A scent can bring back memories as easily as a photograph. Unlike a photo, however, a smell can sneak up on you and hit you unsuspecting.
There are distinct perfumes and aftershaves that I can still identify in one sniff and that will bring back memories of specific people or events. My Nana wore L’Origan by Coty, Paris. My Oma wore 4711 a traditional German Eau de Cologne by Mäurer & Wirtz. My Mother wore Tabu Cologne for Women by Dana. My Sister-in-law wore L’Air du Temps, a women’s perfume by the French fashion house Nina Ricci.
My Father wore Aramis for Men. An old boyfriend wore Pierre Cardin, and Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche. And I can still identify when a man wears Grey Flannel or Polo for Men. For years I bought my Brother-in-law the Avon aftershave colognes in the bottles shaped like vehicles. My husband does not wear aftershave or cologne, but he buys the scented deodorant and body washes, usually a Sport scent.
My Rapist, he wore traditional Old Spice. Yes he was freshly showered and scented. Why? He broke into my apartment before dawn around 5 am. What had he done? Woken up extra early, showered, put on cologne to get ready to Go-A-Raping? Just like you and I would shower and get dressed to go to work?
After he had left and I had called the police, they asked all the usual questions to help identify my attacker. What did he look like? Hair color, eye color, skin color? Could I estimate how tall he was? What was he wearing? Could I identify him if I saw him again? Since I was awoken out of a sound sleep to my rapist on top of me with his hand covering my mouth and nose and a knife to my jugular, memorizing those type of details was not my first thought. I even remember him saying, “Don’t look at me! Close your eyes!”
With the threat of being stabbed, plus the fact that I was not wearing my glasses, as I was sleeping, I didn’t really try to look. Yes, I did remember some details after I had calmed down, but one of the most easily recalled details was his smell. He smelled clean, freshly showered, and was wearing cologne. One of the police officers happened to be wearing the same cologne. I asked him what it was, “Old Spice”, he replied.
Needless to say, I do not like the smell of Traditional Old Spice Cologne. Even though it has been almost 28 years, that scent can bring back all the details of that experience as if it were yesterday. A couple of weeks ago, my husband bought body wash for the shower. Usually he gets a sport scent, Old Spice even makes Sport scents. this time he got traditional Old Spice scent. He came out of the shower and I immediately recoiled from him. At first I did not know why. I just knew he smelled wrong. When I went to take my shower, I saw the bottle on the shelf and immediately knew why I did not want to be near him. That evening on my way home from work, I bought him a different body wash.
I was raped 6 months before I met my husband. I told him the stories, but he didn’t know me then. It’s not real to him. I told him about the Old Spice and to never wear it. in fact when Old Spice came out with the other fragrances, I had to check them first, to make sure they didn’t smell like the original. He forgot. I’m not mad at him. He accepted the new body wash without question. The Old Spice body wash is still on the shelf in the shower. Why haven’t I thrown it away?
Scents are powerful memory triggers. Old Spice triggers one of my worst memories. My nightmare memory. My rape. Do I let that scent, and that memory control me, have power over me? Maybe I have been unable to throw the bottle away because I don’t want to touch it. Maybe I have needed to face it, face the fear, face the memory of my rapist in a vulnerable place like my shower, and not recoil from it. Not back down. The memory will never go away. It gets pushed aside by the present and regular life, resurfacing from time to time, triggered by something. Something as simple and yet as powerful as a scent. Maybe the sensible thing is to throw it out. Time to put this memory away again.