Misti and Deb, 1975. San Diego Zoo.

On perfume and permanence

How Mom is still with me after 7 years

Extracting any perfume from the opaque bottle with the sky-blue lid requires patience. Tilt it exactly so, press the silver button and it might deliver a puff of soft citrus and cedar. More days than not now, it demands a half dozen tries or more. It will be gone soon. Maybe tomorrow.

“Do you want this? I can’t stand the smell of it anymore,” said my mother, almost-full bottle in hand and not exactly nailing her sales pitch.

“Uh. I don’t know. I mean…” I answered.

It wasn’t that it was offensive, she explained, at least not to most people. She’d adored the Dolce & Gabanna Light Blue when she’d uncharacteristically treated herself to the department-store scent a few months before.

Now, though, it delivered nausea.

She used to love the taste of Pepsi, too. Eventually, it tasted like dirty pennies. Beer, or even the breathy suggestion of it, turned from pleasure to pest. Sauteed onions? Cook those in someone else’s house, please.

Damn chemo.

After Mom died, my mind fought my heart when it came to the things she had touched. I did not need 11 pairs of thin, white ankle socks. I don’t even wear white socks.

The dish towels her husband took to his parents’ home were vivid and cheerful and reminded me of a vibrant, living bargain hunter instead of a wilted, bone-thin cancer patient who’d left me behind. And so, like a child, I threw a fit and demanded them back. I needed those $2 towels. I can’t explain it exactly, but somehow they felt like air. They felt like her.

With time, the tangible reminders of Mom’s life have become less important. I love it when bohemian-cool women ask about the silver and turquoise ring on my index finger, the one she bought when I snuggled in her womb. I smile when I pull out her collection of antique-store votive holders for a dinner party.

But the weight of those things, it’s getting lighter. During a party a couple years back, one of mom’s prized wall pockets disembarked from its wall and slid to its shattered end. My first reaction was one I learned from her: “Oh well! It’s just a thing. I’m glad everyone’s here and having fun.”

And, so, I’m not quite sure why this cast-off bottle of perfume is getting the better of me this year, the seventh since mom’s death. There’s no particular reason. She didn’t even wear the stuff all that often for the few months she could stomach it.

I do know that missing your mom isn’t something that you get over with time, though the intensity of that hurt does, mercifully, ease. And I know all about how grief is like an ocean with waves that can, without warning, go from predictable and steady to soaring and sinister.

Perhaps the inevitable loss of that little bit of mom sending me on my way each morning has invited a storm.

It’ll pass. Maybe tomorrow.