To eulogize the dead past

I don’t know what possessed me after my shower this morning, but I went to the bathroom cupboard and squeezed a spray of Tweed perfume onto my wrists and the nape of my neck. From a bottle that has stood half empty these past several years. 

A yearning to go back in time perhaps to the days when I wore Tweed often. An old-fashioned scent and harder to come by than ever before, hidden among the cheap perfume casts offs at Priceline. 

Probably only crazy old folks like me still wear Tweed along with the likes of Charlie and Opium, those scents from the seventies and eighties, that I once loved.

 They remind me of my younger days. The Tweed as far back as my childhood. 

I remember an advertisement from Women’s Weekly or some such, where a Cary Grant look alike walks past an unknown woman, hair pulled back tight in a black bun from her white forehead, and her shoulders covered in a cream coloured trench coat. 

Each walks past the other in opposite directions, and he, with a smile on his face, turns back to speak to her.

She turns back to listen, 

‘Aren’t you wearing Tweed? The speech bubble above the man’s head reads. And she responds with an enigmatic smile.

When I was a child this struck me as the most romantic recognition ever. Man meets woman across a waft of perfume.

These days I see it as plain old creepy. The patriarchy at work.

How times change? Even so, my desire to wear Tweed prevailed throughout my thirties and forties and even into my fifties. 

My signature scent.  If anything, I liked to be consistent. 

More recently, I’ve met a woman who travels under the weight of a different perfume. You can smell her coming towards you. In an understated way. And her car reeks of patchouli, lavender, a mix of mint and rose. 

She uses natural oils, she tells me, mixed fresh from individual essences every morning, and excludes anything commercial or manufactured. 

We went on a writing retreat together and spent time exploring the products available at Dindi Naturals in a place called Yarck. 

Why not smell of the natural earth if you must smell of anything at all, beyond your own natural perfume, of human body, preferably washed recently enough? 

So, I pushed my Tweed to the back of the cupboard till this morning when an ear worm in my head, worked its way into my consciousness during the shower.

Gilbert O’Sullivan, ‘Alone again, naturally’ pitched me back to the days when a man sang of his grief and suicidality, after being jilted at the altar. 

The thought left me longing for the good old days when things seemed simpler.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea of a such a time is a fantasy only. The good old days were every bit as complicated as today, only they can seem simpler with the benefit of hindsight, and our tendency to eulogize the dead past. 

If I knew then what I know now, I’d do it differently. Avoid the same mistakes. 

And I might never have taken to wearing Tweed, if I can blame Tweed for anything.

As a then non-smoker, I might not have been seduced at the sight of my husband, before he was my husband, smoking Gitane cigarettes and thinking to myself at the ripe old age of twenty-three that it looked cool. 

It took until my first pregnancy to give up and even though I still dream of smoking cigarettes and once held onto the idea that if a Gilbert O’Sullivan moment hit me, I could always take up smoking again.

I have not smoked these past 37 years and I doubt I will ever take it up again. 

But unlike some reformed smokers who can’t abide the fact there are those who continue this habit, I enjoy a vicarious whiff of smoke whenever I walk past a smoker. 

The memory of how it felt when I inhaled that long draft into my lungs and the adrenalin pull of pleasure it gave me with its false sense of clarity.

Even as, at the time I also believed I was turning my pink lungs into a red bloody black akin to my father’s lungs, the way they were when he died after several decades of smoking three packets a day, Craven A filter tipped. That was, until emphysema stopped him in his tracks. 

They say you can shed the effects of smoking from your body if you give up soon enough, but the memories hang in there. 

Now when I pass a smoker and catch a whiff, I breathe it in like a secret I must not let out.

My longing to return.

My mind thrills to the synchronicity of the good, bad and downright smelly, in these links  between a whiff of Tweed and that Cary Grant moment of misogyny with cigarette smoke and blackened lungs. 

And Gilbert O’Sullivan is still alive it seems, and despite being ditched at the altar in his song. It looks like he’s happily enough married with at least two daughters, or so Google tells me from a Japanese you tube clip of yesteryear. 

