My dad wore Brut aftershave, the kind that comes in that opaque green bottle with the fake gold medallion. He didn’t wear it a lot, but it was the only aftershave that he used when he did use aftershave, and so it burned into my psyche – along with cigarette smoke (Players) and aged leather – as the smell of my dad. After he died, and I went to work cleaning out his home, I spotted a bottle of it in his bathroom, tucked at the back of a medicine cabinet, coated with dust. I thought, that bottle is probably fifteen years old, and then I shut the cabinet and went back to sorting through his things.
He had, as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of things. I hired a dumpster that remained parked in his driveway, and the process of cleaning out his home was one long cycle of sorting and deliberating and carting and tossing. Some things were easy to sort and toss – the ancient tins of soup and boxes of spice and broken furniture and old bedding that was too worn for Goodwill – but other things were more difficult, like the little plastic baggies filled with clover leaves – he was determined to find his four-leaf token of good fortune, it seemed – and I found myself, too many times, hanging over the edge of the dumpster, second-guessing something that had been thrown away. I didn’t get in, though. Not until I remembered the Brut.
I don’t know what made me think of it, or why I suddenly found myself in his bathroom, looking for it, but there I was, scrambling through the toiletries that had been pulled from the cabinet, looking for that dusty green bottle, desperate to open it and just inhale, just breathe deeply and smell, knowing that it would smell like him, knowing that it would be an immediate and undiluted hit of memory, stronger than that afforded by his shirts and his jacket and his musty old leather hat. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t there. I had thrown it, or my mother or my uncle had thrown it, into a garbage bag and into the dumpster, or maybe just directly into the dumpster, who knew? I had to find it.
And that was I found myself, one very hot day late last August, standing in a dumpster, rifling through my father’s discarded things, sobbing, looking for his aftershave. I don’t know how long I stood there – crouched there, actually; bent, awkwardly, sifting and sorting through old cans of tomato soup and flat brown pillows and cracked floppy disk cases as the sun beat down on my shoulders – or for how much of that time I cried, but it seemed an eternity, and I chastised myself mercilessly – this is ridiculous, ridiculous, it’s gone, it’s just aftershave, it’s just a smell – before finally giving up and climbing out and laying on the grass by the cedar hedges and thinking, that was stupid. And then crying some more.
“Everything okay?” My uncle, my dad’s brother, was at this point accustomed to finding me curled up in random places around Dad’s house, crying.
“Yeah. No. I don’t know. I think I threw out Dad’s aftershave. I didn’t mean to. I wanted to keep it a while.”
“The Brut? Oh, I saved that. I figured I should set it aside in case you wanted it.”
I never loved my uncle more than I did in that moment.
I eventually ended up throwing the bottle of Brut in the dumpster myself, but not before I’d huffed it about a thousand times and sprinkled it over one of Dad’s sweaters, which I kept. Oddly enough, it’s not that sweater that I go to, now, when I want to feel my dad; I go to his old leather hat, which I keep on top of the cedar box of his remains, and which still smells faintly of Brut and cigarette smoke and the ineffable fragrance of Dad. The aroma is faint, and grows fainter every day, and I tell myself that when it becomes imperceptible, I will open the box with the Brut-splashed sweater and let myself drown in the scent. But then again, maybe I won’t. Maybe I will continue to cling to the fading smell of the hat, fighting to hold on to the last molecules of its perfume, diving deeper and deeper into the dumpster of my heart, searching for the memories that I know are buried there.
(Leave your thoughts on sense-memory – share your sense-memories – here. I have to close comments on this one, just because.)