I Love You

I'm relaxed and sleepy.

The pot of herbal tea with calming herbs that Brenda prepared for me was perfect.

I glance up and catch my reflection in the mirror. My hair is standing straight on end. I've gotten used to the gray or, as I refer to it, "silver," which somehow makes it sound softer and more elegant. The "straight on end" part is partly because that's how it looked after getting out of the bathtub. The other part is to camouflage a couple of cowlicks. It's certainly not because I'm trying to imitate Grace Jones (even though I've always thought she's striking).

My panties are in a wad.

They're the best fitting panties in the world. (Really. At least, that's what the maker says. And I agree. http://www.bestfittingpanty.com/) And I'm hand-washing them now so they'll be dry and ready to wear in a few hours.

Around 10:45p, Brenda had spontaneously offered, "Would you like a spa bath?"

At first, I hadn't understood. "Excuse me?" I asked.

"A spa bath," she repeated.

Oh. A spa bath.

Brenda has a lovely British accent. I hadn't identified it as British when we'd first spoken on the phone. It was Natalie who had pointed it out. I'd just gotten off the phone with Brenda.

"So she's British," Natalie said.

"Really?"

"You didn't notice?" she replied.

I hadn't. I guess I hadn't really been listening. Or maybe I was only hearing the words. I'm committed to learning to listen differently. That's what this coming year is all about. And it starts today. In fact, it started about two hours and forty minutes ago. And it began quite beautifully, thanks to Brenda's kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity.

Brenda has a beautiful master bathroom. It's quite large with a Jacuzzi spa tub and a separate shower. I'd seen it when I'd first arrived and she'd given me a tour of the house. The tile work is lovely and it looks like it's recently been remodeled.

"That would be lovely," I reply to Brenda's offer of a delicious, peaceful soak.

She left the room and came back a few minutes later with two different packets of bath salts.

"Which do you prefer?" she asked.

I choose the lavender blend. It will be relaxing.

"I'll start running the bath. It takes awhile to fill up," Brenda explained, and headed to the master bath.

Fantastic. This would be a great way to start the first day of silence in The Silent Project.

Earlier, I'd spoken with Steve on the phone. That had been Brenda's idea, too.

"Would you like to phone your husband? It's really not that expensive, and it would be fine, if you'd like," she suggested.

"That would be fantastic!"

She was about to dial when Tom said, "Use the Viber."

He's very succinct. A man of few words. Well-chosen words. He'd teased me earlier.

"Don't think you can do it," he said, a solemn look on his face.

"No?"

"You couldn't even go an hour, much less a year," he teased.

We haven't known each other very long, but he already knows me well enough to know that I like to talk. Of course I do. Don't you? We all like to talk. Well, maybe not. Steve doesn't talk that much. I tend to fill the silence with chatter and questions and reminders and comments. He sits and nods, sometimes saying, "Uh huh" or "Mmm hmm," to make me think he's listening to every word.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I laugh.

I've never been that good with teasing. Usually I have a hard time even realizing someone is teasing me. I react with indignation or irritation or disbelief. "Really?" It has taken me a long time to get used to Steve's teasing. I think he always has gotten a kick out of my not getting that he's teasing me to get a reaction, and highly predictable, I usually react. I generally take everything so seriously. Growing up, I'd hated being teased. It felt like I was being tricked.

I still remember the biggest trick. It happened one day in April when I was about seven or eight years old, I'm guessing.

"Wake up!" Mom urged. "You won't believe this!"

I sat up in bed.

"What?" I asked, getting excited. "What is it?"

"You have to come see!" she insisted. "There's a pony in the backyard!" and she turned and hurried out of my room.

Oh my gosh. I couldn't believe it. I'd been longing for a horse. And now my dreams were coming true. I'd gone from a deep sleep to being wide awake. And thrilled.

I raced after Mom into the living room. Dad was standing there, too. I hurried to look out the window. I couldn't see it. l flung open the back door and ran into the backyard.

"Where is it?" I asked with urgency.

