Bink was almost a prisoner in her own room.
(Respect for her dignity constrains me from spelling out exactly what that means. Use your imagination. Peek, for instance, into your daughter’s bedroom for the first time in some weeks, and realise with sickening and horrified pity that she hasn’t been able to use the amenities. She often couldn’t wash or clean her teeth for months, either. Our brilliant Bink was almost a caged animal.)
There were long periods – months on end; perhaps years – when she had to wear rubber gloves, even to eat. She couldn’t touch books, musical instruments, a radio; certainly not food or glasses to drink out of. I bought her audio books, but she couldn’t touch a CD player. And couldn’t concentrate anyway.
We had a lumbering computer at the very top of the house, on a little landing lined with bookshelves which we called the Reading Corner. One afternoon when the children were small I had painted the walls (those not covered with books) with rainbows and birds and happy, smiling clouds. It was a comfortable place to be.
(After we left the Vicarage and before Shaun’s post was even advertised, the Diocese slapped magnolia over every surface – C of E clergy aren’t paid enough to justify colours on the walls – and chopped down the Cedar of Lebanon I’d put in the front garden and the luscious vine I’d tended in the conservatory we built. I learnt all this at a sad time, when I was desperately missing our dear home, and mourned the new Vicarage children not being allowed to choose whether to keep our hopping library birds and dripping indoor grapes. The Diocese also pulled down and skipped the large above-ground pool we had spent our first summer building and all subsequent summers swimming in and sharing, which we had specially left spotlessly clean – with a new motor and filter – for the new Vicarage family. Having no house of our own and never having been able to buy a car, it was the most expensive item we’d ever owned.)
Bink spent a lot of time at the top of the house that year, on that family computer. Presumably wearing her marigolds. I had no idea what she was doing, but at least she was out of bed.
Because her school High Mistress had ruled against telling any of her classmates where she was when she went into the Florence Nightingale Unit, she had lost them all. She was now too ill to leave the house, and had no way of meeting new people. She had no occupation, not even reading. A computer was it, really. And although I didn’t realise this then, the only way she could talk to anyone outside her family.
One day she came and found me, smiled sheepishly, and told me she had a boyfriend.
“Wow, Bink.” I said. “That’s great news! Tell me all about him.”
He was around twice her age, and had recently been discharged from the army. He also had several children. From different women. He wasn’t allowed contact with any of them, though. Probably because he’d put a bloke in hospital with GBH. Presumably the boyfriend of one of his exes.
And he had invited Bink to his place (several hours away) for the weekend.
And. Yes. She had accepted.
Her eyes shone with excitement and pleasure. Poor Bink! She had little enough of either left in her sad life.
Multiple choice good-parent-questionnaire. At this point, do you:
Scream, “You must be out of your tiny little mind! What are you thinking of? Have you never heard about meeting serial rapists / killers / psychopaths via the internet? Don’t you realise you are about to be serially raped / killed / psychopathed!”
Lock her up.
Ring the police. Then lock her up.
Breathe slowly, think fast, and say very carefully and kindly and as enthusiastically as you possibly can, “Bink, that’s really kind of him. How lovely. Shall we have a think about the best way to do this?”
All my girlfriends gave variants on the first three, at various levels of decibel above 100.
Did none of them have any heart? My daughter’s prospects, health, happiness, education, everything, lay in ruins at her feet. She had no friends. She had nothing. She had managed, in this terrible and lonely solitary confinement which is the worst punishment custody inflicts, to make contact with a fellow human being, and he had issued her with the first invitation she had received since the Florence Nightingale Unit ruined her life.
My friends were not going to be any help whatsoever. So I rang my kind, imaginative, compassionate and utterly brilliant mother.
And she said exactly what I’d thought.
“Invite him for the weekend.”
“Thank you. That’s exactly what I thought.”
“Obviously. What else can you do?”
“That’s what I thought too.”
So we did.
(And I rang the police. Just... you know... in case.)