Taking up with where I left off in my last post, my life fell into a routine that centered around Paula. We quickly switched from Microsoft Messenger to Skype for our video chats because it was more stable and robust. Paula had shared with me the basic details of her personal history, as muddled (and fabricated) as they were. I had shared with Paula the basic details of my own personal history, but openly and honestly. I began to fill in some of the details — about my relationship with my mother, the many times when I’d been severely bullied in school, and the sexual abuse I had suffered. She seemed to be a warm and insightful listener, always giving a validating response. So we flowed from personal history, to filling in the gaps, to sharing our daily struggles and triumphs. I grew more comfortable with her even as the red flags continued to wave.
As we shifted into this second phase of ensnarement, Paula was fixated on two situations that gave me pause. She complained bitterly about social workers meddling in her affairs. And she complained about the old man who lived on the other side of her duplex. Per usual, her concerns came out unsequenced and vague. As I picked up clues, I realized that social services was keeping close tabs on her four children. Paula had by now told me that Lotfi, her second husband, had been sent to prison. She had mentioned the rape in which Reba was conceived. She had alleged that Lotfi had “interfered” with Yuri’s “private parts.” And she had also claimed that Lotfi had physically and sexually abused Emma, her daughter from her first marriage. I never saw any evidence that Lotfi had been sent to prison. Nor did Paula explain what he had been charged with.
When I tried to understand why social services was so concerned with her children, Paula gave no answers. She would alternately say, “I don’t know,” or she would claim that it was because of Lotfi. But Lotfi was out of the picture, and no counseling was being given to the children. I was only hearing about demands that the social workers were making on Paula herself. I asked Paula if social services was trying to take her children away from her, and to this she would say, “I don’t know.” As Paula ranted about the social workers, she told me that a Jewish woman had handled the case before she and Lotfi were divorced, and that the Jewish social worker wanted to keep the marriage intact. Much later, it would become clear that social services was not concerned about Lotfi, but about Paula. I report this not as established fact, but as my best understanding based on what I personally observed.
With regard to Emma, Paula’s daughter from her first marriage to Hussain Majeed, one story she told me is more than a little confusing. Here, we go back to the fact that Paula had said she “fell pregnant” with Yuri immediately after they were married. Facts were never quite right. When I later compared Yuri’s birth date to the date of her marriage to Lotfi (as seen with my own eyes on her marriage certificate, and both of which can be verified by information on Ancestry), Paula was well pregnant before the marriage. So she must have already been living with Lotfi and Yuri wasn’t yet born for this particular “story” she told? Paula described that she’d received a telephone call from Lotfi at work, telling her that Emma’s hair was falling out. She said that she didn’t think anything about it, but when she got home and bathed Emma, she saw bald patches in her head, and “love bites” all over her body. When she asked Emma who’d done this, Emma had said “papa” (aka Lotfi) had done it. This was “supposedly” reported to the police, who did nothing because Emma recanted the claim that Lotfi was the perpetrator. So strange that this would have happened (and doubt the veracity of virtually everything she told me), and yet she married the man and went on to have three more children by him!
As was often the case, the children would be playing, fighting, or rough-housing while Paula and I talked on Skype. One day, the kids were being more rowdy than usual while Paula was trying to get them to tidy the house. She told me she was going to have some words with them and didn’t want “to hurt my ears,” so she was going to turn off the audio for Skype. By mistake, she left the audio going so that I actually heard her what she said, but she had turned off the video instead, so I could see the interaction. I heard her scream at Emma, “You fucking lazy bitch!” I was speechless.
Eventually, I will talk about my own mother who was similar to Paula in many ways. But for all the things my mother did, she never flung such soul-destroying insults my way. Nor had I ever heard any other mother treat their child in such a way. The hair on my neck stood on end. (You’ll hear this phrase time and time again.) I didn’t know what to do. I wondered whether to confront her, but already, I was sensing that she was not one to be questioned or crossed. So I didn’t mention what I’d heard, but it sat in the pit of my stomach to be mulled over for some time. This was my first real clue that social services wasn’t concerned about Lotfi who was no longer in the children’s lives, whether he was actually in prison or not.
Via Skype, I had been introduced to Paula’s daily routines with the children. She cooked a hot meal for them nearly every day at almost 5 o’clock on the dot. She kept them clothed and got them ready for school — walking four children to three different schools. She said, “I love you” to them frequently, hugged them, and got them to their various after-school activities. In the end, I let the incident slide. From the vantage point of my own mother, who had seldom hugged me or told me she loved me, and who stopped cooking for me at a young age, Paula seemed to be doing an otherwise stellar job at parenting without the help of a spouse. Surely a slip or two could be allowed. Coarse language was a part of her “style.” And so I gave her a pass….
