My Cognitive Psychology class confirmed the matter of the twenty years old lotion bottle. At least from a scientific perspective.
“Olfactory cues can trigger powerful memories and emotional responses,” Dr. Kroll had said.
This, apparently, is due to the fact that the “olfactory bulb”—the place where the brain processes smells–is part of the brain’s limbic system, and the limbic system is known as “the seat of social and emotional intelligence.” Smells, then, that were initially paired with certain events are basically hardwired to automatically and effortlessly bring forth the memories and emotional responses from those events.
So that’s why–when I take off the silver cap and bring the 25 year old lotion bottle to my nose–my brain responds with memories of a salty night breeze, Jim Morrison’s voice bellowing “Light My Fire,” and the coolness of K.’s hand on my bare, sun-tanned back.
He wasn’t special. A New York stock broker. On vacation—like my family—at that Cancun resort in 1988.
Most likely he was on a pre-wedding bachelor party getaway. And I was too young for him—at 19, with him probably early 30’s, with male pattern already happening up top—and playing a part of what was most likely a last pre-wedding conquest. Because that’s the type he seemed to be. A cheater; a user. Self-assured, bordering on arrogant. We talked about New York City, and he seemed so gratingly proud to be “That Guy.” Mr. Big Shot, running the show out there on Wall Street. Taking care of greed for the rest of the nation.
So it certainly wasn’t an attraction in the soul-sense.
But he was handsome and lean. And bold, and confident, and flirtatious.
And events in my life—at that time—were a haphazard mesh of coincidence that I mistakenly attributed to fate. Wherein all things that happened were simply too impossible to be anything but destiny; wherein a magic fabric of events weaved themselves subtly together and presented themselves to me as a long-planned gift.
Because, at 19 years old–and bound up by naivete and hormones– everything in life revolved around romance, destiny and fate.
And with my mind overpowered by my body’s chemical witchcraft, we headed to his room. And Jim Morrison joined us as we drugged out on our desire to feel good.
My marriage was a train wreck. In all respects except the bedroom. Where passion and lust masked—like a drug–the sound of my inner voice telling me that we lacked a deeper connection. So I’ve been detoxing for six years, healing the emotional insult that comes from loveless sex.
But my ex is embroiled in it again. Engulfed in a dynamic that will end badly, but in which the sex is good. They’ve broken up six times—leaving 5 heartbroken, near-siblings, ages 6-15–and each time passion rekindles it. She makes jealous demands; he complies until his limit is reached; they break up. Then, rekindle.
They just got back together after their latest two-month breakup. This time, the two month breakup was just enough time for my oldest to stop being depressed. And, when our daughter would sob during that time–grieving–he’d call her “selfish” because he said her crying made him feel worse than he already did. “How do you think I feel?” he would ask her. It was horrible.
And now that they’re back together, they’re talking about buying a house and getting married this summer.
It’s some masterful dysfunction.
Yet who am I to judge?
Because it’s a sad testament on moral righteousness to realize that one reason I moved on so quickly—and never looked back with longing at what J. and I had during our marriage—is because I never really loved him that much in the first place.
Because we mostly just had passion. And lust. And lust’s chemical trickery.
My limbic system has not abandoned me….
The postcard size men’s cologne sample came in Sunday’s newspaper. I don’t know what brand it was; it doesn’t matter.
They all smell the same.
Like a man.
I’ve been single for exactly six years. Not dating. Healing, and assisting with healing. Detoxing.
And when, last year, I commented to my oldest about how adorable her science teacher was, she responded, “Mr. B? Yeah, he’s really nice. But I think he’s married.” Then about her friend’s dad—who is slightly overweight, and a bit bald, but has a wicked sense of humor—she squinched her nose, and sputtered, “Him?? But he’s so old!” And I thought, “I’m 44; I wonder what demographic she thinks I’ll end up with.”
We’re all ready for what happens next.
And it is trickery–an enchantment–perhaps to breathe in the aroma of a man’s cologne on a piece of paper or sniff the remnants held within an old lotion bottle and—in mere nanoseconds–enliven all-consuming feelings of desire. Because our brain-based responses are usually incited by physical stimuli, and it is unfair that so little–an aroma, a scent–should elicit an emotional response so powerful that it is totally insurmountable by logic.
Because I can still hear the lapping of the water. And smell the lotion on my skin; and the salt air and the wet sand. And hear the distant laughter of vacationing people alive with unmistakable happiness. And The Doors blasting from his room. And feel the electric tingle when his hand touched my back, and the hot pull—closing in together—of lust’s powerful inevitability.
And, if it is trickery, it is dangerous. And makes fools of us, us and our willful ignorance and need for passion. Our need to desire and be desired. Our need to mask the uncomfortable. To feel vibrantly alive.
(I keep the cologne sample).
If it is trickery, it is dangerous, unfortunate trickery.
(Dangerous, unfortunate, wonderful, heart-pounding trickery.)