What do you mean ‘I’ll get lonely?!’

Disclaimer: Any advice given or situations are from my own experiences. Please take what I say with a grain of salt when comparing it to your own situation.

typingWhen you type into Google “teaching in Japan” or “ALT jobs in Japan,” it may not cross your mind that you’ll be lonely. You can only think of all that fresh, juicy anime you’ll be able to get your hands on, or the delicious foods you can finally try that’ll knock the socks off an instant noodle cup. Japan! Temples, beaches, cute boys, adorable women, fashion, music! YEAH! You find a company you like and click that “Apply” button.

Now it’s time to buckle up and brace yourself for the ride.

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Fast-forward to a month in. Everything is uncertain. You’re uncertain of your choice, you’re uncertain of yourself; so, you call your family and cry. You complain of the prejudice. You complain of the lack of friends. You complain about how the food isn’t what you thought it was. The strings of malicious words are non-exhaustible. Most of all, you’re lonely. Oh-so oppressively lonely.

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Wait… what? “But Ashley, loneliness wasn’t on the agenda.” It never is. “How do I deal with it?” I’m still learning and searching for that answer myself. Ultimately, you have two choices: healthily or unhealthily. Do you want to save yourself from the agony your emotions will cause or tackle it head-on? As for myself, I feel it’s like walking a tightrope. Some days, I’m above my pettiness and others… well, I drown in it.

For the first 7 months of ALT-ing, I felt I was doing fairly well if I took out all the weekends I called back home sobbing. I was connecting with my school and connecting with my students. I was becoming a regular at many of the shops and even made a friend here and there. I certainly won’t knock my time in my original placement. However… but… a part of me kept listening to the niggly peanut gallery. The devil on my shoulder was getting louder. “You could have more friends. You could have more relationships. You could have more sex. All it takes is for you to log on. You’re a pretty girl. Think of all the attention you’ll be getting!” it would whisper.

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Call it confidence or call it stupidity, but I listened to that voice and stepped into the world of online dating in Japan. Yeah, I know. I can already hear your scoffing and see your eye-rolling. Why couldn’t I have been stronger and found other things to put my energy towards? Well… the answer is “Loneliness will do that to you.”

Being in another country with this newfound independence creates a drug-like effect in your brain. You’re free. You’re away from the judgment of your friends and family. I mean, what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? I can guarantee that there’s so much going on in my daily life that doesn’t end up on my social media.

Without going into detail about that messy thing, I will tell you that life alone in another country is hard. Battling internally with myself has led me to question, has led me to doubt, has led me to self-hate, lowered self-esteem, a bad body image, and has led me to this ugly, clouded room of choices that look lifesaving but are actually there to hurt me. I am literally stuck within my own mind most of the time. “Ashley, you think too much,” you say. Yup, and I’m not ashamed of my problem.

Self-hate

I have discussed my issues with my friends and family attempting to find some kind of answer as to why. Why do I subject myself to this nonsense? This the advice I’ve received (as best as I can remember it):

  1. You need a pet or someone to take care of
  2. You need to ignore what everyone else is doing
  3. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it
  4. You should date more
  5. Concentrate on your hobbies
  6. Stop being so concerned about everyone else

Let’s address each of the points mentioned, shall we?

  1. In regards to pets, I live in a LeoPalace whom of which doesn’t allow animals in their buildings. Whether it’s because of noise or because of filth, I cannot have one on the premises. I did sneak fish into my place though but they don’t have the cuddle component one would look for in a dog, cat, or bird. As for having someone to take care of, that has backfired miserably and I want no part in it.
  2. Ignoring people is successful to an extent but keeping that up 24/7 is exhausting and once that barrier comes down, the world barges in. When I do this, I usually end up having an emotional breakdown. I’m surprised that there are less holes in my walls.
  3. Loneliness is normal, yes, but bone-crushing, fatigue-inducing loneliness with a side of depression is not. It is especially not normal when you’re thinking of ending it all during one of these episodes. (If you know someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts or are suffering yourself, please do not hesitate to call a friend, a family member, your next-door neighbor, some randomly dialed number, 911 [110 for Japan], or the Suicide Hotline @ 1-800-273-8255 [or for Japan, +81-035-774-0992])
  4. Just… no.
  5. I have way too many hobbies but this has worked a bit. Lately, I’ve been trying to develop a caricature art style and it’s been fun. I’ve also invested money in coasters with the intent to design embroidered Sailor Moon themed sets to sell to the hardcore anime fan. Unfortunately, remaining interested is a struggle.
  6. Being concerned about everyone is in my DNA. For some reason, I’m always extending help to someone in some way. My heart is too big to not to. The downside to this is that I end up not taking care of myself. When I become worried over what everyone else is doing and thinking, it sends me into a funk that takes days to shake out of. I plummet right back into the Negativity Room. When I’m there, I don’t believe anything anyone says. I hear them but I don’t listen

