I don’t remember the way she smelled; if it was sweet, or old and musty. I remember, vividly, how she used to sing with incredible confidence and the way her blonde hair turned to spun gold in the sun. She might have smelled of Chanel No. 5, if only she had stayed living her old life. Perhaps, the earthy scent of horse might have clung to her, or that could have been obstructed by her damp and mildewed clothes. I can remember the smell of her sickly sweet high and the way it lingered in the travel trailer, so that I might get high too. Occasionally, she pretended to sober up, then the trailer would smell of dog shit and rancid waste, as the tenacity of her withdrawals eventually took hold of her, causing her to forget I even existed. The grassy scent of overly dry weed permeated the days of my childhood, her sunbaked haze leaving me to sit alone in the garden, smelling ripe tomatoes as if they were roses, escaping into the realities I explored in novels. She could have taught me how to be a woman, since she rarely had a job. Instead, she was always busy losing her mind with men who could never quite remember her name. I remember the pungent scent of their unwashed bodies, writhing with a mutual passion that I wouldn’t learn for years. There was always movement with that musky smell, and I can still feel the way my body moved in response to what I should never have been witness to.
My paternal grandfather smelled of Old Spice Original, a smell I still associate with manliness. His Ford smelled of dirty oil and wood chips from the mill he worked at everyday; he spent two hours on the road to get to a job he loathed, maybe his overt discontent is what caused him to do what he did. A roaring engine down a long dirt driveway always meant a few days of feeling loved, or at least that is what I thought it was. I did not know that the events of my life were not normal until I told a friend about my latest weekend at my home away from home. I told him about the bribery that took place to get me into bed, not knowing that I was a prostitute for my own grandad. I was eight when I began looking for words to describe my situation, eventually finding molestation, then exchanging that word for rape, a more apt descriptor for the devastation of my life. Learning the word incest sent me to the hospital, and I remember the smell of salt water as they treated me for asthma, as the doctors fought for reasons to explain my inability to breathe. They wouldn’t claim I had PTSD until I was twelve, after an attempt at suicide ended with me in a psych ward chanting “just breathe” under what little breath I had left for over a week because I had no concept of anxiety other than when it gripped my throat in its vise. Perhaps, that is why my memories of those early years are closely associated with smell, I was moved about from place to place at such an astonishing rate I had to remember my home by its essence. Unfortunately, when I catch the scent of home on a whimsical piece of wind, it never reminds me of my mother, for I don’t remember the way she smelled.