Every year for my birthday, my mom gets me a new perfume. It’s an unspoken tradition of ours and I always act surprised when I open her gift and find, again, a bottle of perfume. This year, I actually was surprised because rather than get me a new scent, she got me a gift certificate Sephora, claiming that she “wasn’t sure what [I] liked anymore.” I was not entirely sure what made her think I did.
About a week ago, I finally made the trek (read: three-stop subway trip) to the Sephora in Union Square. Despite my interest in style and beauty, perfume has never really been my game. Like, just make me smell nice, you know? So, when the first thing I saw upon walking into Sephora was a display for Chloé, I instantly thought, “Done. Buying that. Easy.” Chloé was the scent I wore last summer and the majority of last fall, and was always a favorite of mine, so it seemed like an obvious choice. Still, I decided to test it out on my wrists, just to make sure I still liked it.
And I did. I still liked it a lot. Chloé is a fresh scent, feminine without being overly girly. It’s really a great perfume, guys. I can highly suggest it. But the second I smelled it, I was no longer standing in Sephora. I was walking on The Brooklyn Bridge with this guy I really liked (who would later break my heart, but I didn’t know that yet because how could I have?). I was eating greasy French fries with my three former best friends in the East Village, just a few months before it would stop making sense for us to speak. I was sitting in an apartment in Chelsea the first night I moved to New York. Of course, I was actually just standing in the middle of Sephora on a Tuesday, but I was flooded with these crystal clear memories, ones I hadn’t thought about in ages. I wanted to scream.
I put Chloé back on the shelf and began walking around, testing out different perfumes. Sephora’s selection is overwhelming, so I gravitated mostly toward the bottles and names I recognized. Not just perfumes I had tried in the past, but also ones that people I love (or, in some cases, loved) wore. I smelled Angel, the scent my grandmother always wore, back before she lived her life from a twin-sized bed in South Florida. I smelled Lady Million, the perfume an old friend called her signature. I remembered watching her getting ready, thinking that she had been privy to some manual on How To Be A Girl that I never received, and thankful she loved me regardless. We haven’t spoken in months. I saw her Instagram a picture of Maryland the other day and I had no idea why she was in Maryland.
I tried Light Blue by Dolce & Gabanna, the scent I wore this past winter and remembered more vividly than I would have liked what it was like to feel really, really alone. I smelled Chance by Chanel, the first “grown-up” perfume I got as a gift from my mom, even though I was just 14. I couldn’t even drive a car. I hadn’t even had my heart broken.
There were other ones. Countless people who I missed, dozens of versions of myself that no longer exist. It made my heart not only sink, but come out of me. My heart was sitting on the floor next to the Tarte lipstains. The thing that surprised me the most out of all of this was that I was even affected at all. I consider myself to be a pretty logical person, so why was I, the person who wears her rationality so dangerously close to her sleeve, getting upset over a bunch of perfumes? It was just water, right? Yeah. Just water.
So, if it was just water, what was I grieving? That I’d never get to smell these scents again? No, that couldn’t have been it because they were right there; I had access to all of them. It was something more. It was the random inevitability, the precarious nature, of human relationships. Without these people and memories, these perfumes were just a liquid sitting in a glass bottle. With them, they were something more. Bottled moments. A tiny liquid time machine
I ultimately went with a perfume by Fresh. Like Chloé, it’s a light scent, not too overpowering. There are a few different versions, and I went with the Sugar Lemon, which is a bit sweet, but doesn’t make me feel like I should be going a sweet sixteen. Plus, I liked the name. Fresh. New beginnings. Something different. The start of a new era. I left the rest of the perfumes at Sephora.