I’m so tired of talking to you when I wake up in the morning. The light coming in the windows smells like your hair used to, sort of stale, like heat, like human. Musk and fragrance-free detergent and organic toothpaste that doesn’t taste clean enough. Who brushes their teeth with homeopathic mint gristle, anyway?
When you left I kept your shirt. Weeks later, at that awkward post-breakup beer where we’re supposed to laugh and say things like I had to do this for me, you said, Give me back my shirt. I don’t mean to sound like Heather Locklear, but I will never give back that shirt. You never wrote me a single letter. In all our pictures you’re looking away. You gave me two books – without inscriptions. You will never, ever get your shirt back.
Spearmint. Murray’s Pom-Ade. Hydraulic oil. Dark chocolate.
The girl I had a crush on in high school smelled like pretzels and lemongrass. Not acrid alcohol hairspray or that magnolia hand cream that leaves iridescent glitter on your skin. Not White Rain or Teen Spirit, but citrus and yeast, acid and ferment, twisted up together. Right at the crown of her head.
A hundred times I asked you what I smelled like and you said I don’t know. Soap? Lotion? So I tried to explain that our humanness, our meat and putty, our energy and funk all smell like SOMETHING. Oil from pores, early morning sweat, our divine biochemical perfume, before the soap, beneath the lotion. But you still couldn’t tell me.
Turpentine. Tobacco. Corrugated metal. Firewood.
I can count on one hand the girls that fell victim to my experimental phase. Shannon was a sociopath who couldn’t find the right medication levels. Linda worked in the art store and had a mouth the size of a cold penny. Imagine kissing a mouth like that. It was just how you’d think. Nobody lasted. It took me too long to figure out that kissing the wrong people won’t get you a gold star.
We used to not talk all the time. I’d say something silly and you’d say, “I don’t think about stuff like that. My brain doesn’t work like that.” And since I didn’t know WHAT you thought about or HOW your brain worked (and I didn’t want to sound stupid), I stopped talking. Silence at the movies. Silence during fro-yo. Silence drinking beers in the afternoon while I stared at laughing couples and felt a contraction of jealousy in my gut. Silence every morning.
Burnt olive oil. Cast iron. Garlic scapes. Bounce dryer sheets.
I come to in the morning and I smell like the morning. Like old Scope and the faint animal odor I worked up at yoga and pajama pants three weeks beyond their wash date. We used to smell like light coming in the windows at dawn when we woke up and I can’t wait to wake up and not be talking to you one of these mornings. I can’t wait.
Rae Pagliarulo is an MFA Creative Writing Candidate at Rosemont College and Creative Nonfiction Editor for Rathalla Review and Literary Mama. Her work has been featured in Full Grown People, Ghost Town Literary Magazine, bedfellows magazine, Scary Mommy, and Philadelphia Stories, and is anthologized in The Best of Philadelphia Stories: 10th Anniversary Edition. She is also the 2014 recipient of the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize and a 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee. She works and lives in Philadelphia.
Photo by chaps1