To Smell Them & To Smile

Walking around the porch, beneath the layers of dust and oppressive heat, I can taste the tangy vinegar smell of peaches rotting beneath the tree. At the door, with the creaking of wood, I’m met with the harsh ammonia scent of the spray cleaner we use to dissuade the ants and cut their scent trails. At my desk I inhale a mixture of dry wood, the wet, green air from the swamp cooler, and the tinge of salt and herbs beneath cooling pools of melted wax. Beneath all that swells the rich body smell of wool and yarn, safely stored away from buggy mouths, but ever-present and comforting still.

Smell is a glorious thing, and sometimes entirely terrible. Nothing else quite nudges the mind and heart – the body even – to memory, instinct or new stirring.

I love the smells that linger in the night, swooning over the darkened land and wafting beneath the dampened stars like a dream. Even the rich stink of the water treatment plant on still nights when the air wafts it just so, to haze the world in scents of wetness, life, and refuse.

Even there, is something glorious.
I have always been sensitive to smells, both emotionally and physically.

We’ve recently engaged in a complete overhaul in our house – cleaning, sorting, donating, and trashing what wasn’t worth the salvage – it’s why I’ve been so silent here, in part.
There beneath the boxes and the spiders, the dirt and the subtle dust smell of moldering cardboard, we unearthed untold troves of memory and sense.

Books and items, cloth and old journals, tools and forgotten hoards. Most superfluous and quickly sorted, some so long ago gathered as to have been completely forgotten.

Among the stacks and bags and boxes, I found several old journals and keepsakes. I stacked them on their own for a long while, ignoring the gritty texture and the generous scents of paper and old fabric. They had no great scent on their own, they were very similar in most sensations – but somehow still they each elicited unique and individual memories and emotions, stirring the chest and bringing my heart up faster when finally I set them out and breathed over their covers.

I leafed through them each. Some got only a cursory flip and were set aside to recycle with little trouble, holding no great treasures, and troubles of the sort which I had already sorted through without their physical presences. A few though were of a very different kind.

These came from many years ago, in times that most often feel to me as another lifetime entirely, at least until I met them face to face, inspired by the scent. I rifled through their pages, pouring over the layers and colors of the ink that scratched their surface. Decoding scribbles both tiny, uniform and precise, as well as those so frantic and painfully wild as to be nearly illegible.  – That is, illegible until their sensations filled my mind and stirred me to an equal frenzy. Remembering the desperation, the flurry of emotion, the fear, and the anxiety.

These books were not to be shared or kept. They were not to be hoarded or treasured, as their presence was only a reinforcement to a cycle of continued frenzy and fear. Though these reminders are a treasure in their own way… bringing to mind certainties where before there had been only vague recollections.

It took me time, to battle through what they inspired in me, and what they resurrected. It took a time longer for me to process my reactions and to decide what to do with the books that could not merely be deconstructed and recycled or re-purposed. Once I did, it was with a firmness in the breast, a certainty and a gentle sort of knowing. And now I have a new set of scent memories…

The press of hot asphalt, the sharp ring of clean metal and the sticky smear smell of grease on tools. The distant drifting of overly manicured plant life smothering the flaky squeezing scent of fresh tan bark. The sharp of salt and the crisp wrinkle of plastic. The overlapping scents of sweat and body – his and also mine – and the fresh clean wind smell that soothed through as freedom swelled around us. Discarding the old, and morphing the memories that the smell of those pages bring.

Senses bring memories. Scent brings feelings, memory, mood, and – for me –  at times the burning ring of headaches or the bulging rise of nausea.

But even these can be changed. The old crumbling smells bring me satisfaction, where once my heart raced and fought. And when I find them again – those particularly journal scents – which I will, as smell and memory tricks are always a spontaneous swoon – but when they find me again, I will have them from a new position. A stronger spine will meet them, and a smoother brow will hold them.

And not a tear be spared for the rush of the past.


2 thoughts on “To Smell Them & To Smile

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