Peals of laughter from my parents in reply, who were close behind.

"Where is it?" I repeated with desperation.

They roared with laughter.

Finally they managed to blurt out, "April Fools!"

I hated them in that moment.

How could they?

Tears filled my eyes.

"Hahahaha! We got you!"

And so they had. I had definitely been duped. Easily misled. Gullible with a capital "G."

I thought it was mean. They thought it was funny.

Our opinions certainly differed.

How I wished I hadn't reacted. I should've known. But how? All I knew was that I couldn't trust them. Over and over again, this happened to me. Not just on April Fool's. My taking things at face value and trusting what people said constantly made people want to "poke" me to see my reaction-- and laugh at it. It always felt like bullying. I hated being made fun of.

Starting now, though, thanks to The Silent Project, I'll be thinking before I speak. Well, I'll be thinking. Or rather, being. Maybe I'll be thinking *and* being. But I won't be speaking. Wonder if Steve will still tease me to try to evoke a reaction. Maybe not. His teasing has never been mean or unkind. It's generally quite gentle. And his eyes twinkle, if I take the time to notice.

Tom showed Brenda how to make a free call using the Viber app. If you have this free application for your smartphone, you can place free calls or send and receive free text messages between people who've got the app. Brenda has the app... and so does Steve. I would've, too, if I'd followed through with my commitment to delete some of the 5,000-plus photos and videos I'd had stored on my iPhone 4.

The night before I left for Sydney, Steve had taken my phone to install the app. But the phone didn't have the latest operating system. Steve knew what to do: download and install the latest OS. It was so thoughtful of him to be doing this. It was late, and we'd just flown back from celebrating Mom's 80th birthday with her and the rest of the immediate family (minus two of our nephews, Lawrence and Albert who are studying outside the country). I knew he was tired, and I really appreciated his taking care of this for me. If he didn't, I wouldn't have done it myself.

Turns out, he couldn't do it. Because I had so many photos (and a few videos I'd taken) saved on my phone, there was a problem. He'd backed up the phone before installing the new operating system, and his intention was to install the new software, then restore the data. The new operating system took up more storage space on the phone than the old one had used. So when he went to restore, there wasn't enough space to put everything back on. And there was no way to go in and delete some of the stuff. There had been no alert, no warning: no "The information you are about to install is larger than the file you are deleting. Are you sure you wish to continue?"

As a result, the phone had none of the thousands of contacts that were also stored on the phone, backed up but not accessible on my iPad through the iCloud because I'd never found the time to upgrade from MobileMe to iCloud, before the MobileMe system expired. I'd received alerts to convert, but it hadn't seemed like a huge priority. Actions have consequences. In this situation, I wouldn't have a phone to take with me to Australia.

Steve had felt awful.

I thought it was ironic. And I took full responsibility for creating the results I was getting.

He'd already put the app on his iPhone 5.

And now Brenda was able to dial Steve's number and connect with a free call to another Viber subscriber. Yay! Great thinking, Tom!

"Hello?" he answered. I smiled. It was wonderful to hear his voice. I'd left California on January 13th and here it was the 22nd. Our first call.

We chatted about this and that, he brought me up to date with the antics of the dogs with whom we share our home and our lives, we talked about the impending beginning of the "silent" portion of The Silent Project. It had been a very hectic day as I navigated the ins and outs of tourist travel in this huge country. Figuring out the rail pass system took at least a master's degree. Natalie, Steve and I had all had a crack at it. Finally I managed to connect with someone at one of the railway companies and made a decision to invest in a rail pass which included several different routes, including The Ghan (runs north-south to connect Adelaide to the south, via Alice Springs, with Darwin in the north); The Indian Pacific (east-west route connecting Sydney on the east coast, through Adelaide, with Perth on the west coast); and The Overland (connecting Melbourne and Adelaide). The country is quite massive and the trains are not "high-speed rail." In fact, it appears faster and cheaper to fly, but I want to spend time with people traversing the country, even though I'm won't be speaking to them. (We'll manage different ways to communicate, I'm sure.)

