We all have plans and dreams, don’t we? Some are pie in the sky, whimsical notions. Others consist of our true intentions and we strive to achieve them. Ours were 20 years in the making. As is the case for many others, they were contingent upon living and working in Spain. Our plans were structured to afford a better quality of life both for us and, more importantly, for our severely autistic son, Harvey. They would enable us to meet his considerable needs in a more peaceful, calm and friendly environment than we could provide in the UK.
Having made our decision to achieve our aims, we were adamant that we were going to do this properly. We were not going to rush into anything; we would take our time finding the right house, in the right place, weighing up all the pros and cons as we went along. At some point, Harvey would have his “blue swimming waters”. Everything would work out.
Quite unexpectedly, on New Year’s Day 2010, we found it! We booked flights almost immediately… and there it was in all its glory! The drive was two feet deep in mud, walls had collapsed, resulting in a catastrophe of mud and stones, and his blue swimming waters were full to the brim with sludge. The electrics had all been stripped, all the interior walls were black with mildew and the whole house leaked like a sieve. It was perfect! We leapt into action. We borrowed against our home, sold the car and took out a couple of loans and a Spanish mortgage. Finally, with the help and support of good friends, it was ours.
Our plan was to have an Autism Centre, using our skills and experience to offer children and their families courses and therapies in an amazingly picturesque and warm setting – ‘our home’. We would have an apartment with a fully-equipped educational playroom, a sensory room in which to wind down, a teaching room, a swimming pool for relaxation, and so much more. Everything would be autism friendly, inside and out.
We would learn to speak ‘proper’ Spanish. We would integrate, as much as possible, with our adopted community and we would meet and make Spanish friends. We were on our way to being up-and-running: work commenced on this once in a lifetime property.
Over the past six years we have met with, and dealt with, a few stumbling blocks. Nonetheless, no matter what problems we experienced, we could never have imagined the one that was coming. Even as June 23rd 2016 was looming, we were still feeling unstintingly stable. It was inconceivable that the result would be to leave the EU. Why on earth would it? That just would not make sense, would it? We carried on. In fact, such was the extent of our naïve optimism regarding the British voting public that we simply did not consider the Spanish dream possibly slipping away before we had even managed to move there!
Harvey has always been a heart-winner and we have been consistently met with friendliness, kindness and tolerance. In the UK, he had been protected by ‘our circle’, as not all people have been so accepting, but in our Spanish community he had only experienced a wonderfully warm welcome. This would deliver the kind of freedom for him that we dreamed of. All would be well. It seemed like a no-brainer.
All our planning, all our achievements, seem like something of a pyrrhic victory now. June 24th dawned to the audible crash of hopes and dreams. We experienced the shock, grief and nausea usually only reserved for the death of a loved one. We looked down to find we were standing on nothing. We have made some hefty miscalculations in our lives, but none as spectacular as this one. Within one 24-hour period, we went from having our whole lives mapped out before us to having no sure way of navigating. Would we be able to live in our house, let alone be able to run our little Autism Centre? Would we ever again wander our property with a sense of permanence and belonging? What would we tell Harvey when he asks for “my aeroplane for Spain for white house for blue swimming waters”. Would we still be able to give him that?
The level of uncertainty we now face has taken a sharp upward turn during the post Brexit months and is showing no signs of abating. We are experiencing the increasingly uncomfortable feeling that we may become one of the Government’s many ‘bargaining chips’, stacked up neatly and ready to be used to achieve its own cynical goals. We fear we may become ‘collateral damage’. In terms of the future we have no way of knowing whether or not we will be permitted to gain residency in Spain when the time comes, or whether we will be required to apply for visas in order to enter for limited periods at a time. We cannot determine if any sort of health care will be available to us. Perhaps most saliently, there is no way of knowing whether or not we will be allowed to run our business, which will enable us to live and remain in Spain for the long term.
In addition to this is the fact that we all have our opinions, views, and beliefs and we can shout them from the roof tops should we choose to do so, but here’s the thing: Harvey has no way of doing this. He can think things, he can feel things, often with incredible clarity and depth, but he cannot articulate these precious things in the ways that we all take for granted. Harvey has no voice, he has few words. He certainly has no political voice because he is unable to vote, even though he has the legal right to do so. As such, it is incumbent upon us, his parents, to provide him with a voice. If all Harvey can ask for is his aeroplane to go to Spain to see his beloved “blue swimming waters” then that is what we will fight for on his behalf. Only through us and our efforts can his voice be heard.
For once in our lives, we thought we had done everything correctly, sensibly and bravely. We had endeavoured to achieve what we truly wanted and taken a leap into the unknown because, after all, you only live once, don’t you? There is no comfort in knowing that many, many others are in a similar position because why would we take comfort from the misfortune of others? We grieve for them in the same way as we do for ourselves. The only certainty any of us seem to have now is the hope that some modicum of common sense will prevail within the walls of Westminster.