I have been more lonely in the past five and a half months than the rest of my life put together. Earlier in the summer, on the night the World Cup kicked off, I felt my aloneness as a physical thing. But I sat with it, as if it were company.
Although I longed for someone beside me and although friends and family were only a phonecall away, I needed – need – to learn to fly solo and to not be afraid. Having said that, I have had so much fun with them in between the raging and weeping (sorry guys) I’ve done. I tell Nick all the time how much love there is being directed at him, about everyone who asks after him and tells me that he is in their prayers. If he can keep going after this accident that leaves him alone in a broken body in a hospital bed, I can jolly well learn sit on my own some evenings.
And while he lies there on his own and I sit here on my own, we are surrounded and supported, even when we don’t know it. When Nick started talking again, slowly, weirdly at first, then with purpose (never, ever have the words “You’re beautiful” meant so much, even if wags came out with the inevitable “You can tell Nick’s had a brain injury!” joshing), I had no idea how thrilled people I didn’t know would be; how much it would mean to me.
My friend Louisa, who I’ve worked with for years, told me the following story that showed the invisible web of good wishes woven around me and my husband. Louisa’s sister Charlotte is my cleaner. (She is also very good at singing songs to my cat, which means, of course, that she’s a wonderful person.) Louisa texted Charlotte to say that Nick was talking again. Charlotte then took the news to Jill, the person that she cleans for every fortnight once she’s finished tidying/cat serenading at my house. Jill has been getting regular updates, as Charlotte usually arrives at her place in poor spirits after being at my Nick-free flat. Jill (who I’ve never met) was so pleased to hear Nick is on the mend that when her daughter called her shortly afterwards, she exclaimed with delight that she’d had great news – a chap who’d been knocked down in Kentish Town was talking! “Mum, how on earth do you know Nick?” asked her daughter (who I’ve never met). Said daughter is the best friend of a very good friend of mine who’s married to another great pal who I used to work with. Confused? Fair enough. But I was impressed so many folk gave a damn. I also chuckled when my best friend called to tell me the story, too. (Charlotte also cleans for Sophie).
When I mentioned this network in the office, a colleague smiled knowingly. “Whenever I meet someone else Jewish,” he said, “we do that. We called it Jewish knitting – working out how our lives are interwoven through the people we know.” My version – north London knitting – has been a powerful antidote to loneliness. I might not always see the stitches that join people that I know and people that I don’t, but they’re there, part of a golden thread that connects bad times and good people.