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Memories Matter: Understanding The Power Of Scent

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Most people buy perfume because it smells good. Or, I should say, they buy it because they think it will help them to smell good. The right perfume certainly can do that, but it can do much more.

I'm going to share two memories that helped me understand the power of scent. They're complete opposites, and yet not.

The first memory is of my father, who passed away when I was still a little boy. When anyone dies, there’s a period of shock that lasts for days if not weeks, during which, the dearly departed’s belongings remain mostly untouched, and a cold stillness fills the home. My father had been deceased for nearly a week when I snuck into the spare room he’d used as a home office and I rifled through his desk.

I don't know what I was doing there, to be honest. I guess I was looking for something to take - something to keep as a memento - as a way to hang on to him.

I found his watch.

In the hands of a boy who was not yet even a teenager, the watch felt important. It had a metal band and a round face covered with thick glass. It was heavy and manly. I picked it up and held it for what seemed like an eternity, but I never actually checked the time. I just sat there and held it. And I smelled it. In fact, I couldn’t not smell it.

The watch had a strong smell of whatever cologne my father had worn. I'd never thought anything of that smell before. I never paid attention to it at all. But he was gone, yet through the smell of his watch, I could smell him, and I could almost feel him with me. Almost.

I should have taken the damn watch. I should have slipped it into my pocket and gone back to my bedroom, but I didn't. I just sat there for a long while with the watch cradled in my hands before putting it back precisely where I'd found it. There was something creepy about his desk. Something about the untouched scene said it was not to be disturbed. I put the watch back and I walked away.

Throughout my entire life, I've had very few regrets, but not keeping that watch is one of them.

As for the smell... I often wonder what it was. I have no idea what fragrance my father used to wear. I wonder how long that smell lingered on. Days? Weeks? I have no idea.

The second memory I’d like to share is about an ex-girlfriend.

Years ago, I dated an adorable brunette. The relationship only lasted a few months because she moved across the country, and then we lost touch. I'd heard she’d gotten married and had kids. This past summer, she looked me up because she was going to be in town and wanted to catch up. We met for drinks, which quickly led to my place and, more specifically, my bed. She was divorced, so no weirdness there, and since she was only in town for a few days, I figured it was just a one time thing.

She mentioned that I smelled different. I'd recently bought Aventus and was excited about it, but I wanted her honest feedback, so I said "I'm trying something new. What do you think?"

"It's ok. It's kind of nice I guess. I think I like it."

That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but it wasn’t bad either.

She and I had dated back when I was a one bottle guy. In those days, I would go to a department store and sniff a bunch of bottles, often without even spraying them. I used to literally sniff the sprayers because I didn't know better. When I'd find one I liked, I'd buy it, and that would be what I'd wear for the next year or so until the bottle was empty. Then I'd repeat the process and buy something else. This means, if I was dating someone, she would only ever smell one scent on me because one scent was all I owned. To her, that one scent was what I smelled like.

By the time my ex came to town to visit last summer, my collection of perfumes had grown considerably. We met up a second time before she flew out of town, but this time, I wore Curve since it's what I had always worn back when we were dating. Again, we had some fun, after which she grinned and said "THAT'S what I needed." I said "Yeah, me too" assuming she was referring to the sex. She giggled and said no.

"I mean, yeah, I needed that too, but..." and then she put her head on my chest, breathed in deep, and said "...Mmmmmm. I was talking about this."

She was talking about the smell of Curve on me. To her, I smelled like "me" again.

As she put her head on my shoulder, I laid there and thought of my father’s watch. I thought about how we often associate a smell with a person. I thought about how safe I felt as a little boy, even if only for a moment, as I sat by my father’s desk and held his watch. Even though I knew my father was gone and my whole world was turning to crap, for that brief moment, the smell of his scent on that watch made me feel better. And, as I looked at my ex as she laid beside me, I grinned too because I knew exactly what she’d meant when she said "I needed that."

Scent can play a powerful role in memories, even if we don't realize its importance at the time. And memories matter.
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