Apr 15, 2002

One breath at a time

This weekend, I was looking for something to wear, and I found a couple of things that got packed when I last moved and never found their way back into circulation. They were things I used to wear to bed. I could distinctly smell that bed scent in them. That warm, sweet smell that is me through and through. I got very sad for a second. That sort of sadness that comes from the immediacy of a nostalgic interlude. It passes. Thankfully. I got sad thinking about where I used to live and the bed I used to sleep in. Where the lamps were and how warm it used to get in the summer. How a long shower would fill the room with a sultry, steamy something. How candles used to cast their glow and flicker against the walls as I slept. I don't think I miss that place, but I do miss that time. As I have missed every time that has gone before. Missing it because it just darts past me, never giving me a moment to stop and reflect or to feel it or to notice it happening.

I was mentioning this quotation to a friend recently: "Happiness isn't something you experience; it's something you remember." It was said by Oscar Levant, who wasn't necessarily known to be a philosopher, but was certainly known to say things worth remembering. Isn't this true? That you seldom have cause or the chance to realize that you are happy in the span of a moment. But later, when you measure it, when you categorize it in your own history, it bears that ranking and you yearn for it, if it felt like happiness when you took stock of it. I know this was true for me. As a child, I moved around a lot. And, as was often the case with children like me, I usually despised the place I was living until I moved away. At which time I came to see it as an idyllic stage on which the glorious dreams of my childhood were played out. I remembered each place for what was good. I forgave what wasn't so good. And I forgot to consider this formula in my criticism of the setting of my now. I never told myself, "Enjoy it, Mary. You're going to miss this place when you move far away. You're going to wish you could have all of this back." And yet it always managed to be the case. So, maybe it makes sense that I feel a sort of softness about that old apartment. Even though I often thought it was the worst possible place. I am remembering who I was there. And I am able to be fond of that time because it is a part of me. Then and now.

I think there is a component to living that requires you to stretch out experiences in retrospect. Moments you can relive again and again. Sensations that can be recalled in the most peculiar and profound way. When someone touches my hand or my hair, I can go right back to that feeling. I can replay it in my mind and my body plays along. And when I swallow a great gust of some familiar scent, I am transported in the most captivating fashion.

This weekend, I was taken by it unawares. And I wasn't prepared for it. Afraid I might suddenly sense my knees going weak under the massive weight of the passing of time. Who am I now? Who was I then?

When my father used to come and visit me in the house I once rented from my parents, he had a room that was just his. His clothes were in the closet. The old bed he and my mom had shared since they were first married was in that room. And his lovely old desk with all the ornate carvings and the drawers that smelled of cedar and the candy that used to be hidden there. After my father would come for a visit, I would go into that room and just take in the scent he left behind. It would cause me to miss his physical presence. And to sort of reach for him in my head. To reach for little things -- little moments and objects that might make it seem as if he hadn't gone off so far away. Back to Europe. Back to the life he led with my mother and my younger sister in the house in which I was only ever a visitor. I think something of the essence of a person lives in his or her smell. Maybe this is just the manifestation of the simple, animal behaviors we often take for granted or disclaim altogether. Or maybe it's just me.

I have been wearing the same perfume since I turned fifteen. And underneath that perfume, there is a skin and a temperature and a musk that is entirely mine. I took off a sweater I was wearing this evening, and I pressed it to my face. It smelled very nice. Even as I thought so, I knew that one day I would remember that very moment and feel a sort of sad remembrance for the moment and for all that came after it. All that flew by before I had a chance to pin it down and make it stick. There are answers in those remembrances. Truths. Secrets. I walk back through them as a ghost. They remain still and allow me to examine them. To walk around in them and notice what I missed.

It was always warm in the afternoon in my old bedroom. The sun would make the window coverings glow a sort of buttery beige. I don't take naps often, but when I would have cause to be lying down in my bed in the afternoon, I remember noticing the light and recognizing that a day was coming to an end. Whatever else I might have known or supposed or wished, the one truth that transcended the rest of it was that you cannot hold on to anything. And that perhaps it isn't necessary to.

The days are passing. Still. But I am aware of them. And I am keeping up as best I can.

posted by Mary Forrest at 1:28 AM | Back to Monoblog


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