When I’m with a guy, I tend to become addicted to his many smells. Because, of course, a man doesn’t produce just one smell. His hair produces one, his neck produces another, his armpits produce another still … and then there’s a whole symphony of smells that he directs, hopefully, towards the toilet. (Fortunately, I haven’t been with any men who pride themselves on the pungency of their farts, but I do believe they’re out there, somewhere, feasting on buckets of beans right now.)
Reeking armpits are my absolute favourite. My last boyfriend, a Hebrew teacher and drummer (yes, the ‘cool teacher’, the one whose identity is bound to his ponytail), attended weekly soccer practice, after which he would come to my house. “DON’T SHOWER,” I yelled in the doorway. He raised his hands and called me by my petname, Hebrew for ‘soul’. “Neshama, I’m disgusting.” I stirred into a sexual frenzy, grabbing him before he could make it to the bathroom. “At least give me your shirt!” I said. He peeled it off and gave it to me, with a look that suggested I had limited days in the free world. “Are you sure you want it? It stinks,” he said. I tucked it under my pillow and smiled. “I’m sure,” I said. And so a ritual was created – one that ensured that his stench remained imbued in my sheets, long after he’d gone.
He also wore a faux leather jacket, one that I smelled during our first hug on our first date. I loved the smell of the jacket, and privately decided on that basis that I was sexually available to him. YES, I KNOW. It’s a lot to give a person, just because one of their garments smells super-fantastic. But in addition to the spicy notes of the faux leather (I’m not even sure what it really was … vinyl?), I could, of course, smell him. And smelling is so carnal. I mean, you can’t fuck a person who smells like cat vomit. Well, you can, and I’m remembering one guy I dated who did, but we never got beyond first base. And even that, frankly, was traumatic. He went in for the big smooch and, in trying to escape the trajectory of his face, I banged my head against his car door window. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. Your smell is horrifying to me, I should have said. But you know how it is. You don’t want to offend. So instead, you shrug and say, “I’m just a weird one!” and hope they drive you home.
With every boyfriend smell memory I encounter on public transport – presumably conjured through a combination of Lynx Africa and crotch sweat – the feelings I had during that relationship are invoked. And those feelings don’t play out through some B-grade dramatisation in the drive-through cinema in my mind. I feel everything in my body. I might as well be right there, with him again. I remember shit I can’t believe I remember. I start wanting to apologise for arguments that happened six months ago. I don’t care which eggs we get, I want to say. Yes, cage-free is fine. Even though it really isn’t – you should always get free range and organic. My god, why would you get anything else if you can afford it? And with the amount of shakshuka we used to eat … I mean, it was literally every day.
I guess it’s mainly that one boyfriend I’m smelling, the Hebrew teacher. But there are others who make frequent smell cameos. I’m sure there’s a science to it. And hey, who knows, maybe I’m just having olfactory hallucinations. But it’s beautiful way to remember someone. And to remember that they’re still real.
Image: Michelle K. Anderson
This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 73 (Sept/Oct 2016).