File:Adriaen Brouwer - A Boor Asleep.jpgThrough our encounter, Cara, aged seven, either sat on her father’s knee or lay on the floor. She was starved of oxygen during birth, and had the most severe brain-damage I have come across: apparently her eyes had been normal, but she was unable either to interpret the signals from them or to dilate her iris according to light levels, so the retinae would be damaged by too much light. She made wordless moans much of the time. Her limbs spasmed. She wore incontinence pads.

On the floor, she would lie still or twitch or writhe. Eating, she needed food pushed into her mouth. Her father treated her with loving care, and she did not seem to show the wild distress of a baby: perhaps he was expert in meeting her needs. He had split from his wife, and they shared her care.

Bangs and thumps from next door, and shouting. The music isn’t as loud as it has been, and tonight it was Dexy’s Midnight Runners: I might, just, listen to that myself. Then I did: maybe not. The parents have been over quite a bit, making sure she’s alright.

Well, what can she do? She can drink, which drives away the demons for a bit, dulls thought and feeling or makes feeling stronger but more bearable, because it can be expressed, then, in shouting or weeping which you might not do when sober. Except she has absorbed the lesson: drinking stops you dealing with problems without making them go away, so makes them worse. Drinking is a Bad Thing.

You do need other ways of dealing with things, though. She can turn her face to the wall, or shout. She has the repertoire of a sulky teenager, which I never developed with my own parents and which does not suit a woman in her forties- Steph, like me, is supposed to be more mature, and I sometimes think what I am doing it just one huge sulk.

The three of us are completely and totally handless. Incapable. What’re we like? And yet, somehow, the three of us are OK.

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