By December Bink still wasn’t talking to me. And she didn’t want to come home for Christmas.
I was howling with grief. I apologise to my other precious offspring for all the hurt and neglect, over the years, that this represents, but a mother is only as there as the one who is off with the cuckoos.
I couldn’t see any point in any of the festivities. At all. I sat weeping at the kitchen table, kind members of our church trying hopelessly to comfort me, unable to care about food or decorations or presents or any of it, if Bink wouldn’t be home with us.
(And yet there would come a day long in the future, and other Christmases over the horizon, when I was to look back on the end of 2001 with longing. Nostalgic for the day when we had a kitchen table to weep at, and a church to belong to. Not knowing whether Bink was alive or dead to be wept over.)
It was Serena who enabled her to come home… by telling her she didn’t need to. Thereby employing, instinctively and without any training, a technique used many years later to great effect by the best therapist Bink has ever had.
Suddenly, she could.
But not sleep in the Vicarage: my parents were staying, and my brother’s family, and she couldn’t cope with so many people. I wonder now that we didn’t have the sense to cancel them all to care for her, but we’re not in the habit of letting people down so presumably it never occurred to us.
Our dear neighbour Maggie, Shaun’s employee and lay worker, was going home for Christmas. She lived in the church flat next door, and offered us the run of it. Serena kindly agreed to stay there with her sister.
Serena was barely adult. No eighteen-year-old should ever have to go through what Serena endured that Christmas. No one should.
If you recall, the Florence Nightingale psychiatrist... I’m beginning to agree with Ben: it’s jolly cumbersome, all this “psychiatrist-this” and “shrink-that.” It would be much easier to tell this story if I named her.
We could just call her Cruella. On the other hand, even people who wreck your life have husbands and children who love them; even social workers who tear apart loving families (yes, I’ve witnessed that too) probably believe they are serving some Higher Good in some alternative universe where parents don’t care about their children… and more to the point, children don’t cry themselves to sleep every night mourning their lost parents. In her defence, Dr Ratched (for want of a better name) was elegant and lovely to look.
Anyway, if you remember, this Dr Ratched (Medical Doctor of Shrinkness) had established a couple of factoids very firmly in Bink’s mind:
That she could stop her meds at a moment’s notice with no ill effects.
That she mustn’t under any circs combine booze with the meds.
She was sixteen. It was Christmas. What would you do? Precisely. So would I.
So would Dr Ratched (MDoS) herself. Unless she’s teetotal. Which wouldn’t surprise me. (No offence to my Muslim friends, whom I respect hugely.)
We must have got through Christmas Day without incident because I don’t remember it.
Boxing Day, we have traditions going back to when the children were little and before.
In the afternoon, we play hockey. (Sorry, but there it is. Hunting, unlike the fox community, is thin on the ground in Fulham.) We bully all the neighbours to the bully-off, invite any friends dumb enough to wield a stick, and my cousins always come over (and stay till midnight). My father defended in goal well into his eighties, once skidding across Parson’s Green in the mud on his belly at an age when most people are being pushed around in bath chairs. And saving the goal. If not his specs.
And then we have a Big Tea.
In the evening, we dress for dinner and eat all the left-overs we prepared some time before Christmas, ’specially for Boxing Day. A roasted ham stuck with cloves; a Stilton big as a milking stool; game pies and cold rare beef; Christmas-pudding-ice-cream served in an ice bowl, with suspended delicate leaves and flowers trapped in its glassy sides.
And no shortage of the juice of the grape and roasted hops, to gladden the heart of man. (And to recover from freezing our knees off and remembering what a truly hideous game hockey is.)
Bink sat next to Serena, under her careful wing, and managed a situation she had expected to find very challenging. Were it not from the misinformation from Dr Ratched (MDoS) perhaps she would never have gone back into the Unit.
And then we went to bed.
Until, at around 3am, we received a crisis call from the Florence Nightingale Unit...