random thoughts: what i smell like


When I was a teenager, I lived with my grandmother -- my mother's mother -- for two years.  If there is one woman on this planet who seemed to me a pillar of perfect comportment, that person would be my grandmother.  She was joyful -- I don't remember ever hearing her raise her voice, not even once.  She was confident -- she never seemed to question her role in the world --  yet she was also fully cognizant and accepting of her limitations.  Her house was always tidy, with a place for everything and everything in its place; I remember she was particularly fastidious about her bed: once it was made, no on was allowed to sit on it until she got into it at night.  There were many times I would absent-mindedly walk into her room to talk to her, and forgetting her rule, begin to take a seat on her bed.  She would give me a withering look, even before my backside had touched the sheets, causing me to pop right back up and moved to the wooden bench in front of her dressing table, without word or question.

She just had an unwavering certainty about who she was. 

And speaking of her dressing table:  it was just like a grandmother's dressing table should be, covered in doilies and glass bottles and various potions.  Despite them all, however, she only had two distinct scents:  during the day, she smelled like Limacol -- all astringent and citrusy-- but at night, if she had to go somewhere requiring a little something extra?  

Chanel No. 5, baby.

I am nothing like my grandmother.  Where she was placid, I'm quick-tempered; she was steady-as-a-rock and true-blue, and I feel like I've gone through periods in my life of definite changeability and transformation.  I'm constantly trying on new roles to see how they fit.  But one thing I've always tried to emulate is her loyalty to a signature scent.  I love the idea of wearing a scent so doggedly and consistently that everyone associates it with you (although i suppose the risk is the scent might invoke either fond or unwelcome memories in the future; or worse, it might be such a foul odor that no one wants to approach you in the first place).  It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, either -- I just feel so strongly about scent as a pleasant memory trigger.  And so, soon after graduating from university, and inspired by my grandmother, I set out looking for my signature scent. *

During my twenties and early thirties, I wore a body oil from The Body Shop -- I don't remember its name, which is strange, because I literally wore it every single day, no exceptions, for about a decade.  Unfortunately, The Body Shop eventually stopped making the one I liked, so I was forced to switch to something else. I had just transferred to London at the time, feeling vaguely betrayed ("I moved to the birthplace of The Body Shop, and they turn on me?"), and slightly panicked:  I needed a scent, man, and it couldn't be just any scent.  It had to smell like me.  What smelled like me?!

So I began searching pretty fastidiously, almost every weekend, for a new scent.  (As I write this, I'm starting to realize that it's entirely possible that I'm a little too obsessed with scent. **)  One day, I discovered an Origins shop just off my street.  It looked so clean.  As I peeked into the store, I figured "clean" was something I'd want to smell like at the very least, right?  So I went in.

As soon as I smelled Ginger Essence, I knew -- this was what I was meant to smell like.  So, for over a decade now, that's how I've smelled.  I've bought the Ginger Essence colognes, the Ginger Essence body lotions, the Ginger Essence everything.  Friends I haven't seen in a while remark about how familiar I smell when I see them again.  Alex identifies it as "mom's smell."  I haven't even looked in the direction of another scent.

Until last week. 


One night while Marianne was here, she came into my office while she was putting on her perfume -- and I was blown away.  "What is that?" I asked.  "That smells amazing!" 

"Oh, actually, a friend gave it to me in Portland.  It's a small company -- I'd never heard of it."  She showed me the vial. 

"Do you mind if I try it on?"   I've learned my lesson, you see:  occasionally, I find the perfect scent, only to wear it for an hour and it transform into an evil odor.

Happily, Marianne obliged, and the scent didn't turn on me like an ingrown toenail.  I ordered it immediately, and arrived on Monday.  I've been wearing it all week.  I really, really love it -- it's woodsy and spicy all at the same time, which is very different from the type of fragrance I've historically worn.  But I guess I've been especially woodsy and spicy lately.

It smells like me.  And so, it appears I've found a new signature scent.

Coincidentally, I can feel a shift coming -- another transformation on the horizon, though I'm not entirely sure what that means  But in a few weeks, I'm going to be celebrating my birthday;  one that I'm excited about, so my fidgeting might have something to do with that.  All I know is that each scent in my past correlates to a specific time that is different from the one before -- different relationships, different careers, even different countries.

Maybe finding this scent is an omen of new, exciting things to come? 

Or maybe not. Maybe it's just that I've finally found the scent I'll be wearing for the rest of my life, just like my grandmother -- one that everyone will come to associate with me, and no one will ever remember my wearing any previous perfumes.  

Or maybe not.

Maybe this is just what I'll smell like for the next 10 years or so. ***

*  Over time, I've developed some rules for myself when it comes to finding a signature scent:

1) It can't be very strong.  It has to be something that you need to be somewhat close to me to smell.  So, if I walk into a room, you don't smell it, but if you hug me, you do. 

2)  It can't be too expensive or famous.  Because, let's be frank:  I'm not fancy.  And wearing expensive perfume feels like I've been playing in my grandmother's things, and given how she was about the bed, you can only imagine the look I got if I was playing in her things.

3)  It has to be relatively obscure.  It needs to be something that not everyone else is wearing, so that if you smell it again, you think specifically of our last time together, and not everyone else who is wearing it.  

own that there is some ego wrapped up in this requirement.  

4)  It has to smell like me.  I have yet to be able to articulate what this means, but in essence, I know it when I smell it.


** Possible.  But I yam who I yam. 

 ***  Okay, yes.  I've definitely put too much thought into this.


Song:  Green garden by Laura Mvula.  Not to be confused with the blue trees, photographed above