I’ve been home a few weeks now and I think I’m starting to smell different. I don’t mean my olfactory faculties have changed. I mean I think I actually have a different smell. It’s a strange mix of sauted onions and garlic, chlorine, dog hair, anti-bacterial dish soap, worn denim, paper, tahmari sauce, cold air, maple syrup, old slippers, toast, blood oranges and wood. It’s slightly sweet and kind of vegetabley, a bit like a compost pile before it composes. It’s not like I’m rotting away or anything. It’s not a smell that makes you wince or pinch your nose or leave the room. It’s more like I’ve been having a major make-out session with my house, leaving my hair snarly and my lips bruised and that faint smell of, well, home, lingering on me.
You are probably thinking, she really needs to get out more. And maybe that’s true. But I don’t necessarily miss the old smell. That smell was metallic and sour. Like coffee breath, hairspray, the after taste of sugar-free gum, manilla folders, nail polish remover, twice-used knee-high stockings. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t welcoming. It was a spray tan as opposed to a walk-on-the-beach tan. And you folks in that tanning booth, don’t kid yourself, we can all tell the difference.
I’m a smeller. I associate feelings and memories and moods with smell. Every job I worked at has a particular smell. People I love and hate have smells. The house I grew up in, the place I lost my virginity, the state of Maine, every Target in every town, favorite cars, my mother’s scarves, the ball field where I watched my father coach Little League, old ornate theaters hushed before the performance, my kids’ pajamas, my high school library, the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge. They all have a smell. When my other half goes away to a yearly conference for work I take one of her t-shirts from the laundry basket and sleep next to it.
My father is a smeller. He knew where we had been and what we were up to with one whiff. Like my father, I too will smell my children around the house when they have grown and left, and it will dry up my throat, moisten my eyes, and make me feel small in the world. From 300 miles away I want to wrap my arms around my father and let him inhale.
So here’s my thought for the day. Get out there and smell. And when you are writing that quick-witted dialogue, scintillating scene and page turning plot, don’t forget the smells. Get us to smell you and we’ll follow you anywhere.