Notes of the Nose

Hillary - Long Beach, California
Entered on November 24, 2008

Like a hound, I lead my life by my human snout. Scent controls me emotionally, mentally, and physically everyday of my life; I even dream in scent. I am a woman who literally stops and smells the roses; not in the metaphorical sense to pause and appreciate life but because I can’t resist a large open orange or red bloom that calls me to nuzzle their petals. I am terrible at practicing yoga breaths for sanity but breathing in the sweetness of a plant–whether a rose, honeysuckle, or basil–makes me smile and forces me to take a calming breath before I even realize I am consoling my psyche. On the flip side, if an odor reeks in my environment, the foul stench throws my day off completely. I don’t function as well, I am annoyed, I am sent into frenzy, and sometimes I am nauseated.

However, some smells that are categorically noxious can be pleasing to my olfactory system. I smell happiness in a “wet dog” when my pup’s fur is soaking from frolicking in the ocean waves. Fresh hot tar on my neighborhood roads smells of improvement and smooth travels. Animal droppings, dirt, and the sticky sap of nature reminds me there is still land not yet corrupted by mankind. Burnt garlic singes my nostrils, which I admit, can frustrate me, but it also reminds me I attempted to make my husband an authentic Italian meal.

The first steps of the morning into the Emergency Room where I work I am instantly hit with the unmistakable whiff of antiseptics. As the day progresses, I allow my nose to help diagnosis patients. I can smell sinusitis, wound and throat infections, food poisoning, diabetic comas, as well as pain, danger, and despair. I smell lying patients who deny eating when I can easily make out their last meal on their breath. I sense addictions to heroin, alcohol, and prescription drugs with my nose.

My husband, like many people, hates the aromas of the hospital. As a lifelong cardiac patient who has had many admissions to the hospital since early childhood, I smell hope, dedication, and hard work. Sometimes I smell miracles.

But my favorite smells are those I will never fully relish again. My grandparents were the rocks in my turbulent home life–a holiday from hell. When I am feeling nostalgic or sad I long for comfort. I lie in my hammock with my eyes closed and remember how the house smelled when my grandfather’s homemade vegetable soup was simmering on the stove and the vinegary sharpness of my grandmother pickling her garden provisions. I recall the spicy mix of the Old Bay seasoning, fire, and a brackish shore while my grandfather steamed blue crabs and my sisters and I ran through his fresh cut grass.

While I may not be able to capture the joyful fragrance of my past I can occasionally sniff them in passing and feel loved. My perfume of the present is coming home to the smell of the sea, strong and pungent. The smell of the ocean is why my husband and I torture ourselves with a daily brutal commute to work; because we can’t live away from the smell of salty air. Nothing relaxes me like the smell of the ocean.

I know I blended of a unique extract that isn’t always pleasing to others. My top notes are sometimes perceived as aggressive, anxious, and stressed. I’m sure it will be a lifelong effort to mix those notes into grace, acceptance, and sweet forgiveness. But I do not struggle with my heart notes which savor the smell of my husband’s neck after he performs on stage, the vineyard breezes of my wedding day, the laundry soap of my oldest friend, and the coat of my pets. Over 34 years I have learned that my base notes are the strength and humor my grandparents and husband have taught me, my quirkiness, wit, and determination, plus a heart so big that it sometimes aches with how much I can love.

This I believe.