I truly believe that rooms absorb our feelings. Being trapped in my apartment during the day or in times of rest when I’m not sleeping leads to ugly thoughts. I turn into this… awful, disgusting, vicious, spiteful, bitter woman. It becomes hard for me to relate to anyone or anything. I shut off. So, what do I do? I get out. I ride my bike to nowhere in particular. I take pictures of things I find interesting and share them on Instagram. I give my surroundings stories and characters. I let these small moments fuel my artsy-fartsy side and before I know it, I’ve emerged from the gloom renewed.

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Loneliness is tough and it should be taken seriously. Most of all, my advice to you is to analyze why you feel lonely. Finding the reasons while help you in punching the emotion in the face. You and I are smart. We are valuable to someone even if that someone is ourselves. We can overcome this.

Hurry! Get your curry!

What do you think of when you hear the word “curry?” Ann Curry? Tim Curry? Curry with naan? I bet you weren’t aware that one of the staple dishes in Japan is curry. That’s right! I’m not talking about a stereotype here. Curry in Japan is a soul food – kids roll up their sleeves for it, adults sigh contentedly when they eat it, and foreigners even have their go-to chain restaurant for it.

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Katsu curry from a restaurant in my town. The curry itself was vegetable-less.

Let’s compare and contrast the curry you know vs. the curry you don’t know. Without the excruciating etymology and historical details, the table looks a little like this:

Indian Curry

Japanese Curry

Comes in a wet or dry form Less seasoned
Yogurt, coconut milk, cream No creams or milk
Goes back a couple of hundred years Brought by the English in the 1800s after the Japanese seclusion
Has sub-types depending on the region More of a stew
Originally a sauce to go with rice but became a stew with rice in it Invented in 1912 and uses onions, potatoes and carrots
Contains garam masala, ginger, chili and so forth 1923 saw the first Japanese curry powder and in 1954, the first sauce
Wasn’t originally spicy but due to ship routes, chili peppers were introduced Comes in a wide range of flavors and spice levels

Curry in Japan is a serious business. When I type “curry” into Google Maps, 20 restaurants in a few-mile-radius come up. They include both Japanese-style and Indian-style places. Even restaurants that have a main attraction like hamburg or pizza have curries or curry-flavored things 95% of the time.

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A box of curry roue. This one says “Vermont Curry.”

But I’m not here to discuss its popularity. I’m here to tell you how it’s a go-to for first time Japan-livers. It will be your best friend if you don’t know how to cook but can boil water. What’s wonderful about it is that it’s so versatile with no set filling recipe. Here’s what I throw in mine:

  • tiny bits of chicken
  • pumpkin or potatoes
  • carrots
  • daikon or kabu (i.e. radish, turnips)
  • mushrooms (sometimes)
  • green beans
  • peas
  • chigensai (called “baby napa” in English)
  • chrysanthemum sprouts (sometimes)

Do you see a pattern? Usually, I go for white-orange-green colors. As nutritionists will tell you, the more color you have, the better you’re eating. Seriously, curry will fill you up. In hotels, it’s even served for breakfast!

