Summer and autumn 2007.
We left Bink, exactly a month ago, in midsummer at the end of her first year at Cambridge, 2007.
(That was before I took you on an early-December diversion to that first, terrifying, indication of her illness, twenty-one years before almost to the day: 7th December 1997.)
Twenty-two, lovely and at her first May Ball with her sister. Trinity College, surely the most iconic May Ball in Cambridge.
How happy I was to wave them off, looking so gorgeous, both of them. So excited that Bink might enjoy her life at last, still stretching out before her. Could start her youth now in earnest, having lost half of her life till then to illness suffered since she was eleven.
To be honest I don’t remember much of significance to Bink’s story for the rest of that summer. We had plenty of other issues to worry about, in our other children’s lives and Shaun’s employment. The move to Oxford – which had turned out to be such a terrible mistake, resulting as it had in our family’s homelessness – had presented us with multiple challenges and changes of career, most of them devastating but none of them strictly relevant here.
The next marker in Bink’s life was settling her in for the Michaelmas of her second year at Cambridge. She had been allocated the same two rooms, so she wouldn’t have to share a bathroom nor have the upheaval of moving. (Those same two rooms on the ground floor which Alex and Serena had found so much more convenient to enter by the window from the college gardens than bother with the cumbersome security at the Porters’ Lodge...)
I drove her there, helped her unpack, retrieved her larger belongings from college storage, put her mugs and kitchen things around her sink and her scatter cushions on the bed... and at some stage during our busy afternoon together she was visited by a woman police officer.
It was the first I heard anything about it.
She had been sexually assaulted the previous summer. By someone well known to her. Two extremely sensible (female) friends in the same social circle had urged her to report it.
One of them had experienced similar sleazy pestering from the same person. Critically, unlike Bink, she had been equipped to deal with it.
Yet again, sorrows coming not in single spies but in battalions. Like stacked-up dominoes…
Because of Bink’s anxiety disorder, she didn’t learn how to repel men at an age when the rest of us do. Because of this, she was far more vulnerable to unwanted advances. Because of which, she has suffered a number of sexual assaults. Which she presumably experiences as even more traumatic than the rest of us. Because of her anxiety disorder.
It had taken place over three months previously.
I asked the officer why nothing had been followed up in all that time. I found the ensuing conversation so bizarre I copied the dialogue virtually verbatim, after a character suffers a similar attack in my most recent novel.
“We were told your daughter had left Cambridge, so we couldn’t contact her.”
“Of course she had.” I was genuinely stumped by such incompetence. “It was the long vac. Couldn’t you have contacted her at home? You could have got her address from her college, surely?”
“We didn’t have that information.”
You didn’t know which college she was at? You didn’t realise her college would know where she lived? Or do you mean you don’t know how to use a telephone, to contact her if she isn’t in Cambridge?
The great British Police force. Showing less initiative that an unpaid journalism intern on a gap year...
It turned out to be significant, that three months’ silence. Certainly to the Daily Mail. Whose journalist claimed – several times, even after the first mention had been corrected – that Bink hadn’t reported anything for three months.
So she must have spent those three months making the allegation up. For same bizarre, twisted, man-hating reason so self-evident it was never explained or elaborated on.
I’ve said Bink probably finds such experiences even more devastating than the rest of us, because of her underlying anxiety. The truth is that the longer I live, the more I see the dreadfully damaging effects of abuse in anyone it touches.
Often decades afterwards.