Rose had an Advent Exeat.
Serena came for the weekend.
When we moved into our current house, in 2009, we inherited lots of evergreen trees, overshadowing everything. Some – scrappy, turning the front garden into a dark and raggedy Black Forest – we cut down straight away. Some – equally scrappy, but at the bottom of the garden and handy for my doves hopping onto their dovecot – are still awaiting execution. One – utterly enormous, stately and beautiful – throws our evening drinks into shade but is too big to say goodbye to altogether, though Shaun has his eyes on its topmost wizard’s hat which is what steals the last of the sunshine
One was a lovely, perfect Christmas tree. Heading for sixty foot, and in the flowerbed where I wanted to plant my mother’s roses.
So that year, 2014, we asked a neighbour to cut it down... and had the best Christmas tree we’ve ever had. Quite unlike one farmed for the purpose, imitating a perfectly-formed plastic one from John Lewis. Much more sparse, and like a real tree: with two trunks at the top, and living fir cones.
And that weekend, Rose and Serena and I decorated it – also sparsely, so the beauty of the tree itself could show itself through – with a few more ribboned cones, and candles in little holders I inherited from my childhood, and just our one lone star at the top of its double trunk.
While Bink wrapped presents at the table.
Please, we said to her. I begged her. Please be home for Christmas.
A family Christmas…
It was such a happy time. The four of us together.
But Gatsby had bought their flights already.
* * * * *
31st December 2014
So kind of you to ask after Bink. I will try to answer succinctly! I could write many thousands of words but you wouldn’t thank me and I wouldn’t get any work done.
This Christmas has been better than last. This time last year we had no idea where she was – I didn’t know if she was alive or dead; other members of the family say surely someone would have told us, but we didn’t know who was in touch with her or whether anyone was. (We discovered some months later than she spent Christmas with someone really good. We still don’t know how that came about though.)
This year, we knew where she was: in Spain with a friend. Several of us pleaded with her to spend Christmas with us, but £1,000 had already been spent on flights and so on. (Whose money? Almost certainly his...)
She came to see us at Half Term and then at Rosie’s December Exeat for two days. This year she has bought Christmas presents for us all, and spent the two days wrapping them up while Rosie and Serena and I decorated the tree. We haven’t opened her presents yet. This is not as sinister as it sounds: we spin our presents out for the Twelve Days. But Serena still hasn’t opened her present from last year, which is as sinister as it sounds.
Last Christmas... oh, poor Christian!
He took Serena to Frozen to cheer her up. In case all the hype of the film has passed you by, it’s set in Norway, in “Arendalle”: a homage to Christian’s home of Arendal. Costumes, scenery, everything, all inspired by Norway. What better way to show his love for her after all the pain that is Bink?
But oh! It is a re-telling of The Snow Queen, in which one sister has to save another who has a shard of ice in her heart and freezes the world. Serena sobbed all the way through: what a Christmas treat... All Christian could do was comfort her.
Then we heard it was to be the Christmas outing for the choristers so Rosie would be subjected to it too... All the staff alerted and on standby, in case it had the same effect on her. And Rosie sat through it quite unscathed.
A few weeks ago Alex rang [Jay Gatsby] – he who took her to Spain and whose house she has been living in for the last two years – to tell her that my father was dangerously ill. He is very fond of my father and they have corresponded and so on for years.
[This paragraph and the next, you know already, reader.]
My father gave him the kind of “piece of his mind” you only really have licence to do when you are a much-respected pater familias, probably near death. It was strong stuff and lasted half the evening: that he is keeping Bink ill, that it is an immoral set-up and she cannot be a full member of this family and live so at variance with its values.
He is so besotted it won’t have had any impact on him, but it may on her.
We all received a letter from her yesterday saying she won’t come for my birthday (this Friday) after all, as she realised in Spain that she needed to recover from some of the most stressful months of her life and this will take a little longer “at home” ([Gatsby’s] place) so she can’t come here. I veer between gratitude that she had the consideration to bother, anger that he can allow her to believe that she needs to keep recovering from a life of endless idleness, and plain old-fashioned heart-break.
I have a sense that 2015 will bring improvement, but painfully slow and such a dreadful waste of a young and beautiful life. And we are all sure that she can’t get better in [Gatsby’s] smothering care.
The next decision is whether to allow Rosie’s school to keep putting telephone calls through from Bink while she is in such broken contact with the rest of us. It is very difficult to see clearly what is in Rosie’s best interests when one’s own emotions are raging so.
She calls herself Lara now, which is fair enough as it’s what she was christened but it’s hard when we haven’t been able to say goodbye to Bink. Actually she calls herself anything. [Gatsby] and his lot (children etc) call her Robin which is really creepy but I won’t bore you with why.
Needs for prayer: 1. Strength (for me: I find it almost impossible to concentrate on anything after each turn of the knife). 2. Love and forgiveness (for Shaun: his biggest worry all through last winter was that when she eventually came home he wouldn’t want her any more). 3. Wisdom (constantly, for both of us). 4. Support (from the wonderful Christian as he works to bring healing for Serena). 5. Protection for Rosie from all this pain. 6. Health for her. 7. Goodbye to [Gatsby]! Et cet.
And that next Christmas, when we come up North, she will be with us…
Thank you for asking. I will never forget, till my dying day, the way [your husband] used to ring, every couple of months or so, throughout the first terrible few years of her illness. It was such a precious gift to me and still is.