If you ever revisit a place you haven't been for years, you'll probably notice right away that it smells familiar, even if you were barely aware of the scent before. In fact, the scent itself might take you back in time to when the place was a part of your life. Scents can be pretty powerful in triggering memories. When I was in sixth grade, I had some strawberry chapstick that I wore every day like lip gloss. I wasn't allowed to wear real makeup in middle school, so the chapstick made me feel grown-up. At some point in seventh grade, after I started wearing a new chapstick every day, I realized that just smelling the strawberry chapstick brought me back to the time that I was wearing it. Sixth grade was an awesome year for me because I had a lot of fun in my first play. Seventh grade wasn't such a great year, so I appreciated instant access to the happy memories. By the end of middle school, I decided that I would keep a collection of chapsticks, lip glosses, and body creams that I didn't use anymore because they each acted as a portal to another time.
As years passed, my collection dwindled down. Expired creams turned sour and old chapsticks lost their scents entirely. But for some reason, the original strawberry chapstick stayed the same. It's been years since I've worn something scented for a consistent time period - the last time I did was the summer before college. That spring, I had gotten a free Victoria's Secret body cream sample while walking through the mall, and I absolutely loved it. Normally I wore fun fruit scents, and I wore them as fashion accessories, but this was different. This was seductive. I'd never worn anything like it before. I tried to ration out the sample between prom, beach week, and the rest of the summer, when my mom suggested that I just buy a bottle from the store. That was the logical thing to do, but I had never bought anything from Victoria's Secret before, and I didn't think I'd want to spend so much money on cream. But I did, and it felt wild and exciting.
I continued to wear the cream a little into freshman year of college, but after a while I only wore it when I felt rebellious or when I desperately wanted to be back home. But it occurred to me just now that I might be interested in wearing it again. Really wearing it, like I did at 18. So I went to my bathroom closet, opened the newest bottle I had, and rubbed a little bit on my hands. For a moment, I was transported back in time to our senior year beach week, but a second later, it was gone. The cream used to be very strong, but the scent had faded after just a few seconds. It wasn't made to last forever. And I have hunted around for more of the same stuff, but Victoria's Secret doesn't carry it anymore. That last of it was what I had.
But in the brief moment that I returned to that summer, I realized that I didn't want to go back there. Sure, I loved high school and hated college, but now that I'm out of college, high school isn't always better than the present by default. It was exciting wearing something seductive for the first time, but I was never completely comfortable in it. It was kind of like wearing something that belonged to someone else. That scent carries confusion and heartbreak and a lot of things that I don't want to relive. I wish I could hold onto just a little bit of it, just as a memory for my collection, but even the strawberry chapstick is beginning to fade now. But it's okay - cosmetics may expire, but memories can stay alive forever.
Even if I could find the same cream I wore that summer, it would always carry the emotional weight of another time, a time when I couldn't handle some of the best things in my life right now. I'd much rather find a completely new cream - something that might have made me squirm in high school, but that I'd wear in full confidence now because I'm not 18 anymore. I feel 23, and I love it.