The song is fictional, too. Though better to believe it’s true.  

It feeds our empathic response. Mostly.  

And I’m still wearing tweed, still dreaming of smoking cigarettes and caring less and less about the after effects of my smell. 

Behind the couch

I came of age career wise under the weight of psychoanalytic thinking where your internal world was the richest place imaginable and although there might be things happening to you in your external world, those things only mattered in so far as they could be viewed through the majesty or horror of your inner world. 

That’s why as an aspiring trainee therapist I longed for the day when I would feel brave enough to suggest to the people who came to see me for help that they rest their heads on my couch, their eyes hidden from my view as I sat in a chair behind them, rather like my analyst did when I began to see her in the mid-eighties, an experience of which I was terrified, until I first tried it myself.

Once on the couch, I could not resist that space.

I could lie there on my back, close my eyes and fire away from the depths of my mind, whatever thoughts or feelings came to me, knowing that Mrs Milanova was behind me listening to my every word and trying to make sense of it all for and with me. 

I could not see her as I lay on her couch. I could hear her breathing and on those few occasions when she snorted loudly into her handkerchief to blow her nose, I was indignant.

I could not see her to anticipate the sound, to me like geese honking. I’ve been sensitive to this ever since.  

When I’m seated behind the couch, listening to the thoughts of another, I feel some pressure to keep those bodily noises – the inevitable sneeze, the occasional grumbling stomach to a minimum, even as I know my body’s gyrations are normal and inevitable and part of the quality of being human – under control. 

Apart from her nose blowing, Mrs Milanova’s words and noises, tended to soothe me, even the shuffling of her shoes on the floor. Not being able to see her made it possible for me to say things I would never dare to say face to face. 

If I had looked into her eyes, I would have needed to get some measure of what was going on there inside of her. But out of sight on the couch was not out of mind, at least not out of my mind.

I could treat her like the parent I never had, one entirely dedicated to me, at least for the fifty minutes of every day when I saw her. 

A precious time, one I came to value above all other times. A time when I could be centre of attention even as I spent much of my time talking about and thinking about the others in my life. There were other times when I worried about Mrs Milanova and whether she was okay with the terrible things I said. 

She taught me to speak the unspeakable. 

For instance, even as an adult when my babies were little I talked to them of ‘breaking wind’.

The word ‘fart’ like other expressions of bodily activity bothered me to the point I could hear people say the word and I’d blush. 

When my third daughter was six or seven, the age when everything toilet wise is fascinating, the age when kids’ insults stretch to expressions like poo-head and bum-bum, she took a fancy to a poem my husband – who did not suffer from my squeamishness in relation to the word fart –  recited for her amusement:

‘Here I sit in silent bliss

Listening to the trickling piss

Now and then a fart is heard

Followed by a plopping turd.’

My daughter wrote down these words in her best handwriting and attached the verse to her bedroom door where I saw it daily and often enough to have it embedded in my memory and confident enough to recite it during one of my sessions with Mrs Milanova.

We talked then about my fears of bottoms and bodies and other things to me unmentionable.

After that day I could say the word ‘fart’ with equanimity. It had lost its shameful aura.

All this evolved through the painful process of coming into myself.

Of getting beyond a feeling I experienced often during those first few visits to Mrs Milanova, when I felt like a slug, a black slimy creature with no skin who walked up the curving path to her house for session after session to tell her about the horrors of my internal world.

In so doing, I grew a human skin, which I wear today even though it’s not a perfect skin and cannot fully help me against the ailments I describe living in a world where there’s real scarcity and imagined scarcity, in a world where people are persecuted by their fears of not having enough to the point they are cruel to others more needy than them, cruel to the point of barbaric, and my heart breaks down into small fragments of grief.

If only we could share more and not worry so much about whether only we will survive. Not if it means we hurt one another with our disregard.

Unlike Mrs Milanova who brought me back to life with her loving interest and regard.