Have you seen the film Sliding Doors? It follows a character in parallel lives, the stories decided by one moment in time when Gwyneth Paltrow either does or doesn’t jump on a tube train.
Last weekend I had my own Sliding Doors moment. It was the teen’s birthday (sweet sixteen, more of that to follow) and she had chosen to have ten friends over for a birthday dinner party. I was head chef, the tween was maître d and the role of waiter was to be played by teen and tweens father. This was quite a big deal. Due to the geographical distance between us, a sighting of the lesser spotted ex-husband on our patch is quite rare, however, on this occasion the stars aligned and the teen was able to have her wish of having her father at the party – albeit in a waiter-ish sort of way.
We adopted our Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey roles with alacrity. The party guests munched on smoked salmon blinis, roast chicken with dauphinoise potatoes, salted caramel profiteroles and birthday cake. They laughed, danced, sang and played games around the table. Meanwhile, on the other side of the green baize door the three of us chopped, stirred, sweated, washed up and grazed on leftovers whilst keeping an eye on the rugby on the kitchen TV.
It was amicable and comfortable and fun. It felt as if no time had passed and the years since the separation did not exist. It was how it should be, a complete family having a celebration of a special birthday. Somewhere between making the gravy and lighting the birthday candles I realized that for that one evening I was having a parallel life moment. This is how it would have been if divorce had not got in our way. This would have been our life had infidelity and poor communication kept their noses out and left us alone to navigate our marriage.
In the cold light of day I do realise that nothing is that clear cut. Our lives could have gone any number of ways, had we not failed at the hurdle we did it may have been another further down the line. But for that one evening I felt happy that we could genuinely re-create a happy family tableau for the teen. I felt cheated of the family life that I always assumed I would have. And, most of all, I felt furious for letting the whole situation make me feel so sad.
Even when you have completely moved on there are still little blips waiting in the wings to trip you up, especially where the children are involved. I guess that the life skill here is to recognise the blips for what they are, acknowledge them and float forwards. It’s not living in the past, it’s just a passing thought of ‘what if’. A personal Sliding Doors moment, nothing more.