Words that could neither be spoken nor dismissed. A thought that pounded through my brain like a migraine on steroids.
All the way home.
How could I puncture another’s reverie with my cruelty? What right have I to demote someone from sacred to profane while they’re standing on the metro reading a book?
He was a soft target, unaware; he didn’t feel my eyes on him nor sense me leaning in for a deeper sniff of that which offended me.
It isn’t body odour that offends me per se—it was his body odour. Other body odour I like, other body odour I pursue—a purely canine initiative, a game—to see how close I can get and how deeply I can breathe without getting caught.
But not with him. And he did not even care that he was offending the rest of us. Offending. A word more intolerable than the entrapment and olfactory assault I was experiencing.
It’s princessy somehow, and demanding. I would rather fall face-first into his armpit than have wax rhapsodic about how offended I was by his rudeness. Or my own.
But am I any ruder than he, this sweater-wearing, deodorant-avoidant man riding the metro in August? Not likely.
Smelling good is not a prerequisite for virtue. The wonderful-horrible durian fruit is wonderful-horrible because it is luscious yet putrid—a common contradiction made flesh. It is indelible and fetid, yet I yearn for one more dose, as though my brain cannot process what my nose detects.
Terrible smelling things shoo us away—unless they urge us forward, curious and disgusted, compelled to know what has possessed us and overtaken one of our senses.
But even this going-toward is callous in its aberrant curiosity and the transmogrification of that which is foul to that which is freakish.
Sometimes I cannot help but plunge myself into the business of others by plunging myself into the details of their scent, that uninvited guest seated in my lap unbidden.
I lean in or out according to my desire.
Scent is an uneven master, pride and shame being two of its primary tentacles. We are embraced, upheld, or squeezed to death by its impulsive nature.
When sense of smell is damaged so is memory, the ability to mate, and our sense of placement and history. Such people are suddenly alone, the full weight of their history no longer accessible. We lose our connection to the wider world.
We lose each other.
Yet this knowledge only part of the story—it can only ever be part of a story because the overriding picture is too complex, too large to fit onto pages not meant to stretch to infinity but to end after a brief and relatable telling.
Write what you know. (And make it snappy.)
A lovely sentiment—logical even—but it bites me in the ass on the regular.
I cannot write about my relationship to smell succinctly. There is too much to say, too many instances and questions to narrow it down to a clever seven hundred words.
Fair or foul I struggle to dismiss anything wafting in on a breeze or filling my personal space with its olfactory presence. I struggle to write a beginning and a middle because there is no end in sight.
Perhaps I should recommend leaning in and breathing deeply to connect and understand yourself and others, even if you look like a fucking weirdo sometimes.
And you will look like a fucking weirdo sometimes.
But there are worse fates to suffer. We’re alive, after all. I can smell it on you. I can smell it on all of you.
Overheated, sweater-in-summer men included.