I believe in the power of perfume. Perfume is meant to cover our natural scent, and to hide whispers of sweat with subtle floral overtones.
When I was fourteen, my desire to be sexy conflicted with my poor understanding of the powerful amber liquid in my mother’s bottle. I quickly came to prefer my own scent to the overpowering fragrance of my misguided dabbling.
I did not understand the beauty of perfume until several years later. I was home from college for break when I saw a new bottle perched on my parents’ bathroom shelf. This gift from my father to my mother continues to stand as a beacon of glory among mundane toiletries and unnerving hospital supplies. The growing collection of latex gloves, tubes and medicines packed in sterile plastic reflect the losing battle that my mother is fighting with multiple sclerosis.
In more than twenty-five years of immunological revolt, her active mind and endless humor are increasingly trapped within a body that refuses to cooperate. The disease had steadily spread from trembling feet when I was young to complete paralysis around the time that the bottle appeared.
My parents cannot embrace each other, nor dance together. My father must go alone to Macy’s to get the perfume my mother loves but does not ask for. He purchases the scent knowing they will not be going out on this evening, or any evening. My father is a thoughtful man not given to expressive statements of emotion, regardless of the impossible circumstances that life has presented. One could say that the odds were against them from the start—an unusual paring of a vivacious Russian Jew and quiet South Indian immigrants whose circuitous paths brought them together as university students in upstate New York.
In recent years I have come to better comprehend the intense understanding of each other that has united my parents from their early courtship through their many years together. When he helps my mother at the toilet each morning, cleaning and dressing her, my father remembers the perfume. The fragrance is not intended to hide her odor. It is an acknowledgment of their past and a reminder of their present captured in a scent. By dabbing the perfume on her neck, he tells her that she is more than her body; she is a woman, his wife, stubborn and sexy. It is his statement of love.
Walking with my father in a department store this past Christmas, I paused at a perfume counter graced by advertisements of women draped in elegant clothing, alluring creatures proudly bearing the scent of “J. Lo” or “Chanel.” Advertisers hope their customers believe they might embody some of this beauty with the purchase of a bottle. These ads touch me differently, reminding me of my parents and the enduring love that they share. They make me believe in the power of perfume.
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