame that would descend upon me if they found out. I hadn’t even been allowed to tell any of my friends about the pregnancy until we moved as he said they all knew my life and previous partner, and he wanted a fresh start without gossiping women. My friends of course could read the signs of my changing figure but just like the black eye, I made embarrassingly bad excuses. It all felt so out of control.
From the outside, and in my mind to a large extent, I was living the dream. The perfect house, perfect partner, happy children (who were always kept unaware of the violence), business ventures, and I told everyone i’d never been happier. When questioned about our plans, I was instructed by him to not say anything and so explained about his desire for privacy, before they probed any further. I could see their suspicion but had to defend him. I didn’t want to let him down or do something wrong.
We bought lots of antique furniture to decorate our home and office, the children moved schools, and I got to know the neighbours. We also bought 5 classic american cars that were shipped over from the states, again to tie into our business plans. I was only allowed 3 friends who were permitted to come to the house as he was determined to own the fresh start. I was paying for more and more flights abroad for business (returns that he would often miss so I would have to rebook), and when he was at home he would go out almost 3/4 times a week often not returning until midday the next day. He kept assuring me of deals he was finalising and had me writing documents and designing logos whilst he was away. But I’d noticed he was drinking more too and some behaviours were strange. He became obsessed with numbers on his telephone carrying great symbolic meaning. If it was 12.13 when we had been finishing a conversation about work, he’d take a screen shot saying it was the universe sending us a sign that we were on the right path. I would go to bed unable to stay up late but he would never join me. My heart was heavy and so was my belly.
The violence by now was horrific, at 7 months pregnant he pushed me to the floor at the landing at the top of the stairs for voicing my concern about finances (the children were at school). I was so shaken and trembling that I almost slipped as I slowly staggered down the stairs, petrified for my unborn child. He got infront of me and yelled at me saying I was trying to kill our baby. I was so scared I wet myself begging him to stop, that he was scaring me. I went into the bathroom, crying silent tears as to not aggravate him and sat on the toilet seat. I was numb. He followed me in, told me I was acting “Hollywood” and thinking with my head and not my heart (as he often did). I just remember him biting his bottom lip, raising his fist and saying “I’m gonna f**k you up”. That was the only time he ever apologised to me, because he noticed I had wet myself out of fear. He hugged and kissed me. One hour later I had to pick up my children from school.
The erratic behaviour continued in the months and weeks leading up to the birth of our son. Baptism in the shower, strange nighttime rituals pouring alcohol into the garden soil and throwing alcohol at the walls to purify the house of all bad spirits. He brought women to the house and had sex with one in our toilet then when i threw the visitors out, left with them in one of my classic cars and crashed it (managing to escape any injury). I was devastated but he blamed alcohol. Another night he said his dead brother had revisited him and that he knew now he was a spirtual medium. Despite me putting much of this down to his grieving the death of his sibling and cultural traditions, the behaviour was concerning. I constantly felt I didn’t know what lay around the corner.
Our son was born on the 25th of march. It changed nothing He played the doting father, got me to take endless photographs with him kissing and posing with the baby but once all but one of the family visitors had left, things quickly took a turn for the worse. He picked a fight with me over my older son’s playing cards that had been left on the floor and his 1 year old niece was destroying. I asked him to pick them up, he refused so I did it myself with the baby in my arms. He went for me saying I could have dropped the baby, that I was choosing cards over his child. I was exhausted from just giving birth and retreated to the bedroom in tears. He followed me down and began shouting that I was making a scene, that his sister (who was upstairs) would sense something was wrong. Out of sheer desperation I retorted “I should tell you sisters what you are really like” and he hit me so hard across the face my head flung back. All the while I was holding our 2 day old in my arms. I tried to leave the room but he told me to sit down. He said if we were over then I had to hand over the child or he would destroy me in court and i’d loose everything. That night I waited until he was asleep and kept into our spare room where his sister and niece were sleeping. I told her everything. She seemed shocked but admitted that in her culture there was nothing she could do as a sister and woman and that he had to be respected. The next day he acted as if it were any other day. His older sister came to take the younger sister staying with us to the station to return home. I was so afraid of them leaving but I couldn’t say anything. His sister just told me to stay strong, that everything would be ok. I just remember the sinking feeling as the door shut and I went upstairs to sit in the living room easy chair. He came upstairs and calmly sat opposite me and began to talk. He told me how he was going to kill me, have me “taken out” of the picture altogether, how disfigured i’d be. He spoke of raising our son and never letting him know the truth, that everybody would think i’d killed myself. All that was running through my head was how do I tell my children and mother the truth, I needed them to know it wasn’t me that had left them. How could I protect them? I pretended to check my phone which was on the arm of the chair next to me whilst listening to him talk. I set it on record, my heart was racing, I knew if he found out what I was doing he would kill me then and there and the baby could be seriously hurt. I just kept thinking “this is the only way, the police will find my phone when they find my body and the recording will speak for itself”. After 8 minutes of recording and 40 minutes of him talking, I made my excuse and went to the kitchen to get water. There I text his sister, begging her to return, make any excuse, and take me with her. To my great relief she did so under the guise of forgetting food containers and my partner packed me off in her car, kissed me and the baby, told me he loved us and that was the last time I saw him.
He was arrested ten days later trying to leave to country.
In the months that followed many truths surfaced. I found sexual videos of him and another woman, pictures of them holidaying together on the “business" trips I had been paying for for our future and lots of documents he had kept secret on his hard drive. Our entire relationship was a lie. The man I had given everything had manipulated and used and abused me. I had to sell everything I could, the furniture, the cars (apart from the crashed one) to find the money to rent somewhere else and had lost £160,000 in just eight months. He had been taking my bank card and withdrawing £500 a night just weeks before our son was born. All the nights out and strange incidents over the past 2 years started to add up. Other women surfaced, reports of cocaine use, more lies, more deceit. It was crushing but I was alive and I had 3 healthy happy children.
I chose to use the smashed up car to literally “drive home” the message of what had happened to me. Using it as a visual storytelling platform and an interactive traveling sculpture, I was determined to shout about the plight of victims of this hidden crime. Solace Women’s Aid were my greatest support, giving me both practical help and understanding of what I had gone through. It soon became very clear just how much I was not alone and the sheer volume and diversity of victims. I wanted to thank Solace somehow for giving me my life back (genuinely this time) and so the Bad Karma Impala project was born. My way of protecting and therapizing myself and others, and a chance to be a real role model to my children, showing them that no matter what happens, no matter the depth of darkness and loss, you can always try to find light once again…it may just take a little imagination and determination.