To be a distant bitch or an in-your-face bitch? To not be a bitch at all? To show an elevated sense of self-worth or be humble? To wear heels that reveal the curves in your calves, or flatties, wellies even? Cover the cleavage or let rip?
Such were the questions present prior to the meeting between my ex-husband, his new girlfriend and me. In a bakery.
It's been a year since we've split. Two kids between us. Two houses. Whirlwind subsided, we're almost friends now, both fully conscious of the fated nature of the 'almost'. Divorce is on the slow-burner.
I'd imagined her fiery, harlot-like, gooey-lipped, bad. Mad how our brains conjure up all sorts of junk to fuel some misplaced sense of injustice. The build-up in the brain surmised, cross-armed and pouting, that he shouldn't have found someone else before he'd damn well found himself. Some earth wandering was required, a trip to Santiago de C. or a long dialogue with a shrink about the pros and cons of mothers. But he'd jumped, splash, into another unit of four. Ricochets all round. Kids saw the ground they walked on wobble a little, as Mum was elbowed out of the photo.
But time does funny things. Crappy feelings subside. You find who you are again, what you like, what you don't. You begin to breathe when you see the kids are actually ok and you as a human being are ok too. And you learn to let go. A heart-wrencher, oof, but you do it, you make space for an alternative role model, for someone else reading the bed-time story, knowing that no-one will ever beat your Devonian rendition of the Gruffalo. Won't even come close.
Then pops the thought of actually meeting the woman the kids talk about. It becomes about engineering, the great feat of bridge-building to make the kids feel less lonely, to help the clan move on.
"Bit strange, isn't it?" I say, stirring my second café crème.
"Yeah, strange. But strange cool," she replies.
She's shorter than I had expected. Her eyes more caring than the outline in my mind. She speaks softly, looks me in the eye and not at my kick-arse cleavage. He smiles an awkward smile but a smile all the same, as life carries on around us. Wafts of fresh bread, spoon clicks, customers complaining about the absence of sun.
We talk about the kids. How funny they both are. How full of life. And ever so slowly she loses her devil horns, her lips shrink, the picture of the fairy temptress, sprinkling magic dust and G-strings and fluttering off because she, unlike you, is not bogged down with the onslaught of the everyday, vanishes. The woman I made into a warthog becomes a human. A human who loves. Who loves our kids.
And it's ok.