November 4, 2009

In memory of smells

AKA: A work in progress

In memory of smells

I was a nervous child.

Early on in life I was of the opinion that I had a certain quota of worrying to reach every day, and if I did not meet it bad things would happen to my family and me. Eventually my anxiety became so overwhelming that I had to develop special rituals to calm me. Many of them involved smelling my fingers.

At first, I would touch things and sniff my fingers out of curiosity: dogs, tree sap, bubblegum stuck in crevices and under tables, pizza rolls, Elmer’s glue. There was so much to smell! I would trail behind my mother at the grocery store, happily touching and smelling everything in sight. I was wide-eyed and shy, and had a rather interesting habit of peering out from behind my mom while gazing at strangers and sniffing my fingers. Soon it wasn’t enough to sniff my fingers, and I began burying my nose into everything I could.

I should clarify that I knew this was weird, and—with the exception of my immediate family—I took great pains to hide my habits from others. This resulted in a great deal of covert smelling and in careful restraint of sniffing during the school day that gave way to an uncontrollable onslaught in the evenings. Once my mother walked in on me crawling around the living room with my nose to the carpet, taking in the virtual smorgasbord of scents. “What in the hell are you doing?” she asked in bewilderment.

“Smelling,” I mumbled, continuing on with my business.

Being fixated on everything that was within a 50 foot radius of my nose, I soon became enamored with what came out of it. I designated a corner of my bedroom as “booger corner,” and used it to carefully catalogue the various fascinating shape and sizes that I produced. I meticulously lined them up in straight rows; each row consisted of an even number of boogers. The symmetry and order appealed to me, and I would rock myself back and forth while admiring the thought and care put into the corner. Not surprisingly, my mother found this habit particularly disgusting, and periodically took a scraper and scrub brush to the walls, conveniently providing me with a fresh canvas on which to recreate my masterpieces.

Soon it became important not only WHAT I smelled, but how many times I smelled it. Even numbers—preferably 2, 4, and 8—were very important. The cat food was not appropriately taken in if I only partook in 7 sniffs. Upon my mom’s entry into the kitchen I gave a quick 8th sniff to the cat’s bowl and sat back on my haunches, pretending to innocently contemplate the butter yellow kitchen wall.

After that, my growing fascination with even numbers (except 6) generalized and then things really got out of control. I would walk from place to place an even number of steps. I tapped things an even number of times. I chanted words and sang songs and bit my fingernails and petted the ferret in multiples of four. On my fingers I counted out the number of letters in various words before I would say them. I liked to imagine that this gave me the appearance of a thoughtful, scholarly girl who chose her words carefully.

(To be continued...)

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