05 May 2008


On my dresser is a mirrored tray that I’ve had since I was a teenager. For many years, it has displayed a couple dozen colognes, body sprays, and scented lotions. From one stage of life to another, the contents of the tray reflected my many moods. The fragrance I choose everyday is generally determined by the season of the year and specifically by my mood when I wake up in the morning.

A few days ago I picked up a small purse-sized bottle of body spray that I purchased from Walgreens ages ago. I’m not sure what prompted me to pick this particular scent this day; I haven’t worn it in a year or more. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember what the name of the scent is – it’s something flowery. Gardenia? Jasmine? I sprayed the spot at the base of my neck where I always spray cologne; the spot that used to be a hollow divot between my collar bones before I gained weight a few years ago. The second the smell hit my nose, I was instantly transported back to the summer of 1998…

I had been at my first career job for a few months, had just bought my first car, and had moved into an apartment with my sister. The X was in Greece for the summer, so I was left to myself for a couple of months. That smell reminds me of the day I took him to the airport. Of the drive home, listening to Madonna’s Ray of Light. I can see that apartment like I’m standing in the middle of it – blue-grey carpet; tiny kitchen with dark wood cabinets; my oversized bedroom; the balcony where I would sit at night before bed, smoking cigarettes. I am not reminded of anything very exciting, just my life at the time.

I am always amazed at how scent is such a strong memory trigger. I still have fragrance bottles that I don’t open anymore except when I want to steep myself in memories. One whiff and they come flooding back, thick as smoke. When I’m feeling melancholy and want to throw a little salt on my old wounds, I open that bottle of lily of the valley essential oil that I bought in San Francisco 12 years ago. And then some days, when I’m feeling triumphant over my old weaknesses, and want to remind myself of how much better my life is now than it was then, I open that same bottle and breathe deeply, as a big smile spreads slowly across my face.


Blogger Kate said...

There's something powerful about having the memory-scents collected in one spot.

I've never much worn perfume, so I can't collect (and, perhaps, contain?) mine in the same way. Sometimes it's the oddest thing - Pantene conditioner, but only when actually in the shower, not in the store aisle - that brings back a sensory flood.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Brena said...

Whenever I smell Sunflowers I'm immediatly transported back to middle school, which has the same effect as your lily of the valley.

I've actually flinched smelling Clinique Happy in a store. It's my mother's favorite perfume and it always makes me feel as if I'm about to get punished. Ironic, no?

8:24 AM  
Blogger TechGirl said...

I'm the same way but with music instead of scents. Just about every person in my life has a song or an entire dvd that makes me think of them, too. You have many, many songs such as World Leader Pretend and King of Wishful Thinking to name a couple.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

I love this post, Beverly. I agree that scent is a strong trigger. For me, it's the scent of a particular laundry detergent that brings waves of childhood memories - it was the brand my mom used, and I don't know if she used extra, or what, but the scent always really stayed with the clothes, even as you were wearning them. I don't think it was overpowering, though, just notable.

11:53 AM  

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