What’s in a smell

Some people hold on to photographs as links to their past. They press wrinkled film photos into the plastic covering of an album, turning its pages every so often to remember their lives, or fill box upon box with flash frozen memories to open when the time feels right. Throughout my life, I have done the same, only my memories are proudly displayed in glass bottles on a shelf. Each a little different from the other, some slender, others large and square, they act as capsules that contain fragments and moments in time.  I find myself catching the tail-end of a scent and instantly being transported to a time that compliments the smell, with specific detail to colour and shadow, age and season much like a scene in a movie. I find that perfume acts much like a photograph, triggering an emotion or feeling, only more specifically.

My obsession with perfume was cultivated at a very young age. I’ve had a few of those tacky sparkly perfumes, the ones you get alongside a cheap manicure set from your aunt and a pink lipstick that smells like crayon shavings. My first perfume was a Bonne Bell eau de plastic bottle; it was a concoction that smelled like soap and cotton candy with sharp notes of flower. When you sprayed it, a smattering of glitter was left on your skin. I loved it, and wore it almost every day. While going through my bathroom cupboards recently, I found it at the very back of the shelf and sprayed a bit of it for nostalgia’s sake: it smelt just as I had left it in 1999, only this time it was linked with the memory of dusky summer evening and too much sunscreen.

Around the same time I discovered glittered spray, I spent a great deal of time at my grandparent’s house watching my cousins prepping themselves for an evening out. Just before they left, they would spritz a Gucci or Givenchy into the air, walk into it, spin around and leave, a trail of scent lingering behind them. I wondered to myself some time later, why that memory stayed so prominent in my mind; I didn’t do anything except watch and they didn’t do anything particularly interesting except twirl around in mist, so what was it that was making me remember?

And then I realized it was the smell.

That memory of my cousins was forever entwined with the scent of their perfumes. Sometimes I find myself, in the middle of the mall or a gathering, remembering my cousins getting ready in front of my grandparents mirror because the smell of their perfume lingers in the air around me. I inadvertently tie scents to specific memories and permanently store them in the hard drive of my brain.  A few of the bottles on my shelf I can safely say I will probably never wear again, because of the connotation they carry, the memory that’s mixed within.  It’s like each fragrance carries fragments of my life and no matter how many times I wear it after, it can never be changed.

My journey with smell has yet to end. I’ve continued my search in the hopes of  finding the perfect smell, the one that I will never tire of, the one that will never be tainted by moments of discomfort; the one that will truly smell like me.  I like to think of the bottles on my shelf as capsules holding different moments from my life, like those vials from Harry Potter that capture and store important memories. Each perfume plays a critical part in my life, as each has now become the personification of my memory.

When I want to relive a moment, all I have to do is smell.

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3 thoughts on “What’s in a smell

  1. I’ve heard that scent is the strongest tie to memory and I believe it! To this day, using the shampoo I did in college or wearing the perfume I did in highschool will bring me vividly back to those times…

  2. Pingback: Consider this |

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