I was born blind.
When you’ve never learned to appreciate something, it’s not really possible to miss it. People used to ask me all the time:
“How do you get by?”
“Do you wish you could see?”
“What would you trade for it?”
No matter the context, my answer was always the same; I’m happy with the way I am. Except for one thing, maybe. The smells.
They say that when one sense is missing or diminished, the others get elevated to make up for it. That might’ve explained an extra whiff of Summer on the wind, but it didn’t explain the rotting, the pungency, the ever-pervasive decay. It also didn’t explain the associations I made between people and certain scents.
Whenever my mother would put me to sleep at night, it was like death itself had crawled from the earthy grasp of soil, worms in tow, to join me as bedfellows. Carried with it came the faint smell of ash. I was eight when it all came to a head and she died in a house fire that almost claimed our entire family.
Years later, we had a pet dog. I constantly had to hold my breath for fear of catching one of the waves of nausea perpetually threatening to overtake me. His coat always held a faint hint of deep wet copper. One dewy morning, we found him with his belly spilled onto the grass, slowly bleeding out in our backyard; West Virginia was no stranger to coyotes.
Being in public around large groups was an all-out assault on the senses. Toxic smells, the scent of burning rubber, of chemicals and gasses – then, some things more innocuous; simple things like chocolate, lavender, and flowery perfumes.
From every direction, in every regard, I was constantly surrounded by the taste and smell of death. It crept, gaining traction and stronger footing, and delivered a precursor for fate with a saccharine blow.
Well into adulthood, with a beautiful wife and three children, I’d learned to co-exist with the associations. Every living thing has a special smell, and it usually gets stronger over time. Right before someone succumbs to their cycle, the smell spikes.
Lately, though, something’s changed; when my love and I lay tangled in each other’s limbs, licking the sweat from each other’s skin, I become overwhelmed. A new hint, a fresh dash. I can’t place it. Full and robust, it sits deep in the back of my throat, and it waits.
This morning, I leaned in for one last kiss, pushing my face into the nape of her neck, and inhaled deeply. Then, the realization struck.
Montblanc Legend cologne. Roger, her co-worker. The company picnic three months prior.
I have to say, he has good taste. It complemented her natural scent well; a heavy sheet of gas. Kerosene. Burning flesh. Holding her tight, I reveled in the harmonious swell.
Then, she was gone; off to the airport. She’s visiting her parents this weekend.