Somewhere in the back of a closet or in some middle layer of a landfill in Buffalo there exists a half-full (yes, I’m choosing optimism) bottle of some kind of Armani perfume I wore during that one year and never again since. I can see the bottle if I concentrate really hard. It is shaped like a sideways oval and it has a simple top to it and after a while I just kept it in the medicine cabinet there so I could stop worrying that my perfume would explode mid-flight or mid-eight-hour-drive and saturate every pair of jeans I owned that made my ass look cute. I also kept q-tips, deodorant, lotion that smelled like verbena, and a toothbrush in that medicine cabinet and, towards the end, a hair dryer too. By the time it all fell apart, I could have moved into that bathroom. By the time it all fell apart, I didn’t want any semblance of a literal reminder of the time when I was happy.
All of the items I lost could be replaced easily besides the lotion. That specific kind of lotion can only be purchased at one of the Montage hotels and mine came from my last trip to Laguna Beach. I learned to surf during one long day, and my upper chest pulsated with muscles I didn’t even know existed in the first place and after I took a scalding hot shower, I stood on my balcony and looked around the resort during that gorgeous magic hour and the light danced across the bluffs near the ocean and I felt like maybe I was glowing, lit from within. I wanted to find a way to make every day feel like how I felt when I stayed at the Montage, so I bought bushels of their soaps and their lotions and I would exfoliate myself with a Montage loofah on a stick.
It never felt the same as it did when I was there.
Of all the things I happily left in Buffalo because I assumed I’d be coming back, the only thing that really hurt to lose – besides the man I thought I wanted to marry – was this bag filled with used books that I’d purchased during my last visit. I can’t even remember what books they were now, but I know most were about Film history and the rise of some of the studios and I considered packing them into my already bursting suitcase on my last morning there, but I’d had to sit on the suitcase just to get it to sort of close and even that didn’t work so finally I had to lie across the thing completely while the guy who would morph from love to stranger in just a few short weeks helped me zipper the thing and then he leaned over to kiss me gently on the lips before helping me to my feet.
There’s much I have lost over the years due to breakups, but I try to always feel as sanguine as possible about it all. Like a force field, I think we all leave something behind and sometimes those things are tangible.
I once left these fantastic frilly undies in Buffalo, but that was pure accident. I wouldn’t normally wear anything but a thong, but I saw them in a catalogue and they were so feminine and so flirty and I knew they would go perfectly with this one black bra I have that has ruffles on it and I thought of how I could put on that little set of lingerie while he was at work and then greet him at the front door later that night in only the barest of clothing. And I tried to do just that, but when I went searching through my bag for those frilly undies, they were nowhere to be found and I remember taking everything out of that bag and searching even through the pockets where I usually kept things like jewelry and just-in-case bladder infection painkillers and I couldn’t find them so I threw on a see-through piece of lingerie instead and sprawled across the bed and waited for my sweet boyfriend to come home.
A week later I received a phone call asking me if I was missing a pair of “fancy looking” underwear because his friend’s dog was over his house and the dog disappeared into his bedroom for a little while and then came trotting out into the living room with my underwear clamped in his mouth. Seems that during my dump-out-my-bag moment, the underwear had disappeared beneath the bed and they were eventually excavated by a brown and white Shih Tzu.
“They’re clean,” I told him over the phone. “I have never worn them.”
“Will you wear them for me next time?” he asked – and I could hear the smile in his voice but I was still momentarily thrown that a strange dog had located my frilly undergarments.
“Will you wash them for me first?” I asked.
About a year later, I received a text from that guy asking if I wanted him to send me the stuff I’d left at his house, a place I’d once believed I’d be living soon. Getting the text was jarring. We didn’t communicate all that often -- and we wouldn’t until I was completely over him -- but I would have dreams sometimes where I would hear the distinctive ping of a text message coming in on an iPhone and in the dream the text would be from him. I would wake up feeling full of hope and then, right in the exact next minute, I would feel a shame-filled hopelessness because I understood when my eyes finally opened that it had all just been an unconscious illusion.
I used to also dream that I had ended up in Buffalo for some reason on a weekday and I would try to get a hold of him and I could never get my text to send. Either my fingers turned numb and couldn’t type out the message or I would have no service and the message would not connect, but the dreams were frustrating and terribly sad and one day I just decided that I couldn’t care anymore. And that’s the day I got the text from him asking me if I wanted my stuff back.
My response was brief: No thanks. Just throw it out.
His response seemed fueled by surprise: Are you sure? There’s a lot here. I know this might be weird, but it is your stuff.
I’ve existed without all of it for over a year, I typed back with a racing heart. I definitely don’t need or want it now.
I guess it’s that I just couldn’t imagine getting a package filled with remnants of another life. And besides, I had moved on from wearing that Armani perfume and I couldn’t even smell the Montage lotion without gagging anymore and I was disappointed to lose the books I’d once been so excited to have located, but I decided to just let it all go.
You lose enough in a relationship; what’s a half a bottle of perfume in the grand scheme of things?
