Babies cannot see. Retinal development is a long process and continues in some cases until two years old. Newborns sight is really only about 20/400, meaning essentially they cannot distinguish the details of a human face, even their mother. Yet, one of the strongest senses during infancy and child development is smell. I can remember distinctly the way carpet smelled once I started to crawl, which is why I believe in carpet shampoo.
Certain smells can trigger those amazing memories, and in their absence trigger something arguably more powerful, attrition. I didn’t hate her for doing it either, but when she left I remember not being there. A sort of misdirection play run by my parents. Dad takes us out to dinner while Mom packs up her life, sans children. I was young, maybe too young to fully understand the weight of her actions at the time, but I remember the smell of the carpet.
Before we had money, before Dad had letters after his name, and before mom left, she worked. She worked single mother hard, to account for the fact that Dad was still in school and was probably going to graduate deeply in debt. She worked at home as well, and I would follow her around crawling while she vacuumed. I feel like I spent a lot of my infancy on the carpet. She would smile at me through the accumulating exhaustion and eventually would lay down on the clean carpet with me.
Laying together on the fibers of my early universe we would play a game she called roller derby. I would roll back and fourth over her and we would both laugh uncontrollably. At this point in my life the only thing I liked more than the vacuum cleaner was, roller derby. There was no real object to the game, no way to win or lose, and I think that was probably my favorite part about it.
With acuity and maturity came a house all to our own, a new city, more brothers and a maid. My mother had dropped out of college to support our family while Dad finished school. My mother no longer had to work and was left with massive amounts of unoccupied time. My mother was trapped inside her own existence. She needed a purpose, a task, or at the very least just needed to be needed.
I remember the carpet smelled different. My mother, a creature of habit, used a certain brand of carpet shampoo and kept our carpets smelling nothing like the advertised scent of Summer Breeze but more like roller derby. But when my mother left, she took my favorite sensory memory of her with her.
I have never blamed her for leaving, and even though I was angry about it for a long time, I know that it is something she had to do for herself, but I would be lying if I said I don’t shampoo my own carpet.
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