Last week, while I got sweaty moving from one room to another, my friend Michael ran 127 miles, from his front door to mine. It was an incredible challenge to begin with, but the heatwave made it almost impossible. Still, he kept on running. Each day, I got a message saying that day was complete. On Saturday evening, I went to meet him, his partner Steven and his friend Laura for dinner. He’d arrived in Leicester, so he was only ten miles away, and I knew there wouldn’t be much chance to catch up the following day, when he completed the challenge. I half expected him to be hobbling around like an invalid, but he was his normal self, telling stories about the time he was a runner-up in a competition to name the Spice Girls’ plane and how he’d paid £55 to spend three minutes in a room that was -125 degrees a couple of days previously to sort out his sore knee.
The following morning, Paul and I chilled prosecco and made a congratulations sign from an enormous muslin, and we waited. People began to gather at our house. Friends of Michael’s, friends of mine and Rachel’s. A friend Michael and I both worked with, almost a decade ago, who lives in Sydney but just happened to be home with her newborn visiting family in Leicestershire. When we heard that he was getting close, Paul and Michael’s sister and five-year-old niece went to join him for the last mile. Paul sent a photo of him and Michael standing by the sign welcoming people to the village, and I welled up.
It was raining. We’d hoped to push Rachel in her wheelchair for that final mile but we didn’t want her to end up wet and miserable, so she waited just inside the front door and I stood outside to greet him. We hugged, we opened the prosecco, we finally let him come inside and catch his breath. For the next couple of hours, the house was abuzz, with people standing around in groups chatting, eating lunch. There was an air of victory. Michael had set himself an incredibly tough challenge, and he’d done it. And he’d raised around £9000 along the way. None of us knew quite how to thank him. The next day, over the phone, Michael and I talked to BBC Radio Leicester about it. And then it was over.
Last night, when I was picking the kids up from nursery, I ran into Scott and we talked for a while about the practicalities of getting Rach home. In my arms, Elodie kept taking my glasses off and trying to lick and bite me. Meanwhile, Joseph tugged at my hand, saying he wanted to go home. Saying he was homesick. As we got in the car, I told him that I knew it was boring, but sometimes I needed to talk to other adults about things. I said we’d been talking about Rach coming home, and that it was important. And he said ‘Well, I’m not really interested in that. I’m more interested in space.’
And I know that he’s four and that he doesn’t mean anything by saying that, but I was still furious and I still cried. And then he cried, wailing over and over that he was sorry. At home, I sat him down and tried to explain why I was upset. I said that what’s happened to Rachel has broken my heart, and broken the hearts of Scott and Nanna and Granddad. He said that sometimes, Rachel didn’t feel like an aunty. I held him really tight. I wasn’t angry. I understood. But I know the kind of aunty she was before the stroke, the kind of aunty she would have been. And he doesn’t remember that, and he’ll never know.
There are such highs and lows on this path, still. What Michael did for our family was astonishing, and none of us will ever forget it. The money raised will help enormously when it comes to making the changes we need to make to facilitate Rachel’s homecoming. On days like Sunday, I feel euphoric, like we can do anything. And days like yesterday, the sadness hangs heavy. This morning, Joseph climbed into my bed for a cuddle. ‘Are you happier today?’ he asked. I wasn’t sure. But I said I was, and we read some of The Magic Faraway Tree, and started our day.