the documentation of an addiction

by janedotx7

When I was in seventh grade, my dream perfume was the exact smell of
fresh roses on the branch–a bit of woodiness from the stem, a fresh
greenness reminiscent of apple slices from the leaves, and of course
rose petals: fruity, honeyed, and yet crisp. No store-bought perfume I
knew of could preserve that crispness without causing it to degenerate
into booziness. To achieve this dream perfume, I ripped every rose
petal off of our sad, half-dying bushes that I could, shredded them,
and let them slowly drown to death in a sophisticated formula that
consisted solely of rubbing alcohol. I succeeded in producing a
yellowish, thick slime a snail could have been proud of.

Once I finally started getting an allowance in high school, I bought
some bottles of essential oil–sweet orange, peppermint, geranium, and
vetiver. Rose, good rose, was too expensive. The oils had strained my
tiny budget so much, though, that I never dared use any of them,
thinking that if I couldn’t produce something perfect the first time,
I would just be lighting money on fire. Reasoning that the individual
oils smelled fine, I slathered them on my skin and suffered scented
allergic reactions instead.

My junior year in college, I finally had enough money that I could
spend more than ten dollars at a time without wringing my hands in
despair at my frivolousness. I bought a half-empty bottle of Lalique
Encre Noire from someone whose perfume collection had grown so large
she could no longer house any overnight guests. It was marketed
towards men, back when they still made it. It came in a bottle like a
black ice cube, dark enough that you couldn’t see how much juice was
left unless you held it up to the light. The stopper was a dark cube
of wenge wood, with its own smell like crushed blackberries. The
perfume itself smelled like the earth after a good rain, fresh black
earth washed clean of all decay.

Encre Noir was marvelous, but it didn’t satisfy me. I consulted
Google. I discovered that I could buy sample vials of whatever perfume
I wanted online, and many I didn’t actually want but had only seen
good reviews for, for only three dollars each. In order to take
advantage of flat shipping rates, it seemed most economical to order
up to forty vials each time. My dream of a signature perfume had
acquired multiple personality disorder. I had spicy, jam-sweet
orientals, musty, stuffy chypres, florals that smelled like I had
taken the fresh petals and crushed them in my hands, florals that
smelled like I had left them unmolested, perfumes that smelled like
wood shavings and turpentine, perfumes of bitter coffee and soft
incense, even perfumes that smelled almost like the true rose I had
been searching for all my life–a whole library of scents, and yet it
wasn’t enough.

A funny thing happens when your drawers and shelves are filled with
hundreds of perfumes. Little atoms slip out past the plastic plugging
up their glass houses to form something unique, the same smell no
matter which or how many perfumes I have–a sweet, musky smell, as
soft, warm, and textured as cashmere, as natural as a rose, but not a
rose. If I could smell only one thing for the rest of my life, this
might be it–but thank god, I don’t have to, and I will not!