When you come to Japan, take a look around your local grocery and convenience stores. Oh! Before I go, here’s a word of warning if you can’t read Japanese. 甘口 (amaguchi, literally “sweet mouth”) means sweet or “no heat,” 中口 (chuguchi, “middle mouth”) means it’s hot and 辛口 (karaguchi, “spicy mouth”) means it will melt your face off. You can see these cute warning labels on the front of the package in the corner somewhere.

Happy eating!

P.S. If you ever get around to eating a dish called hayashi rice, you can find the roué in the curry aisle, but look hard! I almost missed it the first time I wanted it.

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Hayashi rice. I like to put scrambled egg on top of mine for added a breakfast benefit.

A List of Firsts.

It’s the day after Valentine’s Day here in Japan and it’s just as insane as it is back home. The only difference is that it’s the girls that declare their love for the boys rather than everyone braving their confessions. The men have their chance on March 14th, on White Day.

Never have I see so many advertisements impressing upon the public their ability to win over your love interest. Cakes, chocolates, cookies and bread could be found in all manners of bakeries and you would always be able to spot a home-making kit in just about any kind of store. I feel that Japan is more capitalist than America is sometimes. In my case, I drew a picture using the language of flowers since I enjoy the subtlety only a bloom can offer.

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The red rose for love and devotion. Valerian for readiness. White clover requesting him to think of me. Violets for loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness. Lastly, the morning glory for affection. I eventually colored it, much to my dismay. Despite what I think, he took my gesture to heart and appreciated my effort to turn his head. Unfortunately, due to reasons outside of my control, I was turned down. I quickly added this experience to my list of “Firsts in Japan.”

Since then, I’ve been going through this stupidly self-inflicted cycle of anger and depression. Anytime I remember something he told me, I get bummed out. As usual, I’m trying to blame everything on myself when that’s not the case.

A second “first” was my visit to a Japanese dentist. I had no idea what to expect. How much will it cost me? What tools do they use? Do they use a different method of fixing cavities? Do they even use Novocain to numb the teeth? The Japanese could definitely compete with the British stereotype in regards to gnarly teeth.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, folks!

The clinic I went to was near my main school and, despite my limited Japanese, I understood everything that was said, was very comfortable letting strangers root around in my mouth and was impressed by the efficiency.  An astonishing 6 cavities were found in my mouth. I blame stress and my penchant for sugary things. Needless to say, I’m now on the fast track to fixing them. No offense to my dentist back at home, but… Japanese dentists do a better job with cosmetics. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the amount of time I wait has changed. My 5 o’clock appointments might as well be called 6 o’clock appointments.

For anyone wanting to move to another country, check out what kind of health insurance system they have. Japan has two programs, a public and a private. I’m enlisted with the public one: National Health Insurance (NHI) and thank goodness for that. My first cavity cost me about $20 to fix. Last night’s lie-in was around $9. So cheap! Going to an all-Japanese staffed establishment really tests my language ability. I feel slightly guilty for abandoning what Spanish I learned back in college.

The third “first” was experiencing a yeast infection and discovering what medication was available and what wasn’t. My preliminary action was to see if I could get Monistat here. The only option was a vaginal testing kit through Amazon Japan. For any woman who has faced the fires of hell in the itching department down there will understand me when I say that that wouldn’t cut it. Back to Google I go and exploring the forums on GaijinPot and other ex-patriot sites. I kept seeing a few medications mentioned several times: Feminina (フェミニーナ), Torikomishin K (トリコマイシン), and Empecid (エンぺシド).

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Everyone that suggested them found them as reliable substitutes for the trip the Lady Doctor. Coincidently, there’s a drug store next to the dental clinic. I stopped in to question one of the employees and they flat out said they didn’t sell the medications; that I had to go see a doctor for a prescription. My friend in the city even told me via pharmacist she went out of her way to talk to said that the Torikomishin was now illegal. Feminina is only used externally and… I didn’t ask about Empecid. Behold! my first glimpse into Japan’s strict drug laws. I could feel me and my vagina beginning to panic. Without Monistat, what would we do? I didn’t even want to begin to dwell on what a complicated infection would be like. Luckily, I remembered searching for home remedies at one point and decided to dive back into the realm of alternative medicine.

