Sometimes, I smell my father. It never comes from a purposeful thought, but random and unbidden. Unlike my memories of his voice or his face, which always come slowly like a sunrise, the smell comes fast and furious, like a punch to the gut. It happened this morning, as I turned in my seat to unbuckle Julia at preschool. It was like he was there, sitting next to me. As always, it sends me into a panic as I search for a source - my coat, the seat, my hands. Other mothers must have walked by the car wondering about the crazy woman sniffing her air vents. And then slowly, it fades away, gone completely back into my memory by the time I've turned into the driveway.
Daddy was a fastidious man. Always neat and carefully groomed, the result of a disciplined nature reinforced by the United States Marine Corps. He ironed his jeans with an crease so sharp it sounded like a crack of lightening when he put them on. Even after a hard day's work, beneath the dirt and dust and sweat, you could still smell it. You could smell clean.
I read once that the sense of smell is the strongest, the one most bound to memory. Daddy must have read that somewhere, too. My mom told me he would always rush to put on cologne before we came over, so he could bury the memory of himself deep in toddler Katie's brain. Hoping that the memory of the way he smelled would linger after her true memories faded into the false ones of stories simply retold.
I spent the last year of his life memorizing the lines of his face and the way his hands felt. So that, when I needed to, I could close my eyes and see him next to me and feel my hand swallowed up in his. I never bothered to think about his smell. I didn't need to.
I know it is a trick of memory. There's probably even a name for it. It is the hardest memory - this mental blip is the closest I will be to him again in this lifetime. It's also the best, because for a moment, he is with me. For a moment, I choose not to believe that it's a false memory, a physiological hiccup. I choose to believe that he watches over me and my children. That he sends me signs and signals and smells. Maybe it's faith, maybe it's magical thinking.Whatever it is, it is mine, and I'm holding on to it.
*The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is a look into her life in the year after her husband's death. Really insightful and beautiful.
2 weeks ago