Before, perfume was a comfort. It engaged and inspired me. Finding it, wearing it, reading and writing about it-- it was the defining interest of my life. it might well have continued to be so, had a force majeure named Sandy not intervened.
In one day's time, a wall of sewage-laced floodwater dismantled all we knew. In the wake of the hurricane, ease and joy disappeared, replaced by wet and dark and cold and fear. Everywhere we looked, we saw thousands of uprooted trees, beached boats, foundation stones where houses used to stand. Our candles burned down; our gas supply disappeared; we spent our days shivering like whipped curs.
And that was before the blizzard arrived. You heard me. The blizzard.
I did not wear perfume during the blackout. Correction: I did not go anywhere near it, not even to steal a reassuring sniff from the top of a bottle. The one time I thought to try it, the house was so cold that the rose and jasmine absolutes I'd taken out of the Scent Cabinet in a moment of need had completely solidified within their vials-- gelatinized, if not frozen. I'd witnessed so much by then, you'd think I'd be inured to something as trivial as this. But no, the sight stripped me of confidence. I simply did not have the heart to seek my heart's ease in these or any other bottles.
What would be the point? I couldn't wear it, because I couldn't bathe. My spouse and I spent the last trickles of hot water in our tank on what we knew would be our last showers for the duration. We began the dark time smelling, at least, of Ivory soap-- and I wasn't about to fuck it up. The idea of spritzing on perfume stirred up an instinctive aversion in me, completely surprising yet possessed of something I suspected might be an unwelcome truth. Things being what they were, really-- how could perfume possibly get my back?
The scents of the post-storm world, then, were those of the rusty, toxic muck that washed the streets, the garbage accumulating head-high in the outdoor disposal bins, growing body odor, the disgusting coffee we improvised in our old French press-- shitty, tarry stuff, practically battery acid, made tolerable only with sugar and dollops of milk from tiny vacuum-packed single-serve cartons. Quaintly enough, that coffee was the only thing we actually looked forward to each day. Along with a stomachache, it gave us caffeinated courage.
The only thing really and truly scented about my storm time was that mini Air Wick jar candle which I drove miles to find when the candle stubs at home threatened to gutter out for good that night. It was the last one on the supermarket shelf, kept company only by a tiny plastic bag of cheap tea lights. I picked them both up and wearily schlepped over to checkout, where a husband-and-wife pair of frantic latecomers spotted my pathetic score and pitched the most unbelievable public tantrum of which I have ever been the subject. The wife actually called a store employee over to demand why I, and not she, had candles. In the hollow, sepulchral tone of an exhausted near-zombie, the employee asked, "What do you want me to do, ma'am? Tackle her and take them away?" Sensing a "YES!" on the horizon, I kept my fucking head down all the way through checkout and out to my car. I half expected that woman to shank me in the parking lot with a nail file.
That was where we were at, in that point in time, down the Shore. The candle, by the way, was Vanilla Indulgence (a.k.a. Plaisir Vanille). It smelled like buttercream hell and threw off just enough light to keep the nighttime demons at bay.
After the electricity came back on and the hot water tank filled back up, I took a long hot shower and scrubbed the ape-stench off my skin with a coarse washcloth saturated in Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree Oil liquid soap. I smelled medicinally, miraculously clean afterward. Yet, did I perfume? No. It would take a few days before I could really bring myself to do it.
I broke my fast with the vintage Bellodgia extrait that Blacknall and I had found in the Red Bank Antique Center. Then followed Helena Rubinstein Wanted, New Jersey by United Scents of America, and the mother of all comforters, Youth Dew. Numerous care packages arrived from various friends, boxes full of scent, and tea, and chocolate. I enjoyed the tea and chocolate, and think that very soon I'll be able to enjoy the perfume too.
Because really, I want to take comfort in scent again. I want to find it, wear it, read and write about it, just like I used to. It's a big risk. The shore seems far away, an awful long way to swim. At times I feel too tired to attempt it, and I end the day as unfragranced as I began-- smelling as clean and characterless and safe as soap.
NOTE: "Je t'ai piqué ton nez!" is what French children say when they play what we call "Got your nose!" I seem to have played that game with a hurricane. I would like her to give me my nose back, please.