The top choice was plain yogurt with live probiotics. The second choice was douching with apple cider vinegar (this has many other uses, if you’re interested in looking them up). The third was using boric acid tablets but wasn’t recommended if you had a complicated case. Pondering my options, I thought I’d give the probiotics a go. I happened to have some supplements I brought with me from America and well… you can connect the dots, I’m sure. With positive reinforcement from my mom, it’s now the 3rd day and my symptoms are subsiding. I can now sit without squirming.

As a precaution against further upsets, I caved and used my credit card to get some Monistat sent my way through the original Amazon. One online pharmacy wanted to charge me around $100 to ship a 7-day supply on the suppositories! Outrageous! I could hear the ATM crying from my apartment. $12 and some change later, my savior is now on its way.

As a rule of thumb, if there’s any medicine you particularly like back home, make sure you bring enough for one month as that’s the only amount Customs will allow you through with.

In other news, I got on the wrong train last night, not paying attention. That was a “first.”

Pain in the New Year

I had to stop and think about whether or not this was the first post of 2017 before realizing that I’ve already yammered on about something this month. Here’s another post that will drop your IQ a bit more. This will be a personal entry; a journey into my dilapidated mind.

Much like a good chunk of the people who inhabit the First World order, I suffer from anxiety and depression. How I yearn now for the times when I thought my darkest imaginings could go no further or farther. A word of advice that I can verify by experience: moving to another country point blank with no real direction is not for the faint of heart. I honestly feel there should be a disclaimer on these international job boards that reads, “Must be emotionally adjusted, have steadfast principles, work well alone and require no counseling.” Extroverts should have no difficulties.

I had been doing well lately in regards to all of this, I thought, until recently. Things have gone south for the winter and haven’t come back. It’s forecasted to be 13°F tonight, so I can’t blame them. I’m happy to announce, however, that I have a hunch about who’s causing my funk and am mad at myself for letting this person get under my skin. As Pink says, “…you’re just like a pill. Instead of makin’ me better, you’re makin’ me ill.” If you plan on hopping an ocean with your spouse or long-time significant other, good for you. If you’re doing this as a single person, you had best make sure your bridges are burned beyond ashes because when you are alone and not on solid terms with your emotions, you’ll discover how amazing your desperation makes you.

As a rule now, for my sanity, I don’t date. I despise this ugly, horrible troll I become. I often laugh (and excuse me, Mom, for saying this), thinking I transform into my mother. For as far back as I can remember she would always badger me. “What time are you coming home?” “Who are you going with?” “Where are you going?” “What is the place like?” Nag, nag, nag, NAG, NAG! It got to the point where I would give her a slip of paper that had the man’s full name, the make and model of his vehicle, his license plate number and a phone number. The “you’ll understand when you’re older” remark haunts me. Long story short, I morph into this clingy, jealous, overprotective show-off that, because of several failed relationships I forced on myself and others, I think all men can’t stand.

I read an article a few days ago in order to try and grasp some kind of understanding of the complex feelings I’m experiencing, posted it to my company’s Facebook support page, and ultimately had one of the top dogs messaging me seeing if everything was OK. I really should watch my mouth. The article was saying that, usually, a fresh incident will trigger a kind of psychological defense and that’s why we start wallowing in the sadness, fear, and mental self-mutilation. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle with me and it all funnels down to one person. All it took for me to feel like this way was one picture of him on Instagram with a woman that wasn’t me. Like a childhood scar, all of my burgeoning issues that affect me now stem from that single, insignificant person. He was just like the others; the one relationship in my life that was so brilliant at first but has now rotted into this disgusting, decayed, putrefied lump of pain, self-hate, jealousy, toxic dependence and sexual frustration. A note: we are no longer together. We broke up in 2013.

This has led me to believe that my father is the only man in my life who can understand me. He is the only person I take comfort from. Unfortunately, my healthy (or unhealthy) connection with him has destroyed any resemblance of a chance an individual of the opposite sex may have with me. There are shoes on that front doorstep they will never be able to fill. This also has developed into a dilemma.