"Are you nervous?" he asked.

I thought a moment before replying.

"No," I said. "Not really. Not 'nervous.' But there's something there. Fear? Worry? Irritation? I don't think it's fear. I'm not really feeling afraid. Not worried, though. Or irritated. So what is it? I'm feeling a little sad. Not sad to be doing The Silent Project. So what's below this sadness? Hmmm. I think it really is fear," I determined. "These are the last words I'll be saying to you for a long time."

Tears welled into my eyes.

"It's okay," Steve reassured. "It won't last forever."

He always has a wonderful way of putting things in perspective.

It was time for him to go to bed. It was already nearly 10:30p on Tuesday, January 22nd in California. It was 5:30p on Wednesday, January 23rd in Sydney.

"I love the girls," I said, referring to our two dogs, Malibu and Miracle, "and the boy," Koa, the little 4-lb male Chihuahua puppy we're fostering for whom I hadn't found his happily-ever-after home before leaving for Australia, "and I love you," I said through the tears.

I knew he could hear them in my voice.

"I love you, too," he said. "Good night."

"Good night. I love you."

"I love you, too," Steve replied. "Good night."

I'd wanted my last words to him to be "I love you." Not "good night." Or "goodbye."

"I love you."

"I love you, too," he responded.

I felt like we were in a "Who's on first? What's on second?" conundrum. I smiled. Maybe he was teasing.

"I love you," I repeated, and hung up.

I'd also called my mom. When Steve and I were in Houston for her birthday, Steve had installed Viber on her phone, so I could keep in touch with her using text messages. And I can still do that with Steve and Mom while I'm traveling because Steve installed the app on my iPad-- as long as I have a WiFi signal. I got to speak with Dad, too.

"I love you," I said to both.

Around 9p, Brenda asked, "Anyone else you want to call?"

It was too late to call anyone in the States, then I instantly knew whom I wanted to call. Natalie. My host for the first week of my stay.

I dialed Natalie's number on Brenda's mobile.

She picked up and we got caught up. I went through the itinerary I'd been working on for the rest of my stay, which incorporated many of the suggestions she'd had for the six remaining weeks of my stay in Australia. We reconfirmed our plans for me to return to her flat on Friday and spend the night. My large bag is there, too, and she's generously allowing me to leave it there while I ride the rails. Brenda and Tom also observed that I'm not traveling light (even though I just have a smaller suitcase) and found a soft-sided bag, still on wheels, that could convert into a backpack and would accommodate my sleeping bag, toiletries and some easily washable "bush clothes" that I can mix and match, with me wearing the heavier hiking boots and carrying my trekking poles, just in case). On Saturday morning, Natalie has invited me to join her on a quick excursion to her hometown of Cambewarra, about three hours south of Sydney, I believe, and I'll get to meet her grandmother. I'm really looking forward to that. Then Sunday, I'll catch an early train back to Sydney, transfer to the airport and fly to Melbourne to connect with James.

"I've decided my last words are going to be," I told Natalie. "'I love you' so I love you," I said.

Natalie laughed. We finally ended the call with a final "I love you."

Brenda came in to tell me the bath was ready, and showed me how to turn on the jets. I told her how beautiful the bathrooms are in her home, and she smiled and said, "Tom did those." He'd done an incredible job remodeling them, she shared. "You wouldn't believe that downstairs bath before." The tile is lovely and I've gotten some new design ideas on use and placement of faucetry and fixtures.

"I'm going to bed," Natalie said. "Enjoy the bath. Tomorrow morning go ahead and have a bit of a lie-in."

I knew that meant to sleep late. That will be nice.

"We'll be in no hurry. The shops are open late on Thursday night," she added.

She hugged me close.

"Good night," she said.

"Good night, and thank you," I replied. "I love you. I decided that's what I wanted my final words to be, before beginning the silence."

She smiled. "I love you, too. Good night."

"Good night. I love you."

It feels good to begin the silence and to express love.

I love you.

And so it begins.

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