While picking up Thai take-out, my husband Chris and I ran into friends Robin and Ben who explained they were enjoying their last gourmet meal in town before embarking on their permanent move to England.
The encounter felt like a behind-the-scenes look at one of House Hunters International episodes. You know, that HGTV hit show where a buyer relocating across the globe looks at three houses and picks one—when in real life they’ve already decided.
The only thing our friends needed to complete this House Hunters International moment was host Suzanne Whang announcing: “New Jersey couple Robin and Ben are looking for a house in England. What will they find besides rain, boiled cabbage, and warm beer?”
We listened to Ben philosophize about what it meant to move abroad.
“Do you know what this is?” Ben asked, as he reached into his pocket and held up a single key. The waitress reached around him and set down an order of calamari.
“The key to spotting friends at Thai restaurants?” I guessed.
“Try again,” he said, diving into a plate piled high with fried squid.
“The key to stomach bacteria survival?” I asked.
He paused mid-bite, a fork full of tentacles dangling in the air. “Nope.”
“The key to rebuilding Afghanistan?” I wagered.
Tucking an uncooperative tentacle back into his lips, he shook his head.
“The key to unlocking more thought-provoking questions?” I persisted.
“No. Can I just tell you?” asked Ben.
I was going to say no and make him guess why, when Chris answered, “The extent of your responsibility now.”
“Exactly,” Ben said with relief, likely more from the freedom from my guessing than his life burdens.
“We’ve sold our house, our car, everything. This last key is…”
“To your handcuffs?” I interjected, unable to resist making one last crack.
“Isn’t even mine,” he continued. “It’s the key to my brother’s house where we’ve been staying until we leave next week.”
“We even sold most of our large appliances because of the different electrical system there,” said Robin. “All the belongings we have left are on a boat headed to England right now. It’s nerve-wracking, but we’re really excited. And it will be a great career opportunity for me at the university.”
“Wow! That does sound exciting,” said Chris, “but it must be a weird feeling, letting everything go like that.”
I jingled the keys in my hand, and for the first time contemplated my own weighty key-ring: my house, my car, my daughter’s diary, the seven keys I couldn’t identify but was afraid to throw away, and the attached savings cards for Stop and Shop, PetSmart, and CVS, the places that summarized my life and the extent of my numerous responsibilities.
I considered our friend’s situation and felt envious of their sudden freedom from life’s burdens. But then I remembered, their freedom was temporary, and they’d be eating English food forever.
We picked up our Pad Thai, wished them luck and said goodbye.
“I’m happy for them but I think it’s going to be a big challenge adjusting to life in a new country,” Chris said.
“Yeah, and I think the first key they possess will be critical in helping them to adapt,” I said.
“Which key is that, the house key?” Chris guessed.
“No,” I answered, “the whiskey.”
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Do you ever dream of appearing on House Hunters International? Have you ever lived abroad? Have you ever dated a broad? Nyak Nyak Nyak . . .