Growing up, we were almost never away from my mother. My father's work caused him to have countless business trips, but Mommalily was almost always home with us. When we were little, every night, she would either tuck us in our respective beds and snuggle with us until we each fell asleep, or if we'd whined and coerced enough, let the three of us pile up in her bed and fight over who got to snuggle closest to her. That was what I knew love to be; seeing the person you loved most before you closed your eyes at night with their scent curled up in your nose. The few times Mommy did have a conference to attend, I'd stave off missing her by nuzzling with a shirt or slip of hers, trying to make it easier to bear being away from her. I didn't realize until much later in life how that coping mechanism conditioned me, how innate smells became to me and those I loved.
A few weeks ago, I was stealthily collecting clothes for some of my more less financially secure students and for some of the homeless in my neighborhood I try to help out. I know my friends cycle through their clothes and trends faster than these kids do, so I put out an APB to homies, lovers, and friends to aid in my collection. The Muse was always well connected, but beyond that, was always kind. After one text conversation, he assembled a huge box of clothes and shoes when I told him about how one of my favorite students was being teased for coming to school slightly stinky and in dingy shirts; they did wear the same size after all.
I opened the box to take inventory of sizes. There were several pairs of shoes, some never worn and all still in their boxes, some jackets, jeans, and tee shirts. As I pulled the gently or never worn shirts out of the box to fold them, I smelled it; that nasal narcotic that always drew me in, always distracted me from how our history was never ending and always unfinished.
In the cloud of his second hand cologne, I found myself forgetting how some of our incarnations had played out.
I forgot myself as I always do when I smell him. I forgot what I was doing and without meaning to, pulled the shirt I was holding close and took a deep sniff. I inhaled like it was the purest uncut. I took a hit of he to whom I'd been addicted to for so long. My eyes rolled shut and a montage of our most precious moments sped through my head like a RomCom flip book. The parts of life we'd shared flashed before my eyes and just like that *snap* I forgot again.
I forgot about the last two years.
I forgot about the litany of laments I'd always had with him and instead, saw only the good.
I stood in my office forgetting and remembering
Remembering singing Bob Marley to each other as we shared the shelter of a single bed.
Remembered holding hands across beach chairs as the sun peaked out from behind the clouds.
Remembered joyriding at night, top down, stars above us, and music around us....there is always music.
Remembered swimming in shorts together when I'd forgotten a swimsuit.
Remembered that/those times in his kitchen, my kitchen....
My knees buckled.
The whole series of flashbacks lasted no longer than 10 seconds, but in that 10 seconds, I was lost again to my addiction. I was gone and ready to free base my more than a decade long favorite drug.
I felt a hand at my elbow steadying me, and I opened my eyes. The student I'd been sorting clothes for had stopped by my office. He'd been drafting the "Thank You Letter" to the muse, and wanted me to proof it when he saw me literally mid-swoon. The manchild looked at me with slight fear on his face.
"Miss, you alright?"
I occasionally have slight black out spells. Either they are migraine auras, or low blood pressure, or stress, or too much caffeine or too little food, but every once in a blue, my vision blurs and I get a teeny bit dizzy. Since this Manchild has been my student and worked with me the entire duration of his matriculation at my school, he's seen me have to steady myself before.
This was not one of those times.
I shook the fog of memory off, ashamed that I'd almost allowed an old addiction to put me back where I'd come from. To let me pretend that even for a second this long closed chapter deserved another perusal, even if only imaginary. Ashamed that this moment of weakness caused this Manchild, this baby to worry about me. This Manchild's life was hard enough without me adding to his worries. He didn't need to be alarmed. Then I felt silly for being ashamed of how I felt. We'd both stung each other in some of our episodes albeit unintentionally. What The Muse and I had may not have always been golden, but it would always be ours.
I shook the haze off completely and made up some quip about "Putting outfits together for someone else being hardwork." He laughed and thanked me profusely again for thinking of him. He stuffed as much as he could into shopping bags while I looked over his Thank You Note, and we decided on a day for him to take the rest home. I almost included the offending shirt in ManChild's tote, then changed my mind, stuffed it into a plastic bag, and threw it in my briefcase.
Listen, a little toke every now and again doesn't make me a junkie. Besides, how long can second hand scent last?