Another incident with regard to Paula’s children happened before we were married. Although our routine was to talk daily via Skype for hours at a time — but at her convenience — there were times when she disappeared and was unreached. We kept in touch via Skype, Facebook, email, telephone calls, and text messaging. When she disappeared, she was unreachable by any of these means. Initially, I would panic, thinking something awful had happened, but then I began to feel jerked around and as if more was going on than I was aware of. When she reappeared, she would always have some excuse that sounded outlandish or just buggered the imagination.
On one “disappearance,” I had briefly heard from Paula, and she told me that Yuri had gone missing. Then nothing back from her for a span of time. When she reappeared, she told me that Lotfi had kidnapped Yuri from school grounds, had held him overnight, and then returned him home. Well, this was more than staggering, because Lotfi was supposed to be in prison at that time (for raping her or abusing the children, or both, she never made clear). So I asked her how she knew Lotfi had taken Yuri, and she said he’d been seen on CCTV at the school. And when I asked about him being in prison, she said he’d been released without authorities informing her. Unlikely, I’d think.
So, so taking what she’d claimed at face value as always, I was concerned whether Lotfi had been sent back to prison. She said he had been. Of course, this surely would have been a parole violation if any of the story was true, but it would also have been an additional crime for which he would have been tried in court. I would have thought that she would have been prepped to testify, and that Yuri would have had to testify as to what happened, and that it would have been an ordeal that would have been drawn out for some time. But it was NEVER mentioned again!!
It’s even more inexplicable that this incident with Lotfi supposedly kidnapping Yuri could have happened when social services was closely following the children. But I was as yet unaware of what was really going on. Once Paula and I were married and I had extended stays in the UK, and after I moved over, it was very clear that Paula herself was the main concern. This I witnessed with my own eyes, as i attended case conferences with her and the kids’ teachers, social workers, etc, present.
The old man who lived on the other side of Paula’s duplex was another story. Again, it was hard to ascertain exactly what the true facts were. From what I could gather, his main complaint was the noise made by Paula and her children. On that score, I had great sympathy for the old man, because the children and Paula were exceedingly loud, even on Skype. Paula told me that the old man had lodged a lawsuit about her regarding the noise. She insisted that the police had installed a device in his side of the duplex that would measure the noise level, and none could be heard. Around the time I moved to the UK, the old man and his family had moved away, replace by a younger family with children about the same ages as Paula’s kids. I could hear the new family through the walls, and they were not nearly as loud and rowdy as Paula and her children. So, if nothing else, I’m sure the old man had a valid complaint about the noise.
Among her other issues with the old man, Paula said he had accused her of using abusive language with the children, and had reported her multiple times for endangering the lives of her pet rabbits to the RSPCA.
Paula made several allegations against the old man. I do not know the veracity of her claims — only what she told me. She said that he had a CCTV camera pointed at her back garden and was filming the children while they played. The back yard was a junk heap, and had a trampoline against the rear fence. Despite the accusations, Paula allowed her children to play outside in warm weather without any clothes on. Most particularly Glenda, who always wanted to take off her clothes constantly. I wondered why she would let them play outside unclothed with that concern, but again kept my questions to myself, simply trying to grasp what the true facts were.
In one conversation, Paula told me breathlessly that the old man had broken into her house. I was shocked! To prove her story, she send me a photograph of the facing around her front door. Her version of what happened was that the old man had tried to get in through the front door, but had been unsuccessful, and so had boosted his stepson through the top of a front window that had been left open. The old man, according to Paula, then had his son open the front door and he entered her home. He only took some costume jewelry of no value that had belonged to Paula’s deceased grandmother, and Emma’s doll collection. And astonishly he had urinated in a basket of laundry. However, when I looked at the photograph Paula had sent me, her describing it as him trying to drill his way through her front door, the little hole I saw was nowhere near the lock — it was on the frame around the door. Drilling in that spot would have in no way have gained the old man entry into the house. And as I’m recalling it now, the color of the door frame of her house was white, while the color of the frame in the picture she sent me was blue. Another story that made no sense! But I wasn’t there, so I could only take what she told me at face value. I didn’t know whether to be concerned for her safety, or to be concerned for my own safety.
Now we come to the Tale of the Rabbits. When I first met Paula on Facebook in the middle of July 2009, she had two bunny rabbits that lived in a hutch in her back garden. She had referred to them a few times, and perhaps had shown them to me on the videocam a couple of times. One day during this period, in an animated tone, Paula related that one of her friends had visited with a dog. Paula always kept her back door open in warm weather, and the bunnies were hopping around in the back garden. She told me the dog had run into the back yard and killed one of the rabbits. As an animal lover, I was heartbroken and appalled. Why had she not closed the door, or put the bunnies back in their hutch? Surely most people know that many dogs are bred to chase and attack rabbits and small vermin! It was upsetting, but I justified it as a lapse. I reasoned and rationalized that not everyone is familiar with dog behavior.
