December 25: This is the first Christmas in my entire life that doesn’t feel like Christmas, not even remotely. I barely see any Christmas lights, except a few in Seoul on Alex’s last weekend here. I never buy a Christmas tree. I don’t see my family. Christmas is all about family, at least in my eyes, and my family is back in the USA. The worst thing is that on the Thursday night before Christmas, I am watching a movie on my computer when suddenly the screen starts morphing into bizarre shapes, emitting colorful sharp light rays, and then the blue screen of death appears, saying something like “Hard drive…memory…???” I don’t know what else it says, because I immediately do what I always do when my computer starts acting up. I turn it off. The problem is, it never comes back on. This is the most devastating thing that could have happened to me because it means I can’t Skype my family on Christmas day.
I make no real plans for Christmas. Anna and Seth invite me over on Christmas eve for a little party. Other than that, my only plan is to lie around in my pajamas all day and watch movies on my computer about Vietnam that Alex brought from home. That plan is foiled by the death of my computer.
In all my adult life, I have done all the work for Christmas, buying all the Christmas gifts, wrapping them, decorating the Christmas tree and the house, baking cookies, buying groceries, cooking a Martha Stewart brunch. First thing Christmas morning, after a month of serious preparation from which I am utterly exhausted, we open our presents and stockings, we enjoy checking out each others’ gifts, I take a long hot bath, and then I make the brunch. For the last 15 years I have made the same brunch for Christmas. We usually eat around 1:00 pm Christmas day and the meal is this: a goat cheese and roasted red pepper frittata, granny-smith-apple sausages, pancakes with cranberry syrup, cheese grits. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law always come; the latter brings a fruit salad, including festive star fruits, with a delicious creamy mandarin-orange flavored topping. It’s always a warm and cozy day, often including a fire in the fireplace. I love our tradition, but frankly, it’s exhausting and stressful for the entire month of December until after that brunch is done. This is because, as the mom, I do all the work.
So, this year, I looked forward to doing absolutely nothing. Alex was here visiting for much of December, so at least I had some of my family for a short time. But I don’t feel the stress of Christmas preparation and so it is relaxing.
On Christmas Eve, I go to Anna & Seth’s for their lovely party. I bring a cake from Tous Les Jours, a vanilla thing topped with sweet white icing and glazed fruit. Anna makes delicious cookies. A number of their other friends come over bearing treats and we sit around chatting and eating popcorn and chips and salsa and decadent desserts and then play a really fun game of Extreme Charades. In this game, everyone writes 5 nouns down and tears them up into individual slips of paper. We put them all in a hat. Each person draws a word and then tries to get people to guess it using a description that cannot include the word. The next round, we act out the words in regular charades. The following round, we sit behind a sofa and act out the word using only our faces, and the last round, we hide behind the sofa and act out the word using only our hands. It’s a fun way to spend Christmas eve. But I am sad not to be home enjoying my regular traditions with my family. I am thankful though, so thankful, for my “family” here, especially Anna who, along with Kim Dong Hee, has been a true friend to me here in Korea.
Christmas morning, I sleep in late, make myself some simple scrambled eggs, toast and honey and coffee. It’s a far cry from my regular Martha Stewart brunch. Since I don’t have my computer to watch movies, I turn on the TV and happen upon a movie with Richard Gere called Hachiko: A Dog’s Story. I stay in my pajamas most of the day. Later I venture out, going to Starbucks for a Christmas-like coffee and then visit the PC bang where I can read my emails. Later Myrna lends me her computer and I’m able to watch Three Seasons, a movie that takes place in Hanoi, where I’ll go on January 13. In the movie I think I actually see the Hotel Ncogmai where I will be staying! In the late night here, which is Christmas morning in the U.S., I talk to Mike and the boys by phone. It’s not the same as seeing them on Skype, but I’m happy to hear their voices.
For the first year ever, I just make myself imagine it isn’t Christmas. Surprisingly, I’m not horribly depressed or sad being alone. I just accept in my mind that it’s just a day, a day like any other.
On the day after Christmas, what the British call Boxing Day, I call everyone in my family: Mike and the boys (again), Sarah, my dad, my best friend Jayne. There it is still Christmas Day and I live vicariously through their celebrations. I watch The Duchess on TV. I read Paradise of the Blind, a novel about Vietnam. I go to the PC bang and read emails. And in the evening, I have a lovely dinner with Kim Dong Hee at Olive del Cucina and have a beer with her afterwards at Sydney Street. She has just received some kind of bad news this afternoon, something very upsetting to her that she doesn’t even care to share. I am feeling sad today about an issue of my own. So, we are a sad pair. Kim needs to go home early because she is just too emotionally distraught; I go to the DVD bang to watch The Sleeping Dictionary, which I get so bored with, I leave halfway through.
I can’t help but wonder about myself. Why? Why didn’t I make any effort to carve out a little celebration for myself? I don’t know why. Sometimes, and maybe this is one of those times, I simply feel like there is no point. I don’t want to be bothered. I wonder and worry about myself: Do I even care anymore about anything? Am I turning into a sort of zombie, walking through the days of my life with no feeling whatsoever? Toward the end of this, my time in Korea, I think I have changed. In some ways for the better: I am learning to be strong, to be more patient, to be independent and be alone. In other ways, I’m changing for the worse: I am starting to believe there is no such thing as love, as hope. I wonder seriously about my ability to feel love from or for other people. I am starting to feel, especially on certain days, defeated, tired, dead. And that is a sad thing to me. In the last five years of my marriage, I felt like a dead person; I feared that each of my days would be the same as the one before; I panicked that I would feel this deadness for the rest of my life. I thought: this is it? This is my life? This is how it will be until the day I die? I was terrified that I would never feel again. Now, here I am, after having been separated for nearly 4 years, feeling the same thing. I guess it is me. As they always say, you can never escape yourself, no matter where you go.
Merry merry Christmas to me. To my family back home, especially my wonderful children, my dad, my sisters and brother. Merry Christmas to Mike. And to you, my friends, who somehow keep me going.