Will I always pine for my father and have this desire to be with him? I understand this might be getting a little weird, but I love my father. My throat chokes up with the emotion of it all and it’s a struggle to not cry as I write this. But would I throw away this fragile position I have here in Japan just so I can be close to him? It’s a question I have to seriously address. At this point, I can say I wouldn’t be sacrificing anything. All I would need to do is pack up my things, sell what I can’t bring along and that’s that. What’s waiting for me back home aside from family? It’s hard to tell at this point.

I always think about Eugene telling Rapunzel after she confides in him about her fear of the floating lanterns disappointing her and he says, “That’s the good part, I guess. You get to go and find a new dream.” That’s easier said than done.

100-yen Splurge

Hello! And Happy New Year! In Japanese, we say, 「明けましておめでとうございます。」(akemashite omedetou gozaimasu) and is often shortened to 「おめでとうございます。」(omedetou gozaimasu).  When you see a friend or a family member for the first time in the new year, you are required to say it. You’re also welcome to extend the politeness to strangers but it’s not necessary. No one has told me what happens when you don’t say it… It uses the same character as “bright.”

In the theme of the day, here is a bright, shiny, new post for you after a month of hitting the deck and kissing my ass (and sanity) good-bye.

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I told you once upon a time you can find just about anything at 100-yen shops, right? First, we have organizers. My rolling dresser that I was storing my hair things on wasn’t cutting it anymore after I purchased a small bookshelf, so now I have something a little more handy and accessible. What’s awful is that I hear my mom in my head whispering to me, “Y’know you’re going to have to bring all of that back.” Moms always know best, don’t they? It’s a shame we don’t give them enough credit most of the time.

The white bucket-looking thing is my pseudo-trash can for the bath. Japan prides themselves on convenience and I’m right on board with it. Using the small trash bags (in another photo), this will provide me a place to toss and amass dirty, slimy, minty-smelling dental floss.

Next, we have a tape roller and refills. Japan is big on reusing things and will often charge less for the refills. You definitely know you’re paying for the plastic here. Next to the refills, there is a silver-ion air filter for my aircon unit. Part of the reason for my inconsistent blogging is because I came down with a cold. I’m striving to keep myself from further marinating in any kind of contaminants while I sleep by utilizing this item.

Lastly, there is the filter for the exhaust fan I have above my tiny stove. That air filter is now firmly lodged in the darkness of a trash bag and awaits its fiery death. It caused me so much grief and prompted a panicked phone call to my ever-so-patient father at 1:30 in the morning Las Vegas time and a rapid skim through the manuals I never bothered to look at when I moved into this apartment. I swear he needs to be inducted into the Sainthood Hall of Fame. Thank you, Grandma, for raising such a wonderful son!

Moving along…

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Boom! Cosmetics, smelly things and… my feet. I’m so sorry. I seem to have unintentionally subjected you to a profound horror. Excuse me.

In this photo, we have Disney themed oil blotting paper for my face, Halls throat lozenges*, hair elastics (since I seem to be running out of the ones I use to tie the ends of my braids with)**, shower caps, nail cream that I intend to use for cracking cuticles and crusty nostrils, hand lotion and a body cream I was hoping to try out as a facial moisturizer (a note to the people who are used to using soft water: Japan has NO soft water. Prepare for flakage).  Oh, yes, and the aforementioned trash bags.

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A disclaimerthe pop-capped bottles on the left were not purchased from the 100-yen shop. I don’t know how or why I put them in this picture.

Snacks: cup ramen, cookies and popcorn. Last night, I got into the bag due to laziness in regards to dinner making and I decided that Family Mart definitely has better popcorn. It must be the oil (or they use MSG).

In the back, there’s a small box for sending packages. If you’re looking for much larger boxes, save the ones you get from Amazon or ask the post office.

Next is the Tupperware. The plastic used for these is relatively thin and I wouldn’t recommend microwaving them for too long even if the label says they can tolerate it. Use a plate and save yourself the grief.

