The last time my husband Nick and I stayed with his parents was a few days before the accident that left him unable to breath on his own, and with head injuries so severe that the doctors’ analogies made me cry.
Of course, we didn’t know what was around the corner (almost a ton of moving metal, it turned out), so when his brother mentioned, after a celebratory evening of prawn crackers and prosecco, that perhaps he’d come down to visit us the following month, I didn’t imagine that it was likely to happen.
In the 10 years that I’d known them, my in-laws had never been to stay with us. After all, our flat is tiny, their home has room for us all. We live in London, a place that had come to seem to them, I think, like another country all together, while they’re in mossy, lush Cheshire. It had always been easier for us to go to them for the weekend rather than the other way around, not least because they run a hotel and Saturdays are their busiest time. The only time my mother- and brother-in-law had been down to see me and Nick was at our wedding, five years ago next month. Even then, they had stayed in a hotel. A visit next month? We hadn’t counted on it.
So forgive me when I say that before I went to see my husband in the intensive care unit the morning after the accident, I frantically tried to tidy our house, knowing that his folks were on their way. Frantic, because as well as not knowing if Nick would live or die, I also wanted his family – my family – to feel welcome, and to see the life that their son and I had made for ourselves, and to not be disappointed. With fresh eyes, albeit ones swollen from a night of crying, I saw our home and its scruffiness and hoped that it wouldn’t let us down. Nick had always worried what his parents would think about it – so crammed with his gadgets and my books, our pets and papers – and certainly couldn’t imagine them on the greasy streets of Camden Town.
Now, of course, I know they wouldn’t have given a damn if the house were made of sticks, or if the surrounding area was a shanty town, or if Satan himself lived next door. I also know that they, like me, wish with eyes tight shut that they’d come to stay earlier, that Nick was with us around the breakfast table, in the evenings, and on the walks we took; that we all hadn’t let life get in the way of getting together, and they’d realised before that, despite the fact we live in the city, our daily haunts are much like the village – give or take the kebab shops and Tube stops – where they live. We told Nick all of this on our twice-daily visits.
His mum had not only come on the bus, she was now a dab hand at nabbing the front seat on the top deck! She had bought herself a Lobster (Oyster) card. She’d shopped in Camden Market and had loved Hampstead Heath. She’s seen Regent’s Park’s beauty as spring had started to creep in. His brother delighted in the neatness of the Georgian architecture, the sweep of Regent Street and found our local pub top-notch.
I have always loved where I live, but I have never done so more than when seeing it through my in-laws’ eyes. If only Nick had been there to see it, too.