There are smells that stay with us, bad and good. The bad ones cause unwanted churns in our stomachs. They cause the ends of our noses to twitch and our eyes to water. The rank odors of these smells make their way into our brains, implant themselves inside us as reminders of places and objects to direct our bodies from.
The good smells. Those stay with us too.
They’re scents that linger in the air, too strong to disappear on their own even after their owners are out of sight. These smells, like all smells, remind us of memories, some that we’ve locked away. Smells are powerful enough to resurface our deepest secrets, our coveted feelings, our deepest desires.
I like to think that I have a good nose, better than the average person’s. I like to think that memories are more readily available to me because I’m so sensitive to smell, or at least I think I am.
Sometimes I get angsty when I’m trying to describe a taste or a feeling. I spend time wondering how I can convey what I need to say in the most concise yet descriptive way possible? How can I allow someone to see what I see and feel what I feel? Talking about smells usually helps.
I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic when someone leaves the room and their scent is all that is left behind. A breadcrumb trail of what the missing person represents.
Smells like memories, are little keys to the past. Not only can they take us back to a memory, they can take us back to a specific instance in time. At what time and what instance those smells happen to drop you off at is a mystery. When the girl next to you opens her cherry flavored lip balm and carefully dabs it onto her lips, where are you taken to? Do you go to your first kiss, a department store, your best friend, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”?
What I find most annoying about smells is how easily they can derail me. I can be in the middle of a task, so focused that not even sounds make their way into my ears, but as soon as I get a whiff of a familiar fragrance I’m ruined. My thoughts start to travel elsewhere.
In my English class on Oscar Wilde, the girl next to me wore sunscreen one day. While I learned about Platonic love and its origins I wondered about the idealized version of summer I kept in my head. In between sentences of Wilde’s “The Portrait of Mr. H. W.” I was pulled into memories of swimming pools and sunny days. Between different interpretations of Shakespeare’s sonnets, plastic sunscreen bottles kept floating through my head. I started asking myself if I should be wearing sunscreen just for the free memories that came with it.
There is a movie called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. The anti-hero of the script has a wondrous nose that can smell everything in anything. He spends a lot of the movie searching for the perfect smell. A scene in the film that I visit once in awhile is when the main character loses a scent. He doesn’t lose it in the sense that he’s forgotten about it, he loses it because he can no longer find it in the physical world. The scent becomes an abstract idea in his mind. When scents become a part of our memory and not a ghostly substance we can inhale a tiny loss happens. There are no longer any invisible markers we can use to get to our memories. We lose our trigger. Our match that sparks a revolution, reminding us of the past.
When I lose a scent it is a tiny tragedy. I cannot see or feel when it is coming. It just happens. Like love, sometimes a smell lingers and fills you with the most beautiful thoughts. Other times you’re only able to get one whiff before the smell disappears. The tragedy there is that you may forever look for that whiff, but never find one that fits the scent.