Recently I spotted a former colleague *Lexi in the street. 'I'm so glad I ran into you!' she exclaimed. 'Did you get my Facebook invitation?' I had to admit I seldom checked my Facebook invitations. 'I'm going back to New Zealand for my 30th birthday and I might not be coming back.' she explained. As it turned out, I could not make her leaving do, but luckily she was free for an impromptu coffee there and then.
Lexi still loved Oxford it seemed, but she was stuck in a dead end job and the immigration people were on her back again. In additon the latest boyfriend had just fallen through. On the plus side, the economic situation in her home town had improved in the seven years she had been travelling and she was very much looking forward to her 30th birthday bash. 'My parents have clubbed together to buy me a car and they will both be there for the first time in sixteen years.'
'How come?' I asked.
'Well they split up when I was fourteen, so I normally have two birthday celebrations, one with my mum and one brother and one with my dad and other brothers, the following night. Now they are finally talking to each other and being civil and I am so chuffed. It's almost as good a birthday present as the car.'
'That's great', I said.
'Of course, Dad's remarried now, so they'll never get back together again.. They fought like cat and dog besides, but I still never expected them to split up. Y'know, some people, that's just how they go on. Argy bargying all the time. They always used to pretend it was 'play fighting' in front of us, and I believed them when I was little, but then I realised there was more to it as I got older.'
'How did their split affect you?' I asked
'Oh I was a complete bitch to my mum for at least two years. I blamed her for everything. Even though I knew she wasn't to blame for everything. She was just there. But I had to show her much I was hurting. By hurting her, I guess. I mean the grown-ups are meant to be in charge, right? How could they f*** things up like that? How could they fail me and my brothers?''
'And your dad...?' I asked
'He lived round the corner with his new woman. Which was f***ing hard. I would only meet him in diners and give him a hard time. For years. But credit to him, he never refused to see me for his latest ear bashing and would listen patiently 'til I ran out of steam. And he let me have anything on the menu I wanted, which mum didn't.'
'What about your brothers?'
'Oh they would move to mum's for a while and then back to dad's at various times, then they each finally left home, the three of them being quite a bit older than me. I was my parents' 'bonus baby', the one who stayed with mum all the time.'
'Did your mum ever meet anyone else?'
'Yeah. About a year later. But I soon nixed that for her by making her choose between him and me. She never met another bloke after that. I feel bad about that now. I never thought about how one day I would be all grown up and she might be lonely. Now she's over sixty and I guess she'll be alone for the rest of her life.'
At this point, Lexi grew tearful.
'Now come on Lexi, she's had at least seven years to meet someone while you've been globetrotting. You can't blame yourself for any decisions that your mother has made. She's a grown woman.'
'Yeah. I s'pose so.' she agreed. 'It will be so nice to see the parents together for my party though.'
'Yes, it will. You can have full family photos again at least.'
'Oh I used to cut them up and splice them together anyway and pretend. It was such a relief when my mum finally stopped slagging my dad off and blaming him for everything except the weather. At first I used to join in because it felt good and he was someone to vent at. And it was the b***ard's fault that he had fallen in love with someone at his work and left us, but in the end it started to feel bad, as if me and my mum were slagging part of me off too, and I had to ask her to stop, especially when she said things like; 'I wish I'd never laid eyes on the bugger!'
'Where would that have left you and your brothers????'
'Exactly. She once let slip it was hard to look at me sometimes because I reminded her of him with the same eyes and mouth and how I looked much more like him than her. But she was in a very bad mood. I remember she'd had a patient die unexpectedly on her watch that morning.'
'Is all of this why you are so interested in self-esteem classes and motivational workshops?' I asked, remembering our last meeting where she was just about to drive off to a weekend in Bristol to unlock her true potential..
'Probably' she replied. 'I hadn't really thought about it, but a divorce definitely rocks your world and brings up some core identity issues and a person can spend years sorting their head out. The other thing is there's no one to talk to when you're a kid. Adults, I mean. No one wants to get involved and wind up piggy in the middle dodging the bullets between your folks. And they're all terrified of saying the wrong thing so clam up or change the subject, just when a kid needs someone to talk to and help them make sense of things the most. You only have other kids to talk to who've been through the same. It's like some secret club you never asked to belong to. Even my nana would quickly change the subject when I tried to tell her how I was feeling or what was happening at home. Baking cupcakes was her answer to everything. They were yummy cupcakes.'
'What about your parents?'
'They were too wrapped up in their own problems and slogging it out in the courts with their divorce for ages. My mum also had to work extra shifts as a nurse to make the mortgage payments until she got promoted. All she wanted to do was sleep when she got home. Helping me with my homework or listening to me were not high on her list. In fact it was often down to me to do the shopping, do the housework and put dinner on the table for her. I guess I wasn't really able to be a kid any more once they split so I ended up with a bee in my bonnet about that too.'
'You seem in a good place now.'
'I am.' Lexi smiled. 'I mean sure it was sad about Mikey and me, but I bounce back far quicker from these kind of things than I used to. If someone's not quite right for me, I figure that must be because someone even better is waiting in the wings'
'Do you think you'll ever have kids yourself?'
'Well that's the plan, but only when I've found Mr 100% Right and finished doing some living first.'
'So you're determined not to end up like your parents.'
'Not if I can help it. They were the prototype. I'm the finished product!' She giggles.'Sorry.' she added. 'I didn't mean to go into all this stuff. I don't normally.'
'On the contrary, it's fascinating' I replied. 'You could write a book.'
'I could.' Lexi smiled. Then, with a twinkle in her eye; 'I might!'
I wished Lexi all the best and we parted. Her Facebook page duly delivered photos of a beaming birthday celebration several weeks later, one with Lexi cutting the ribbon on her new car, one with Lexi cutting her car-shaped 30th birthday cake and another showing Lexi with an arm round each proud parent.
Although I didn't see Lexi that often after she left my workplace, Oxford suddenly seems very empty without her. She was a real ball of energy, always on the go and into everything from choirs and country rambles to am-dram, not to mention as many parties as she could fit in. Out to get the most out of every minute of her 'British experience'. I also miss her refreshing Kiwi bluntness and how she would talk about anything and have an opinion on everything, yet display surprising largesse when anyone had an opposing view.