Olfactory Reset

Carlos and I bought our house the month before we got married and moved in the week after returning from our honeymoon. It is a 1962 ranch style home that we purchased from a couple in their 60s who were moving to the other side of the state. Partially renovated with an addition in the back providing a second family room, another half bath and more storage, this house needs updating (roof, HVAC, electrical, new tile work, face lift for curb appeal…) but it felt like a home the moment we walked in. It is warm and inviting and our eastern and western facing large windows provide the mostincredible light at any time of the day. I don’t need much compared to my materialistic values of my early twenties. If I buy something, I donate something, my closet is refined and selected and I regularly purge excess. I don’t like it when everything doesn’t have a ‘home’ and though clutter sometimes piles up due to Carlos’s kinda weird mail and paper pile-making habits, our home is generally very well put together as far as organization. 

My home style I would say has an old world look, bits of mid-century modern and lots of texture. Our original floors haven’t been refinished in probably over 15 years, I love the look of it and have no plans to pay to make them shiny and new looking again. The built ins on either side of the fire place in the front living room are decorated with books and odds and ends from travels, trailing vine plants, a random skull or two (or four…), pictures and antique knick knacks I just couldn’t pass up. Most pieces of our furniture are antiques, many acquired from my fathers mother. The hutch in our dining room has marks on it from where my dad used to drive his little toy cars on as a child and the wheels deeply scratched the maple. The oak chairs in our dining room are from the waiting room of the clinic my grandpa managed until retirement in Central Washington. The stain is worn off to bare wood on the arm rests. A desk with lion’s heads on the legs has a note written by a 6 or 7 year old me to my grandma inside one of the drawers and a side table is a large 100 year old vintage trunk that I purchased for $10 at a second hand store and attached bun table legs to. Another table I made when a storm knocked over an enormous pine in my parents back yard crushing my childhood play set that my grandpa and dad built for us as kids. The tree, easily 150 feet high, turned our fort into kindling. It was sad, really. It was slowly (and expensively I imagine) cut up and removed from my parents yard, now showing virtually no sign that it ever existed. I saved a cut of it, attached matte black steel hairpin legs purchased on Etsy, and the table proudly reminds me of my childhood every day standing proudly in our front living room. It is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done. Our headboard I made, our nightstand I made. I have at least 25 plants in our home too, a handful of which I have had for almost 10 years. Our home is eclectic and warm and so, so comfortable.

The only thing that always snaps me out of whatever conversation I am having, whatever thought is trailing through my head, whatever text I am sending, whatever disshelved entry into my house that I have, is the smell. Our house will always and forever smell like the day we came home from the hospital empty armed, after delivering Sylvia. Something happens when you experience huge trauma and weird things can change. I don’t even want to blame it on increased sensory perception or anything like that, I think it is just that markers are placed and they stick with you with tragedy, and this happens to be one of mine. Our house smells the same as it had from September 2015 when we moved in to August 11th when we left for the appointment and found out she had died, but in my head, since coming home, it now smells like I am smelling it for the first time, every time, as I did that evening. I don’t want this to put out the message that I am unhappy with our home, or I can’t stand the smell, or that I am uncomfortable here. No, its just an event that happens every day when I come through our front door, breathe, and am briefly taken back to that moment. My house smells like the day my daughter died. Its tragic and sad and hurts, but it isn’t as detrimental as I imagine it can be interpreted. It is just is something, sensory wise, that has permanently been rewired in me. Heartbreakingly rewired all the same. Allow me to reiterate that the smell of our home (as all homes have their own idiosyncratic scent) certainly is not offensive, and usually people compliment it and ask if its a candle. I share my secret of the Ginger Peach oil from Pier 1 that I use in a warmer and a variety of candles I burn regularly. The only thing that has changed since August is a lavender candle that was initially gifted to me from a drawing a friend entered me in when Sylvia died. I have since repurchased it over and over and light it whenever I need to feel physically closer to her.

This week we turned on our miracle-to-still-be-working 50 year old air conditioning unit. The feeling of the A/C, that unnatural chill it brings to a home that receives so much sunlight, combined with the scent of our home, further transported me deeper to last August, when it was well over 100 degrees outside, my daughter had died and suddenly nothing made sense.

While writing this, the thought occurred to me that this scent could change. When we come home from the hospital hopefully this fall with Sylvia’s sibling, alive and kicking, will the house then smell like that event? To be honest, the idea of the mental transportation that occurs when I walk through my door having a different association makes me quite sad. I remember the weight of her in my arms, I remember kissing her forehead and the feeling of how cold it was, I remember her lips and how perfect they were, I remember looking at her toes and touching them and being amazed at how they were exactly like Carlos’, I remember her eyebrows and the golden tone of her hair. I remember wiping blood from her nose when it started to bleed and I remember the blisters she had on her feet, I remember her long fingers and the color that started at her nail beds and kept creeping up. I have this many memories of my daughter and one of them is the smell when we came home without her. My memories are limited, our moments are limited and I have already seen every picture that will ever exist of her. I can not create more time, moments, memories or pictures. I only have this many. I can not loose even one and no matter how sad it is, my house has to always smell like the day we came home from the hospital without her.

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