the shower is on, waiting for my approval that its cold water has finally run hot. i look into the partially steamed mirror, and i take down my clumsy ponytail. a 5-speed shifting into motion, i slowly release the clutch of my reflection, while simultaneously taking in air through my nose. all around me, on me — a scent that is new. but somehow i already know it. the way you know a rose is a rose. and you can smell the age of its blossom without glimpsing the condition of its petals.
he said he loved the way i smelled, back at his place, after we danced all night at the show. in my ear he whispered it matter-of-fact, after tonguing salt from my neck. still fully clothed, but i caught a preview of our sex when he suddenly captured my earlobe between his teeth and i drew in a sharp breath. the faint scent of coconut, sweat and the heat from a woman’s thighs, reaching towards our heads. and then we lost them.
i rarely wear perfume, because i’ve never understood my own scent. how it mixes with their chemical compositions and creates something hybrid; something that ought to be more appealing than what i was born with. but there is one that i do wear, occasionally. a soft, delicate reminder of the bottle i took at age 10, from my grandmother’s vanity after she died. misting the air in front of me and remembering her laugh. walking into it, my arms reaching out to receive a hug. it’s not her scent exactly, but her influence is strong. and it reminds me that there was a time when i didn’t know, but knew that unconditional love could maybe be enough.
a vegetarian still remembers the flavor of meat even though she no longer consumes it. i can smell the one whom i thought was the one — only now through the recreation of events in my mind. the way he would step out of the shower, and barely use his towel; a few errant drops of water somehow still lingering in the valley of his collar bone, even after he’d pulled his shirt over his head. he would carefully mix unscented Lubriderm with a measure of mysterious essential oil, rubbing something like creamy orange peel and jasmine into his skin. for a while, i’ve tried to figure out how to reproduce that secret scent since we parted. but i haven’t been able to. and i doubt that i ever will.
when i open the door to the car and dip into the passenger’s seat, i catch a faint whiff of a finished cigarette out of a cracked window at around 50 miles per hour. he doesn’t apologize for it anymore, because we’re well into a friendship which has evolved beyond the need for that particular kind of consideration. i hate smoking, but at his initial apology, i put on my seatbelt and told him i did not mind; for a second, i was riding beside my mom. a woman whom i love and miss and wish would quit smoking. because although i am currently positioned 3000 miles west, i cannot fathom this big rock turning without her. and she doesn’t wear perfume.
the presence of strong coffee brewing at his place or mine. its pronounced aroma singed my nostrils and turned my stomach. it also turned his brain; i understood he needed it to get right each morning. i smelled it almost daily for a couple of years, but my body was never able to adjust. like that one thigh exercise i did every day for six months. it was always as painful as the very first time, every time; yet i never stopped believing it was going to get easier. his scent doesn’t fill my house anymore and i don’t fill his; but i sometimes smell him when i walk past an open café or a grocery store aisle. it still burns my nose. but it no longer turns my stomach.
this new scent lingering in the air? it smells a little like coconut, and a lot like walking down the street — an arm draped over my shoulder and his cheek in my hair. soon, it will be washed away by my favorite shampoo and conditioner. but i look forward to getting it back.