Loneliness smells like myself. It’s generally believed that you can’t know how you smell. That may be true; if it were so, I wouldn’t know it. A much bigger problem is actually hidden here: how do I ever know that my perceptions are the same as any other human being’s? As I started to write, however I was thinking about no philosophical quibble. In fact, I may not know how I smell, but I know many of the smells I carry on me.
When I’m really scared, my body odour changes into something acrid, not quite like simple perspiration. As I struggled to overcome the anxiety that had been building up over my first year of high school, a foul smell settled in at the back of my throat. I remember it clearly. It was awful – not the smell itself, rather the feeling that it would never go away. Every time I inhaled, I’d smell my stress levels rising and rising. I don’t remember how I overcame that phase – I think my body found a different way to deal with anxiety, some physical symptoms that haven’t left me up to now. (I think the smell was easier to deal with.)
Now it’s not about anxiety, though. Smelling my own skin can be calming, even though I only feel the traces of things I’ve touched during the day. Right now, for instance, I smell like shower gel, and my hands retain the scent of the cheap liquid soap I’ve bought for my college room. I never smell like this when I’m home. At home, I smell like different kinds of soap and cat fur (next post should be about my cats, by the way – it should have been this one, but something different came up) and too many books in the same place (yeah, that means dust). Today, in my college room, I also smell like clean sheets, because I’ve not been here for a while and the bed linen has been changed, and I’ve been lying on it for a while after I showered. I still retain the faint stench of the train couch I’ve got here with on my jeans. It smelled like disinfectant, as every train couch in Italy is bound to. I hate it, but I’m leaving again tomorrow, so there’s no point in washing anything.
Remember, this has little to do with the smell of my room itself, which smells like clean bedsheets, but also floor cleaner and stale paint and something dry and hot which I cannot pinpoint exactly but which means “home”. Or, at least, the i’m-in-my-room-at-college version of home. The home-home version is much sweeter and has more than a tinge of wood (parqueted floors) and people. Yes, there’s no other person’s smell in here. I rarely let anyone in my room – there are comfier places to sit and talk here – and I’ve had no guests recently. Even my smell wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t present, because I’ve been staying home for a couple of weeks. When I get back here, in September, after the long Italian summer holidays, there won’t be anything different here from any other room in this building.
You know, that’s exactly where I wanted this post to end. Be it just smelling the perfume on my own wrists (which I seldom wear, and often exactly for this reason) to drive away some stink I’ve been forced to inhale, or thinking about the fact that I can only smell myself here and even my own smell won’t linger for long, I only smell myself when I’m alone, or when I want to be.
And now, I think I have a vial of apple scent somewhere in here. Time to smell something different, and maybe go to bed.