When I was a kid, my mom found me in bed, weeping silently into a blanket. She asked what was wrong. We had just come back from a trip to Japan and I was crying because I missed my cousin and Japan. I think I sounded a little ungrateful and I remember my mom getting a little pissy.
I always knew I’d know I was in Japan because of the smell. There was something different in the air. I associated the smell of vegetables and water-washed pavement with that country.
As I grew older, I steadily became more sensitive.
Old women who wanted to cover up their incontinence would wear cheap perfume from Walgreens. College kids who were still little boys would run around the gym not realizing that there was no way a girl would get near them.
And then, I was able to smell his skin. It smelled homely. He smelled like a piping hot breakfast on a rainy day. I was never able to know a person on that level like that before. I could smell him on my clothes and sometimes on my skin. And when he slipped out of my life, I knew that was the gift that his presence had left.
And so the other day when I was returning home, I felt odd. A little sad perhaps. Perhaps I was feeling lonely. Maybe I wanted to talk to someone.
And then I smelled it: the humidity in the sea breeze from the sea, which is roughly three kilometers away. There was something pleasant, comforting about it. Like an old friend who shows up out of the blue. A summer storm with the sun shining through the clouds and where raindrops land on your nose even though you’ve got an umbrella open.
It took me back to a New Year’s Eve, several years ago. Friends and I went to a beach to camp. We brought a small tent and there was a large blazing fire to keep the cold at bay. There were some young Israelis who were sharing the fire with us and we talked about our lives over the music of the rave that was raging on stage 500 feet from us.
I somehow drifted off to sleep.
I woke to the sensation of burning heat through my shoes and seeing the night sky with patchy clouds, finding myself in a chair, my body nearly horizontal and a tremendous crick in my neck. I hobbled over to the tent, flung myself inside and thought no more.
That smell of that dense humidity in the sea breeze reminded me that I was alive. And in the tininess of my sad feelings, I felt my heart swell.
The sea was telling me it was going to be alright.