I thought I had a perfect life. Not a Leave It to Beaver perfect life. I didn’t wear pearls and Chanel suits while cleaning the house, greet my husband at the door with a martini, or neatly solve my children’s problems in thirty minutes (including commercial breaks).
Still, I thought I had my own little version of Perfection in Pennsylvania. I owned a four bedroom house nestled in the rolling hills of beautiful Lancaster County, had two healthy children, a comfortable bank account, and a strong marriage. At the risk of sounding cliché, life for me was . . . perfect.
Then my husband came home and told me . .
. . . that we were moving to Korea (I’ll bet you thought I was going to say he’d had an affair. Honestly, in the months that followed, I secretly wished he had dropped that bombshell, and not the Korean one.)
I had known moving to Korea was a possibility, but like Cleopatra cruising down the River Denial, I refused to see the asp until it slithered up and bit me. One day I was buying fresh corn from the Amish-run produce stand at the end of my street and the next day I was in an old apartment in Korea, attempting not to barf as the pungent aroma of kimchi assaulted my nose.
Channeling Bette Davis
I took one look at the 1950s era brown, bunker style apartments and tears filled my eyes. The place that was to be my home for two years - the nest where I would read my children stories, snuggle up with them on rainy days, watch movies on the couch, and cook Sunday dinners - was a dump. The apartment buildings were so ugly they are almost beyond my powers of description.
I hated it. I mean, gut-level, permeating the cells, all consuming hate.
I screwed on my happy face, clasped my daughter’s hand, and marched into the bunker, silently praying the inside was more habitable than the outside. Frankly, we might have been better off pitching a tent on the dirt plot in front of the building.
All of the rooms in our unit were small and bleak, with old, yellowing linoleum flooring and white concrete walls. The bathroom was about the size of an American powder room. There was no tub, only a very narrow shower "area." The shower curtain rod was bolted into the wall near the ceiling, so a normal shower curtain hung about 18 inches too high, which meant water poured out with each shower. The sink was the most hideous yellow color I had ever seen. I liked to call it "fluorescent sunflower." The tiles on the floor were white, yellow, and pink and sloped to the center so you always felt unbalanced. Mildew stained the tiles and the air.
As I walked through the apartment, I kept hearing Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest, when she famously uttered, “What a dump!”
The kitchen was pink. Retro pink. Pink cabinets. Pink counters. Pink tiles on the wall.
I felt as if I had stepped back in time and onto the set of I Love Lucy.
Prancing Pink Poodles
Every time we moved into a new home, I pored over design magazines, watched decorating shows on HGTV, and spent countless hours trying to decide whether to paint the master bathroom British Khaki, Tuscan Gold, or Soothing Sage.
When we moved into our apartment in Korea, I was horrified to discover circa 1954 pink cabinets and tile in the kitchen. I knew my French Country kitsch would clash wildly with the Pepto Kitchen. I cried. I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I might have even pulled my hair (Okay, not really, but I thought it sounded more dramatic). One day my mother sent me an email filled with profound words of wisdom. She said, “You have a pink kitchen, Leah. Your Provence stuff does not match. Let it go. Have fun with the pink.”
Let it go.
It became my mantra in Korea.
I took my mother’s advice, packed up all of my French country kitchen kitsch, and scoured the internet for the perfect prancing poodle fabric to make curtains to hide my ugly view. I even found a pink blender, poodle salt and pepper shakers, and a retro pink clock that looked as if it had been kept in a time capsule since the 1950s (all inexpensive eBay finds). After that, when we walked into Le Bistro, we smiled and sometimes outright giggled. Prancing poodles in a perfectly pink kitchen is positively ridiculous, but then, so is life.
Sure, I lost my big, designer-decorated kitchen, but I had curtains with prancing poodles and very retro cool Pepto pink cabinets.
I soon found that for each thing I lost, I gained something in exchange.
I lost my big home in the country, but I gained a small, easy-to-clean apartment. I lost my exercise room and writing office, but I had fewer rooms to clean and an almost c'est la vie attitude about things not being perfect, museum quality.
Since we had no room for my copious amounts of Christmas decorations, we had to leave them at a storage unit in Pennsylvania. Without a tree to decorate we found ourselves focusing more on the meaning of the holiday and less on the commercialism. We made cookies for neighbors and stockings for relatives. We visited a local orphanage and sang carols around a fire pit with friends. We lost our glitzy, shiny Christmas tree but we gained a better understanding of the meaning of Christmas.
Friends with Benefits
One of the most difficult losses I had to cope with was the loss of my dog. Bear was a lovable, sweet-natured Great Pyrenees with a severe case of claustrophobia. One minute in his kennel and anxiety would transform him from a docile creature to a raving beast. He would foam at the mouth and bash his head into the door. He would try to dig his way out until his paws were bloody. We knew we could not take him to Korea with us. There was just no way he would survive the fourteen hour flight. Reluctantly, resentfully, I found a good home for my faithful friend.
I carried his picture in my wallet and his love in my heart. I told nearly everyone I met about him, about having to give him up. I was very candid about my loss and the pain it had created.