“Mom, can you smell this?”
Aidan offered her wrist, not knowing I could smell this before she entered the room. Her milkwhite broomstick of a wrist dripped American Girl perfume, sugary and light. The petal pink star-shaped bottle of perfume had been a Christmas present from me, bought in a fit of nostalgia. Our girls-only trip to Chicago’s American Girl Place was a year ago. Aidan loves anything remotely attached to American Girl. Too bad they don’t make American Girl toilet brushes. She and Samantha, her doll, would volunteer to head up a toilet cleaning drive to aid orphaned ponies.
I told her the perfume smelled lovely, but slightly strong. In the future, she might want to spray a cloud in the air and run her wrists through the mist. She understood and wiped the excess perfume away.
As I climbed the stairs to her bedroom, my nose was paddled by the airborne perfume particles. It vaguely reminded me of my own girlhood perfume of choice: Love’s Baby Soft.
It came in a cylindrical-shaped glass bottle with a white cap. It was pink, of course, and smelled like baby powder/strawberries/roses/unicorn breath. My bottle of Love’s was a Christmas present. When I wore it I felt it launched me from ordinary to ordinary with a glossy pink sheen—a little better, a little older, a little less ackward. Smooth, like the girls who were good at rollerskating. They could glide backward effortlessly, their wheels making a soft clickclick on wood floors. Boys bought nachos for them at the roller rink snack bar. They kept Goody combs in the back pockets of their jeans and tube of Bonne Bell lipgloss in the front pockets.
Esteem encased, my bottle of Love’s went with me everywhere until it was stolen. I was in eighth grade, visiting a rival junior high as a participant in our school district’s orchestra ensemble. All the girls were in the bathroom changing into dresses. I left my bag, with my Love’s inside, for just a moment. When I returned, my Love’s was gone. I looked all over, asked if anyone had seen it. Nobody had, of course. I knew it was gone. Some other girl had it tucked in her bag. She took it home with her, put it on her dresser or hid it under her bed so her mom wouldn’t ask where it came from.
I was Loveless. My mom declined to buy a replacement bottle for me. Instead, I borrowed her Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, or her Youth Dew. Later, in high school, I wore Exclamation! perfume, Opium, Poison, CoCo—scents that promised danger and intrigue with every drop. I’d slink around my bedroom like a 1920’s vamp and dream of having jetblack straight bobbed hair and Cleopatra eyes, behind which a brain like Dorothy Parker’s flashed a few slick lines to drop at perfect moments. Light bouncing off my braces in the mirror or my mom’s call to dinner would snap me back into reality.
As a freshman at CU, I found a way to battle homesickness. I bought a bottle of L’Air du Temps. Every time I used it I thought about my mom and it comforted me. It’s ironic how I went from wanting to smell like silent-screen goddess Louise Brooks to my mom in a few short years.
I am currently reading A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. She quotes Kipling:
Smells are surer than sights and sounds to make your heart-strings crack.
If I were to come across a bottle of Love’s Baby Soft again, I know I’d have to pop off the cap and spray my wrists. I’d drench them until they were pink.