Smells Like Teen Spirit

Stopping mid-sentence as I click-clack away on the ergonomic keyboard, I draw the back of my palm to face, tapping my nose in a subconscious sort of tic.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I struggle to concentrate on a blog entry. And somehow I imagine that the harder I squeeze my eyes and wince and pucker my mouth, the easier the words will appear; like Vanna White turning over the letters on the Wheel of Fortune puzzle board. And this is how words eventually come to me; each lighting up in all caps Times New Roman, one after the other. This ritual manages to agitate and entice me all at once.

Suddenly, the puzzle board goes dark and my eyes fly open, palm still to nose. A smell, what is that smell? The smell is a memory and one that I cannot place. Another sniff-sniff and I am transported back 14 years and land in the seat of any old flame’s pickup truck.

This scent reminds me of John, and for reasons I cannot place. I continue to take whiffs and memories flood my mind: the faint remnants of his father’s cigarette smoke on his striped Polo rugby. The smell of clean, pressed jeans. The swelling humidity and anticipation hanging in the summer night air. All of these scents are somehow contained in this veiny spot on my hand where I’d rubbed a dollop of Moonlight Path lotion eight hours prior.

Piqued with curiosity, I look up the description for this lotion and find it described as such: lavender, violets, rose, and musk. These are the heady scents of a garden at midnight blended in a soft and sensual fragrance.

Ummm, okay, not exactly smells I would have plucked from my memory of a high school relationship. I don’t ever recall strolling a lush garden at midnight. Parking lots, yes. Not alot of strolling happening in those though.

Scents and memories are intimate bed partners. I have been intrigued by their scandalous connection for ages. Old Spice and cigars = my daddy. Pot roast and hairspray = my mama. Patchouli = my friend MB. Clary Sage will always remind me of birth.

Many years ago, I once found a blue Mr. Sketch marker and became engrossed it’s odor, another memory I couldn’t place. I kept it near my bed for weeks, obsessively inhaling carefully each night until I could be successful at this brain recall. And BAM, I figured it out. It smelled like baby aspirin. When my siblings and I used to get those annoying canker sores on our gums (probably from binging on Fritos), my mama would have us place baby aspirin against them. The pleasant tasting chalkiness of the medicine would melt into the sore, temporarily easing the pain.

Gap Dream perfume spray always brings me back to my college days at Ball State University. There I am, flannel shirt unbuttoned over a tee shirt Pearl Jam style, in front of my dorm room mirror. The Cranberries are playing in the background and I’m dousing myself with Dream, preparing for a frat party. It’s 11 pm on a Thursday evening, official “party night” at BSU. Jason always said that this body spray reminded him of Fruit Loops.

Last year during the holidays, while standing in the line at Gap with an armful of boxer briefs, I noticed a small vial of Dream on a display rack. “I could be 18 again!”, I thought. The idea was too tempting so I purchased the spray and used it a few times. “Mmmmm, Fruit Loops”, Jason said with a wink. I grinned and flipped my hair because I felt, like, totally cool again.

When my grandma passed away eight years ago, there wasn’t any memento that could replace her. A day before her imminent passing, my mama and my brother and sister and I gingerly sorted through her closet and donated all of her clothes and small belongings. We figured this task would be much more emotionally difficult once she was gone. But there was one thing I wanted: her Pacquin lotion. Grandma was loyal to this product and would rub it daily into her almost-translucent skin. It sat on her nightstand along with her bible.

I still have the half-used tub of Pacquin, my Grandma’s 89-year old fingers the last to take a serious dip inside the walls of the cream. Though stored in a box in my garage, I occasionally come across it when searching for something. The maroon lid twists off with ease and I reach in to feel the miniature peaks that the lotion has created from my last exploration. I rub a bit on the back of my palm, along the hands that remind me of my mother; whose hands remind me of Grandma. I revel in the fact that she touched this once and it seems more poignant that any other object she could have touched. Because it’s a substance that is soft and fluid and soaked itself into her very skin and cells and fibers.

I also bury my nose in the glossy or parchment papers of books. New ones remind me of the first days of school, texts neatly stacked in order of size in my backpack alongside a carefully chosen zippered pencil pouch and virgin eraser tips. The pages smell of exciting information – history to be devoured – and the promise of A’s and B’s.

For months, Jason and I have taken to calling Indi “Sponge-Head” because her fresh little scalp tends to retain the last odor that was rubbed against it. Typically, this is my face, lips, or occasionally my boob (hey, it happens in the middle of the night) so she smells a mix of breastmilk and sebum. In the mornings, while Indi and I still curl together resting, Jason plants kisses on her forehead before he departs for his 9 to 5. All day long, I smell his cologne on her head and smile. Its our souvenir of Daddy.

Let the smell of coconut waft past my nostrils and suddenly I am 13 and sunbathing at Burdette Swim Park with my girlfriends. Oiled up with Banana-Boat, I wiggle onto my back and do the obligatory knee-lift: always one knee casually folded as if to suggest I am actually enjoying the UV rays blasting my skin. I peek down at my chest and attempt to arrange my wannabe boobs so that the cleavage is exposed just so (don’t wanna be labeled a slut, though). Too bad I will arrive home without a shred of bronze, for my ivory skin only pinks up and burns. Not a flattering look for an acne-prone teenager.

And I’m back in real time, still trying to figure out the blog entry I intended to publish. But instead, I am compelled to perform an olfactory scan of my body.

I push my hair across my face and breathe in rosemary and mint from my shampoo and October air from the park this afternoon. Moving down my forearms I indeed pick up a bit of coconut from my body wash. I turn my nose to my shoulder and smell breastmilk regurgitated from an earlier snack and immediately picture Indi snoozing in my bed. Then there is the lifting of my collar and a quick waft of my armpits, of which the deodorant smell has worn off and left the residual smell of chicken noodle soup. Yep, that’s what I think my sweat smells like. Finally, I pull the bottom of my shirt to my nostrils and can almost taste the pizza from the birthday party we attended at Organ Stop restaurant. And I can hear the pipe organ playing its rendition of “Who Let the Dogs Out”.

Yes. Smells are souvenirs. Free, fleeting, powerful reminders that interrupt one blog entry at almost midnight and replace it with another.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. isabel says:

    I LOVED this.
    I’m the same with the smell and my family calls me “smell sensitive” because of how it affects me.
    Thank-you for taking us down memory lane with you.
    It was much fun getting to hear your stories and be transplanted in time with you.
    You are a joy.

  2. New Mama says:

    So true! One whiff of Polo and I INSTANTLY think of an old boyfriend who wore it.

    So glad I’m not with HIM anymore! 🙂

  3. Heather says:

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written. There are a few fragrances I can’t wear any more because I wore them a lot at times in my life I’m not proud of. But I still like to take the occasional whiff and remember and remind myself of those lessons learned.

  4. NM, I’ve got that Polo memory too, lol. Blech.

    I am always shocked by how viscerally smells dump me into the past. It is a powerful pathway to the brain … no wonder essential oils work!

    This was a lovely entry. The part about your grandmother brought tears to my eyes.

  5. Megan says:

    Ahem. I’m pretty sure I made the Fruit Loops connection first, before Jason was fully in the picture. But that smell definitely takes me back to your BSU dorm room

    I absolutely love the places my “scent memories” take me. I can’t always place the scent, but I usually have a vague idea of the time period.

    It’s such a wonderful feeling to smell a memory.

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