The Truth Board

A Blog by the Editors of
The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lemony-Freshness is All in Your Head

Surfacing from a night’s spell of sleep, I awake to smell. I smell the scent of room, a pleasant mixture of dust and bed and books and clothes. Faintly, the smell of incense still hangs onto the walls. As I turn to my side, I nuzzle into a familiar scent emanating from skin a shade of clay divinely smoothed onto a soft, feminine frame. As sunlight moves into the perfect angle, a million shades of gold and brown in her hair are illuminated, sliding down messy curls moving outward and downward and into her pillow. The scent of rich, natural oils from her hair saturate her bed. Her face is stiff with slumber until eyes and mouth open slowly at once, greeting me with their focus. The honey held in her eyes spill onto lips; juicy and sweet pressed against mine. I am engulfed by scents. They trigger a lifetime’s worth of experience. There is no freshness here, but rather a thick heritage of recollection. Brings a whole new meaning to having a dirty mind.

The other day I was cleaning my house, a habit that becomes more conducive to my schedule the more homework I have due. Grabbing my invaluable companion, a bottle of Windex, I paused and evaluated my relationship to this particular sense and the invention of “clean.”

The smell of clean is manufactured; the absence of odor really occurs nowhere in nature. Lemons smell like lemons, not lemony-freshness. But our compulsion to rid ourselves of smell is human in a way. After all, scent is the strongest sense tied to memory and can nag more fervently than any sight or sound. We can close our eyes and muffle our ears, but scents invade our bodies, pushing identities of substances into our minds us until we are forced to acknowledge why we know this smell. Scars of certain times remain tied with their aroma.

I can still feel the sensations of smell as though they have lingered in my nostrils since we first came into contact. If I try hard, I can close my eyes and inhale sharply, remembering what my childhood smelled like. Hospital and Big Red gum. I am in my living room, where a deep ocean blue dyes the carpet that stretches across the floor. My ocean, I call it. The door opens, and in comes my mom, scrubs still on. She hugs me, smacking the gum loudly, sloppily, talking through these scents, sending the messages with a hint of cinnamon that for years was too strong for my mouth to enjoy.

I inhale again and smell later-learned scents of Windex and Febreeze, like I had spilled it all over my mother’s house. Prints of light blue flowers float gently downward on the evenly spread blanket I lift and let fall across my mother’s bed. I sighed in rhythm with this movement, this ritual. When my mom was upset, I would find this smell of clean and douse our house in it. My mission was to save her from the grief of memories. Maybe she would feel fresher, not anchored to the scents of debt and loneliness and a world she saw as hostile. Could I make life neat for her, rid her of scents of unwanted, unpleasant memories? Could I scrub away the chaos of history bonded to the collections of smells warranting attention?

In the English language, “clean” is a loaded word. It speaks to absence, often the absence of negative things. Clean cut, clean conscious, clean record, clean slate… We wipe our hands clean of problems, and consume to breathe clean air and water. But when did we decide to assign these meanings to notions of humanity? Is the ideology of clean really attainable? What do lemons have to do with the absence of dirt? We assign shortcuts to these ideas… essentially, that’s what language is. But I cheer for the underdogs of language, the lepers of labels. I feel bad for the natural world. Dirt was here first. As we live our lives, do our brains not become dirty with memory? Is love not the work of becoming rich with the dirt of each other? Do spices that rush out of opened cabinets not remind of us food that makes our mouth water?

Clearly, there is value in these sensations, what fascinates me is how we organize them, how strongly we recall them. I can’t take a picture of summer, but I know when I smell it. Summer smells sticky hot, the kind of heat that makes you sweat before you dry yourself off post-shower. It smells like 9 in the morning, when wind blows through my window already thick with scents of trees, baked in Midwest summer heat. I will leave you with words from American vocalist and actress Ethel Waters, words about smells that, to me, are better than any smell of the absence of life.

“Nothing can beat the smell of dew and flowers and the odor that comes out of the earth when the sun goes down.”

Your weekend warrior,



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