Another miso bowl. Mini broom and dust pan (Remember: flakage. Every time I brush my hair, I shed this ungodly disgusting pile of human waste). Futon attachment for the vacuum. Vacuum bags. Crochet thread. If you go to a well-equipped 100-yen shop, you’ll find a decent selection of yarns and threads. They also stock various other craft goods for us folks who like to use our hands. There is an extra soft yarn they have that is oh-so-alluring and I’m tempted to buy it in a “Why not?” moment, but that’s how hoarding starts and my poor Japanese apartment can’t handle that kind of stress.

Anyway!

I hope you are well. I hope you aren’t sweating the small stuff and adding gray hairs to your scalp library. Breathe deep and be grateful for every moment you’re alive to experience. I’d like to think our thoughts and adventures will keep us company wherever we go after The Big One.

Happy New Year.

*If you’re used to the strong Halls in America, buy the black wrapper when you get here. Take my word for it.
**Japanese hair elastics, if they are unbaubled, require you to tie them yourself. For the longest time I thought all of my female teachers and students were having problems with their bands breaking but after buying mine, I understand. You will, too.

 

The Disease

I think it’s time I talk about “homesickness.” But, before I do, I need to get my thoughts out about what caused it.

I was watching a movie called The Little Prince based from a book of the same name. The side story introduced me to this little girl that was surrounded with the pressure of growing up and life plans. Enter this eccentric old aviator and a relationship was born. In the end, as heartwarming as it was, I still became overwhelmed with my emotions. They all centered on my grandma.

Before I continue, please do me a favor. Go hug someone you love. Read this with them. They are the only ones who will cry with you. Give them a big squeeze. We are only flesh and blood. No one has yet to tell me if there is central heating where our souls go.

My grandma is a beautiful woman and there’s no one like her. With all of my grandparents dead in the ground, I consider myself lucky to know her. What’s funny is that I may not know her favorite color or be aware of her favorite food but I can tell you that she likes blooming flowers with fuzzy bee butts, breezes that bring the smell of good food being cooked with love, and the liveliness only a family can give.

One of the things my mom talked to me about before I embarked on this journey was how I would react to the news of my grandma’s inevitable passing. I address it now rationally before I give my heart a chance to start making a plan. Death is an unexpected visitor and always comes on laundry day. I believe it’s our duty to greet it with souls laid bare. But I know, too, that a little part of me will die with her. My smile will be a little more false and my good nature just a tad darkened. It kills me to think I will be without her caring and kindness some day.

These feelings of loss — of something missing from my life hits me every weekend when my brain is given the opportunity to go blank. I would swear I was pregnant if I wasn’t keenly aware of how much I miss the people I’ve taken for granted all of these years (I can already hear my parents in my subconscious telling me “We told you so!”). My grandma is just the tip of the iceberg.

On Friday, I watched some students attempt to recreate professionally demonstrated tamagoyaki. I was immediately reminded of my Aunt Judy’s old home on Montebello Street. In the kitchen, under the dim glow of the stove light, she showed me how to crack an egg. I struggled just as those kids did. Even when they burned them from too hot of a pan, they were proud. Now I think nothing of breaking one open most days. What’s funny is that I still have difficulty sometimes. There are a lot of good memories I have in that house. If only it could talk. I wonder if it remembers me as fondly as I do it?

At the end of The Little Prince, the girl was seen with her mom. The one regret I have is not being closer to her. She and I are like magnets with our positive poles facing each other. You can get us close, but not too close. So, we have been forced to watch the life of the other from the sidelines hollering encouragement as best as we can. It’s rare when the Wi-Fi signal is strong. My guilt runs deep. I only hope we can lean on each other later in life.

Lastly, my love for my father is as natural to me as breathing and I’m reminded every day of his absence. He tells me often of how much he misses me. Whenever I hear a motorcycle in the street, my skin crawls with the expectation of seeing him. I anticipate on a daily basis him walking through my door. Some mornings my apartment is too quiet.

To me, this is homesickness. It’s the remembrance of the family I can’t immediately see.

If you think you’re strong enough to move away from everything you know, fine. I just want you, Dear Reader, to know that the disease will sneak up on you when you least expect it. I love you.