Just at the time when the chaos of our move back to the UK was reaching fever pitch, Henry found himself heavily under the cosh at work. He was largely living in the office and had to admit to his wife that he would be until the time came for us to catch our plane back to London.
It was over to Mrs P. But time was ticking and I couldn’t see how we were going to manage this move. There was just tooooo much to dooooo! I kept wailing. I felt as though I had reached my limit.
One Friday afternoon in early July, when I was feeling particularly stretched, we were preparing to visit friends for a family barbecue. Barnaby and Rory had spent the day at summer camp – that great institution without which most American parents cannot function. Twelve weeks of summer holidays is a lot, and should be said in a grave New York drawl.
That day had been hot. Very hot. Too hot for the children to be released outdoors. So they had been holed up indoors at camp for many hours and were now home, galloping around in a deranged frenzy, as wild as a box of frogs.
It was time to get the feral creatures outside. I decided that they could go in the front garden for a few minutes until I was ready. Our front yard consisted of a lawn that rolled directly onto a residential street that was always quiet – our neighbors would often string up a net and lob volleyballs around or practice hockey or basketball. It was completely safe.
Instructing the boys to behave in the yard, I raced upstairs for a speedy shower, threw on some clothes and filled in some holes in my haggard face, before returning downstairs to check what they were up to. Their crazed shrieks rang through the streets of Rye. Barnaby had turned on the hose and was liberally spraying his brother, who looked as though he was loving every moment. I bashed on the window, yelling at them to behave, then returned to the kitchen to gather up the sausages and booze we were taking for the barbecue.
I was approaching the front door to leave the house when I heard it. That horrific noise. The blood-curdling, sickening screech of tyres and brakes. Screams.
Blind panic. Surreal. Beyond hideous.
I hurtled outside in what felt like a slow motion stupor and was faced with the unimaginable horror of our boy, our little Rory, curled up like a foetus by the side of the road. A long white station wagon had just hit him and had come to a standstill in front of our house.
So this is where it ends, I remember thinking, raw shock gripping my entire being like a vice.
The street was, in moments, choked with people and pandemonium. The station wagon driver, a bewildered looking Chinese man, gaped in horror. A carload of cops appeared out of nowhere and I was vaguely aware of my neighbour calling an ambulance.
I was too stunned to do anything other than gather up my boy in my arms and pray to God that he was alive. I knew I shouldn’t move him but I was desperate. He was conscious and crying, asking me in a tiny voice: Mummy is this a terrible dream? Is this a terrible dream?
Yes my darling, I thought hopelessly. It’s the worst dream imaginable, and it all happened because I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. It was too much to compute. My mind pulsated with thoughts of head injuries and internal bleeds. When the paramedics arrived and asked me what had happened, it was desperate. I couldn’t even tell them. Because I wasn’t there. The words thundered in my head like the taunts of a bully.
In what I can only describe as a ghastly out of body experience, Rory and I were whisked into the back of an ambulance and strapped onto a stretcher. My little four year old was howling in pain, sporting an angry purple egg on his forehead and road rash all down his back – he looked as though he’d had a run in with a giant cheese grater.
My dear friend Izzy suddenly appeared, as if by magic, immediately taking a shaken Barnaby away from the nightmare scene and off to the barbecue. I had managed to contact Henry, instructing him to meet us at the Children’s Hospital in Valhalla.
The outcome of this accident didn’t bear thinking about. I couldn’t begin to allow myself to think of the possible consequences, so lying on the stretcher with my boy on my front, Rory slowly sinking into an uneasy sleep, I felt curiously calm and rational. He was fine. It was all going to be fine.
This rational outlook was short lived. Arriving at the hospital and faced with Mr P in the stark, strip-lit corridors, I collapsed like an empty crisp packet into his arms, devastated beyond all comprehension. I couldn’t see how this could ever end well.
The one crumb of hope was that while Rory was traumatised, he was awake and talking and didn’t seem concussed or confused.
Once in the Emergency Room, Rory was wheeled rapidly behind some curtains. A young, fierce looking female Korean doctor had appeared with a clipboard and was firing questions at the paramedics in an attempt to establish what had happened. The truth was that they couldn’t say for sure and neither could I. Because YOU WEREN’T THERE – the ghastly taunts screamed again in my head.
I clung to our boy like a desperate limpet, willing him to come through this. I knew that there could well be internal injuries and this was what the medics had to check as a matter of urgency. Rory was peeled away and deposited into some sort of futuristic capsule for a full body CAT Scan. Henry and I were left to pace the empty, strip-lit corridor. I could barely utter a whisper or meet my husband’s eyes.
A kindly looking older woman in a white coat emerged from the room containing the capsule, assuring me that they would have results of the scans soon. Soon afterwards they confirmed that the scan of Rory’s feet and legs had revealed no sign of any internal injury. Bit by bit the doctors were working their way up, CAT scanning every part of Rory’s little body and every so often the kindly woman would emerge with news. So far so good. Henry and I breathed huge sighs of relief.
The big concern, though, was his head. What on earth would they find? Rory had been struck on the head by a car and I was preparing myself for the worst. There then followed the most agonisingly long wait, during which I thought I might combust. We knew that Rory’s head had been scanned but no medics appeared to tell us the upshot for what seemed like hours. Clearly there was cause for concern.
But then, news.
Miraculously, our boy was fine. He was actually fine! Quite remarkably, the medics were able to confirm Rory had emerged from his road traffic accident, largely unscathed. Nothing more than cuts and bruises. I wondered how this could possibly be true, but was assured that there was nothing more to worry about. They had taken every precaution and checked. The relief was momentous. Here he is after being given the all-clear, beaming at midnight at the prospect of his packed hospital supper.
Seven hours after his hellish ordeal, Rory was back at home, tucked up in bed. Surely a miracle.
And yet, months on, the horror of that day still haunts me. Yes, accidents happen but how different things could have been. I wasn’t there. I should have been, but I wasn’t. And for that, I can never forgive myself.