By now, the rhythm of my daily life was anchored on the times when Paula and I could talk on Skype. We were still interacting on Facebook. She was constantly inundating my Facebook page with gushy, romantic songs from YouTube. Part of the on-going love-bombing. My father was a musician, and music was etched into every fiber of my being. She knew how to “get to me.” All the songs promised undying love, great passion, a forever future of happiness…. I was arranging my schedule to fit hers, including the 5 hour time difference. I so appreciated the time she devoted to me. I did notice that our times together were always at her convenience. I would sometimes wait hours for her to appear at a promised time, only to be told the next day that she had fallen asleep. But when she finally made herself available, she would sit and talk with me for hours, and eventually we kept the videocam going around the clock, even when one or the other of us was asleep. At one and the same time, it seemed like she was always available for me which I much appreciated and depended upon, and yet she was only there at her convenience. And she would “disappear” from time to time, for two or three days or more, and come back with some explanation that didn’t quite make sense. I took all this gracefully, but at the same time, I can now see that it was eroding my self-confidence and my sense of control. I’m aware I’m repeating myself here, but it’s darn hard to explain why a victim can go through so many lies and distortions, and still feel so helplessly drawn to their psychopath.
I had waited for her to appear on Skype one evening into the wee hours, which would have been morning on her side of the ocean. When she finally showed up on the videocam, her expression was emotionless. Not sad. Not crying. Not angry or raging. Just flat and blank. Paula told me that the old man on the other side of her duplex had killed the second rabbit. In a monotone voice, she complained that she had gone outside before the children had awakened and found the carcass of the rabbit, bloodless and beheaded, in her back garden. Now I was well and truly stunned. Horrified. Utterly speechless. In the first place, the details of the story made absolutely no sense, but even if true, normal people living normal lives don’t find their pet rabbits decapitated in the back yard.
I tried to comprehend how this could have happened. Paula’s yard was surrounded by an 8 ft privacy fence that was secured on the inside by a padlock. If there was no blood, but the rabbit had been beheaded, it would have had to have been slaughtered elsewhere — otherwise, there would have been a pool of blood. For the old man to have accomplished the feat Paula alleged, he would have had to have made his way over the tall privacy fence, snatched the rabbit, taken if back across the fence to his home or elsewhere, and killed it, draining off the blood. Then he would have had to have scaled the privacy fence again to place the body and head in Paula’s back garden. And he would have had to do this without Paula or her children or any of their neighbors from the side and the rear hearing or seeing anything! How could an old man do this? All of the homes were two-story — on the sides and behind — and anyone looking out an upstairs window could have clearly seen what was happening. The kids and their friends were in and out of the back yard during the day — impossible for him to have done it then. And the neighborhood was still and quiet at night, so he couldn’t have done it without making a racket. Who would even dare taking such a risk? The story was ghastly, but it simply made no sense.
Besides the incomprehensibility of the details as Paula relayed them, I could not understand why she was emotionless. I was choking back tears as i heard the story. It seemed no less horrible than the infamous “rabbit” scene in the movie Fatal Attraction. I honestly didn’t know what to believe. So I was forced to accept the story as Paula told it.
Years later, after I had escaped the hell I had fallen into, I was doing some searches on Google, trying to put together the pieces. I stumbled across a post to a Yahoo Freecycle group local to Paula’s area. The post was dated July 1, 2009. It pre-dated my meeting Paula on Facebook, and the demise of the two rabbits, and it said:
offering 2 rabbits shoreham by seaExpand Messages
- Message 1 of 4 , Jul 1, 2009View Source
i have 2 big white rabbits one male one female due to ill health i can no longer look after them. the male has been done and the hutch is plenty big enough for both of them to live in. if anyones interested please call me on 07955619051many thankspaula.
I had met Paula around the middle of July on Facebook. She was in no way in “ill health.” Whatever actually happened to the rabbits, she had been trying to get rid of them well before she told me the dog had killed the first rabbit, and the old man had slaughtered the second rabbit. [https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Brighton_Freecycle_Cafe/conversations/topics/4160]
One can speculate about the true facts of the demise of the rabbits, and reach many possible theories. But later I will explain what happened to my precious dog that I brought to the UK with me, the inspiration behind Dog Dharma, and the reader can reach her own conclusions.
For me, I felt both hypnotized by Paula and repulsed by her. With each new story, I became more confused. From across the ocean, I had no way to independently verify the facts of what she was telling me. Still assuming that normal, everyday people do not lie about such things, I was left with no choice but to accept these tales of high drama, yet my confusion only grew. If there was any truth at all to what she told me, she was living in a morass of pain, and was deserving of sympathy. I kept venturing deeper into the fog, while hoping in vain that the fog would dissipate…..