When someone you love dies, their unique scent doesn’t leave the world when their soul does. It sticks around on their clothes, the bedding, the towels, until you wash it all, give it away, donate it to the Salvation Army down the street. You remember it in bits and pieces; maybe you smell their perfume on someone else, or buy their favorite soap to sniff when you’re thinking of them. That grief comes back to you in waves, and then it ebbs down to fond memories. Chemists are now working on bottling the essence of people into a fragrance, so when they depart you can keep that familiar scent on your dresser. This sounds both macabre and lovely. Think about what we could bottle up if we so chose.
Can you create a perfume to remind me of that day? Of my bare tan skin coated in a glimmer of oil, golden from hours of sunbathing, and of your cigarette mouth bent down to kiss me while your hands undid my bikini top? Can you make one that smelled like waking up next to you in the early spring, with the windows cracked and a whisper of winter still in the air?
Can you create a perfume that smells like North Dakota on a warm August afternoon? The sweetgrass, the freshly-cut wheat fields, the dirt and the promise of rain? Can you bottle how my dad and I would sit outside and watch the storms roll in and how the sky would go from blue to ominous black in seconds? Can you make one that smells like the newly-mown cemeteries my brother and I spent hours working in, and the beet fields’ rich soil where we sang and pulled weeds at daylight?
Can you create a perfume that smells like gravel roads, wild boys, pickup trucks and stolen beers? Like driving around all night long. Like smoking cigarettes when we weren’t supposed to, like the sound of the radio playing George Strait on low? Like setting off fireworks at 5 AM, never falling asleep, lying in the grass and looking at the stars? Like my first love and hearing him whisper my name for the first time?
Can you create a perfume that smells like friendly, open silences, the moments I spent with my best girlfriends doing nothing at all? The easy enjoyment of each other and the hours we spent walking around Texas and New York and the lakes of Minnesota? Can you create a perfume that smells like getting ready for a high school dance and coating the room in a thick mist of hairspray and teenage hopefulness and false eyelash glue and glitter? Can you make one that smells like our white Nikes pounding on the gym floor and our pom-poms sparkling?
Can you make a perfume that smells like my grandma’s big triumphant pink peonies, like her little lavender house and the pretty things she kept there? Can you make a perfume that smells like my heart breaking in the morning when I found out she had died?
Can you create a perfume that smells a little like every boy I’ve ever loved, even the ones I hide from on the street? Like their skin and their sweat and the bits of them that became parts of me no matter how painful and ugly it was? So I can wear it to remind me, even now?