We went around the circle in grieving group. What happened in your life this week? I was all a-giggle. “I BOUGHT PERFUME! Here smell this!” I oozed manically, extending my cleavage to Viv.
I’d never bought a perfume before. Sure, I used to wear sandalwood or musk oil, smearing it through my hair before martial arts class. But I’d always been skeptical that the marketplace could come up with a fragrance that really suited me, me, me, and it seemed that every perfume I tried smelled like my Grandma, mostly half-rotten lilies, at least on me.
I had lost a man. I had a child, a job, and a graduate degree. Maybe I could admit I was a woman in the marketplace – the perfume market at least. I could, I thought, settle on a single product, or two or five, and let go of my artists’ dream of inventing my perfect personal fragrance (which might take till after my death). Maturity meant dealing with reality and the limits of the mere 1,000 fragrances that are manufactured commercially. Enough perfectionism, let’s dance.
I asked girlfriends how they had selected:
“My friend who picks my haircolor told me what to buy… and ze men love it.”
“I’ve always worn White Shoulders, I don’t know why.”
“I had a hip aunt who wore this and I wanted to smell like her.”
“My grandmother told me Chanel means you’re classy.”
It was not useful and I was scared of the lilies. Then one week I sat so close to a cute Jewish lesbian at church that I joked I could smell her perfume. (Yes, it was a flirt, but given my state, she would know I was not serious). She said, oh, do you like it? She schooled me about the fragrance families. Yes, of course I like vanilla, musk, woods, spices. Must be an Oriental amber.
Tried several at the MegaBeauty on the way in to work each day. They were all so powdery – it was just wrong -- I am not a dry person in any sense of the word. Sniffed around and decided Oriental Spicy for sure.
Opium smelled fantastic at first but faded to a soft smell of Gillette shaving cream, definitely not what I was after. Went through 10 more, at least, many of which completely disintegrated on my skin.
But I fell in love with my own arm the first day of Versace Crystal Noir. “Oh man,” I told Emma, “I smell like a cake, HERE” – a vanilla cake made mostly of gardenias. Gavin and I had honeymooned in Oaxaca where they sold gardenias from the zocalo for a peso, there were always some in the room. Each day I stopped at the store and respritzed; I couldn’t stop sniffing the crook of my elbow. And it got better, peppery and floral with none of that old-lady lilyness I so abhor. Faded to something that was still seductive, even to myself. While I was sniffing I noticed, hmmmm… that arm tans rather beautifully, and has a little tone left in it… and oh the other one. Quel arm! Nice.
Sixty bucks later it was mine and I was its.
I’m pretty sure that was when I started to think of myself as a single woman and not so much as a widow. All of a sudden there were men in the streets, and in cars, and even in meetings with clients. They looked at me. I looked for empty ring fingers. (How strange to be on the make after 15 years.) Friends said, “you look great, have you lost weight?” and “what a great haircut.”
It would be another 5 or 6 months before I had my hands full of flesh, but now I was moving through air that had been charged. It wasn’t just the “aerial notes” and “headspace of gardenias” (with a touch of clove and vanilla) but those were a constant subconscious reminder of where I was and where I was headed, if slowly.
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