Soon we had to move on again. Our good friends (now, they were!) were back from Malawi, and needed their home themselves.
Next we borrowed a housemaster’s flat in Radley College while he went away. We didn’t know him either: we simply met his girlfriend at a party. After Christmas we’d be able to borrow the Chaplain’s house for a few days.
We made what Christmas we could from our borrowed rags, begging the school Christmas tree after the last service in Chapel on Christmas Day.
Bink was wretched at, she was sure, having lost her Cambridge place because of mislaid medication. Alex was looking as if he could lose his too, for lack of disability support.
Worst of all, a member of the very church which had made us homeless wanted to fight for justice for us, and asked me to write down everything that had happened, over a year and a half. This took three so-valuable days of our scant time together... only for him to decide that all Christians need, for justice to be done, is to apologise and forgive.
When you stretched that thin, one more demand can become fatal. And it becomes a lot harder to forgive then, I tell you…
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of illness and disability is how it cares nothing for other members of the family. How neglected our other children have been! That was the holiday when Serena said something which, in any other context, should have brought her family to a stunned halt, to attend to her needs. Instead, I merely suggested asking her tutor for advice. It was a year before I realised she was so short of money, in her third year in Cambridge, that she became severely malnourished, and that same kind tutor offered to lend her £1,000.
I simply did not have attention enough to take it all in.
To know Ben, is to laugh.
When we first tumbled into the lovely flat we’d borrowed, and gathered round the friendly kitchen table that wasn’t ours, Ben cracked a comment to double us all up. I laughed, as one does when Ben is in the room.
But underneath there was always sadness now. I laughed with my face, but my soul sagged with sorrow.
It was then – at that kitchen table; on that first evening together; in that housemaster’s flat which seemed so luxurious to us now – that I realised what I was nostalgic for: the Christmas when Bink came out of hospital for three days, and went berserk from chemical withdrawal, and Shaun and I thought she had schizophrenia.
How is that possible? That it can be worse to lose a home – that was never even yours – than your own daughter’s mind?
Because then, in that wild sea of insanity, we had a raft to cling onto in the storm.
So, yes: we have been through worse even than Bink’s madness.
A few days before Christmas I took Rosie up for her bath, in this spacious home which was ours for a brief precious week. She was, by now and very frighteningly, the best behaved two-year-old I’ve ever come across. She never put a foot wrong or did a naughty thing in all those years after we left our Vicarage. I often feared what needs she was suppressing, this toddler so careful of her troubled family.
She got happily in her bath to play, as she often did. And I left the room with the door open, as I often must have.
The water was lovely and warm. The child was tired at the end of the day. Worse, the mother was bone-brain-weary... and utterly distracted by the disaster her family had become. I nipped downstairs for something; somebody asked me something; my help was needed for something; as it often was... and twenty minutes later I remembered Rosie in her bath.
I ran the wide steps, three at a time.
And there, in the vast great bathtub, in the deep warm water, floated an infant Millais’s Ophelia, hair spreading in the water, consciousness completely gone.
We had lost our home. Bink had lost her mind.
But my blood runs dry every time I picture what we could have lost that terrible Christmas.
Perhaps God still loved us a little after all. Rosie’s nose was above the water...