Stories

what does love smell like: laundry detergent

February 14, 2015

Kevin and Austin

Mormon Emigrant Trail runs along the southside of the lake. The damn slopes at least a hundred feet down the right side of the road and a thick metal wire is bolted between rectangular cedar posts. During the summer, oncoming cars dodge enthusiastic runners who spend their days finding themselves in the red dirt along the water. And on early winter nights, high school students bring their friends to small clearings for bonfires, booze, and music.

Down the road from where tourists go to recreate the 1983 drama between Cheers characters, Diane and Sam, my running group makes its way through record snow banks on a Wednesday night run through the city. I notice that freezing air means little to no scent. We are all afraid of slipping on ice or misstepping in the snow. I tell my friend Cara that I’m afraid I won’t be fast enough next weekend for my race and she reassures me that everything is going to be O K. I believe her because she has a kind of smile that is reassuring.

Back in the woods, there is a forest green volskwagen jetta with a leather interior that smells like ambercrombie & fitch cologne, cigarettes, and the dust from an electric car heater. At night, we drive home with the windows and sunroof rolled down, mixing together the smell of dry bark and bitter pine. We don’t talk much on the road, but I lie on his shoulder and close my eyes. We hold hands and pretend that our lives aren’t duplicitous, which is to say that there is no difference between our daytime and nighttime selves.

Nothing says Christmas more than the Du Pont Mansions in Delaware, with French-style gardens and indoor plants. My younger self is stuck in the orchid room, pausing to remember my ole grandma’s favorite flower is the orchid, and half-noticing the giant tree fluttering with mechanical butterflies. Everything smells like cinnamon, even the water. There is so much holiday cheer that I don’t even remember what the orchards smell like anymore. I start wearing his cologne that year, borrowing his slippers, underwear, kept drinking from the same mug that I drink from almost every morning to this today. I now know what it feels like to run on the ocean at night and how to transition from lovers to friends – that fireflies smell like humid summers in the midatlantic.

A series of years are antiseptic, or unidentifiable, or some mix of the two. On Monday afternoon, I jog into work because the train was shut down from the snow storm. I pull out an old pair of running tights and dig around for a long sleeve shirt. We are in the habit of borrowing each other’s clothes, sometimes I’m not sure if the shirt is mine or Kevin’s. This particular one, is undeniably not mine, the long blue sleeves and wick-away technology are all my partner’s.

I’ve named this smell old Kevin, like the guy who likes to watch nick-at night in his boxers and dance to michael jackson in front of the computer. No matter how many times I wash the shirt, it keeps the same smell and floats around like a lifeboat for shipwrecked memories. “It’s just a detergent,” I tell myself. “No, some part of old Kevin is definitely in this shirt,” I reason. I rest my head on his shoulder during our car ride through his childhood neighborhood. He sits on the front of the car and tells me, “I’ll wait for you as long as I have to.” This night smells like old Kevin, feels like light filtering through closed blinds. I wake up this morning at 5:30, listen to him breath, and I smile.

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  • Wanjiku Ngare

    This makes me happy! I’m excited at the thought of experiencing a love like this. I love you both 🙂

  • kathleen

    So very nice; perfectly poetic. Thank you. I’m working on a piece titled “olfactory love” and you inspired me. So much of my attachment experiences are grounded in smells.

    Austin, you’re such a gift to all of us. I love reading you & I love you.
    The way you live your life makes my life fuller.

    • I have been thinking about the power of smell ever since Uncle Charlie recommended that I read Jitterbug Perfume back in 2008 <3

  • Kevin Lopez

    Thanks for sharing more of your intimate moments with me and the world babe. Such a wonderfully written piece.

    Con mucho amor,
    Kevin