The Smooth Road, also known as the Easy Road, was always just out of reach for us. When we first met, Fred worked nights and lived in the City, while I was living out in the Suburbs. He would sometimes go without sleep for 36 hours straight just to pay me a visit. Then of course there was the whole “forbidden” stage of our relationship in which our relationship was discovered by my very Korean mom who had visions of Korean Lawyers and Doctor’s dancing in her head. This stage lasted quite some time… years in fact… actually, I still think it’s continuing to this day, though not as overtly. I have no doubt that her visions of Korean Lawyers and Doctors continue to cradle her to sleep in hopes of maybe a divorce or death – but that’s harsh… I’m sure she doesn’t hope for divorce or death… right?
My college days were filled with alternate moments of intense bliss with my love, and intense guilt and depression at the thought of breaking my mother’s heart. I’m sure my erratic emotions were tough to handle for Fred. He loved me. He really loved me. When he would fold his arms around me, and kiss the back of my head, and say my name only the way he can say it… I could actually see the love bubbling around us.
Now the way he says my name is special. I’ve always hated my first name. Yong. Pronounced young, as in young lady (my standard one line explanation), followed by the classic, ahh… well at least you’ll never be old! Hahahaha… ha. But, not Fred, he has always been able to say my name as if he were born saying it on his lips. I could listen to him call my name from here to infinity and die smiling. He starts with the smoothest sound “y” sound, as if caressing my name with oil, and ends in the softest “g” sound, almost imperceptible. All said in his mysterious man of the world voice. It’s enough to make me melt. From his lips is the only way I like my name, Yong. Of course my Korean family can say my name, but it’s my full name “young-in” followed by an “ah.” Younginah, Younginah, Youginah. That’s fine too. But “Yong” belongs to Fred. These days I’ve been going by Lee. Back in the corporate world, people often called me Lee because it was easy, and sometimes people call people by their last names. Fine. In Japan, they don’t have the “ng” sound, so my first name becomes bastardized into “Yon-GU.” I hate Gu. Gu is the most atrocious sound that has ever graced the phonetic world. Gu. Goo! Anyway, since being in Japan, I have decided to go by “Lee” full time. So please call me Lee. “Yong” belongs to Fred! But I have to admit I rarely hear it, as I am Honey. My 2 year old baby sometimes calls me Honey. I wonder if she even knows my name is Yong…
Trying to figure out who you are, rebelling against what was indoctrinated into you, and finding the path that is right for you is what college is all about. When Fred finally arrived in Lyon, he had already missed half of his first year because the airport in Beirut had been closed due to heavy fighting. At the end of the year, first year students are required to take a test that will determine if they will move onto the second year or repeat the first year. The system in France is based on number of people, not score, so the highest let’s say 100 get to pass, regardless of what score they get. Now Fred’s year was a pretty competitive crowd, and having missed the first half of the year, it was no wonder that he failed his first go around. But, as I said, the Smooth Road for us is never to be. He found out later that his failing score was actually amongst the top scores at other medical schools, and that had he been in any other year at his school, he would have passed with flying colors. But it just happened that he was stuck in Beirut for months, and his year was particularly full of over-achievers… C’est la vie. In any case, after months of studying, and losing an incredible about of weight (he was down to 40Kg; I can’t even bear to write how much that is in pounds), Fred rebelled. He got stupid kinds of drunk, got himself a French girlfriend, and explored the wonderful country of France. No more dodging bullets, getting beat up and tortured with cigarette burns, and going to sleep under the noise of bombs. It was France, and he was digging the French Lifestyle.
My France, was Fred. Fred was my rebellion, my freedom, my respite from oppression. It’s hard being bi-cultural. I wanted to be a good Korean girl, but I also wanted to be an all-American teenager. Fred was neither. He didn’t have any expectations, demands, or stereotypes. He saw me for me before I could even see it. He saved me from the huge rebellion I felt brewing inside me – by the time I entered college, I was ready to break from any kind of pre-conception of me, and bust out wild… but he grounded me, he held me, he loved me, and that was enough.
It always has been enough, and it always will be. Throughout their 18 months in Lebanon, I would visit Fred and Leila in varying intervals from 1 month to 2 days which would come about every one month or so. Luckily my job required a lot of traveling, so I had miles to cover the cost of most of my trips to Lebanon, and elite status on my mileage card that earned me 150% of the miles I traveled. During the time I was in Lebanon, I was happy, beyond happy, blissful. We were out in the country, had horses, sheep, a dog, a cat, a donkey and even some chicken and rabbits (for a while at least). And of course, we had eachother. But soon it would not be enough, because as much as we loved being together in Lebanon, being apart out of Lebanon was frustrating, maddening, and heartbreaking.
The U.S. Embassy in Beirut is manned by Lebanese citizens. All embassies have locals working for them to process paperwork. When we first went to the Embassy in Beirut, they asked us for a form that we didn’t have. After much searching, and even a call back to Fred’s Deportation Officer back in the States, we found out that the form in question is obsolete and hasn’t been used since the 90’s! Pushed off the smooth road again. Having dealt with incompetency, we decided to file our paperwork from America since that was still where I resided. And we waited. Too long. Longer than any other applicant that I had ever come across on the immigration forum I had become an avid visitor to. So, as plan B, I applied to the JET Programme which imports native English speakers to teach English and spread internationalism in Japan. An essay, interview, and health check later, plan B was in full swing. I finalized all the dependent visas, quit my job, and got ready to jump into a new life. So what if I was giving up more than half my salary? So what if I was leaving a promising career just as it was gaining momentum? So what if I would become an illiterate, incommunicative alien? So what if I was saying good-bye to New York City for a farming town in the middle of rural Hokkaido? I was going to have my baby and my husband in my arms every day for the rest of my life. And that was all that mattered!
But happiness doesn’t come that easily. A couple weeks before Fred and Leila were to depart, the 2006 war in Lebanon began. All major infrastructure was destroyed. All roads leading into Beirut were bombed. And the airport’s runways laid in ruins. There was a nice Lebanese man that worked in my company. He was a very high level executive, but knowing that my family was in Lebanon, he made an effort to swing by my office every so often. Being a typical Lebanese man and having grown up in the midst of war, he tried to reassure me. He talked about the resilience of the Lebanese people. He said to me after the airport was closed, “Ah, it’s nothing. This is Lebanon. They’ll land planes on the highway if they have to!” It was the first time I smiled a real, genuine smile in days.