But this kind of thing has happened to me before and it will probably happen to me again. Being a little bit of a disorganized mess, I tend to leave a bunch of shit in my wake and it’s never on purpose. Where I have been, you will find evidence of my existence and it usually includes some or all of the following:
· Several mugs or glasses or paper Starbucks cups that are half-filled and have the unmistakable tattoo of my lipstick along the rim. It’s been bad habit for years (decades?) that my nightstand will be loaded with beverages and not one of them will have been consumed entirely.
· Simple black hair bands. It’s kind of a crutch, I guess. I work really hard to get my hair to look perfect when it’s down, but I always need to know that I can put it up if I need to, and there’s rarely a need as great as when it’s time to go down on the guy you care about and you can either keep trying to remove your own hair from your mouth while you’re busy – or you can fling it up into a blowjob ponytail and call it a very good day.
· Sometimes I leave a trail of bobby pins behind and that’s something that’s confused more than one guy. “Do you even wear these in your hair?” one guy asked me while holding out an entire palm filled with them. “I have never seen you wear one. Not ever!” He seemed mystified and I had to explain that I wear them when I put my hair totally up during days of insane and crushing humidity and I use those handy little pins to keep the springy curls that protrude from the base of my scalp under any kind of control I am able to muster.
· Books. I hate leaving books behind because I am one of those people who views my display of books as actual relics of my past and a literal and visual representation of the subjects I decided to care about – and still I can’t stop myself from leaving books everywhere. Sometimes I bring them to someone’s house because I’m currently reading them and sometimes I bring them over because I want to share something that matters to me, but the fact remains that I have lost countless books and it devastates me every time. Some of them can be replaced. I never should have lent that one guy the book The Dirt – the biography that actually managed to prove that, no matter how salacious and libertine-minded we believed the boys of Motley Crue to be, in reality they were farworse than that – but I did lend it out and I figured that I could always just go buy another copy if I felt the loss too completely. But though I liked seeing that black book on my shelf – a published portrait of my middle school pseudo-metal days brought recklessly into the present – it didn’t infuriate me that the book was gone. The times where the loss of books hurts is when it’s a book I’ve fully made mine, and by that I mean that I’ve written inside of it and annotated some passages and underlined some key things that mattered to me when I read it. I seriously hate leaving those behind and I should create a new rule for myself that my books should never be allowed to leave my house and I should make that decree as forceful as not allowing a Gremlin to eat after midnight.
· I’ve lost a few movies along the way, and very little makes me happier than my movie collection. The world is changing and DVDs are no longer necessary for a fan of movies or for someone who teaches them – the ubiquitous nature of Netflix and Amazon has changed how movies become instantly available, but my movie collection really does cause me to smile and when one goes missing, I like to ask the others to join me in a prayer for the one we have lost. The last lost movie was Meatballs, that Bill Murray comedy about sleepaway camp that I brought over to the house of a guy I was seeing for a few months. It was during the days I just figured he was quiet and before the days when I finally realized he just literally had nothing to say. I finally ran for my sanity and when he contacted me recently to ask if I wanted my movie back, I told him I’d already replaced it and that he should keep it as a parting gift.
· There’s probably going to be something in the makeup family left behind somewhere. Maybe it’ll be a lip balm on a counter or the smudge of mascara on a pillow, but I will leave something colorful behind and it’s never intentional.
I’ve just always been the kind of person who leaves things in her unorganized path. I’m pretty sure that once I left a pair of shoes at someone’s house. I didn’t end up going home barefoot; I’d brought flip flops with me and didn’t realize my sky-high wedges were not in the bag I brought home for a full day. And it always seems that I instantly need the very item I have just left behind, but I think that’s just a way for the universe to try to get me to behave a little more responsibly.
The tangible stuff is easy to replace. The harder stuff is what cannot clearly be articulated to yourself or to another person. I think about the men who have existed for a while in my home and about how they left some of their essence behind and how I feel it the most when I’m brushing my teeth or making coffee and I can almost see their silhouettes reclining calmly against the door but when I turn to look for it again there is just empty space.
The truth is that I miss very few people in my life. I might have valued them while we shared time and laughter, but I am capable of moving on and I keep the thoughts of them somewhere inside of me and I only break those thoughts out sometimes. It seems a far more fair way for me to live, but it almost seems as though I have programmed myself and that the forgetting is far more deliberate than it is organic and I know it even as it’s happening.
This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened. Those words are from an early season of Mad Men, and Don said them to Peggy when he visited her in the hospital after she secretly gave up her baby for adoption. And I’m not certain that you can run from anything, but those words hit me like a sucker-punch right in the temple and they rattled the solidified thoughts in my head and I hate that I can look to a fictional narcissist for guidance, but Don Draper was right. You can eliminate things from your life and people too – and it will shock you at how much it never happened.
But maybe the only way to keep that self-imposed denial going is to remove the evidence – all of it – and nothing triggers a memory like a scent and that’s why I will not spritz even the tiniest amount of Armani perfume over the delicate skin of my wrist ever again in my entire life. I guess I just consider the changing of perfumes to be my very own form of cosmetically cosmic closure.