You smell like a thousand hammers pounding in my head

You got ready to come to work this morning. You put on your carefully chosen outfit and styled your hair. You put just the right amount of makeup on to fade your lines and give your face the appearance of the well-rested. You finished your ensemble with a generous spray of your favorite perfume. Confident, you walk down the halls of our mutual workplace, thinking everyone is taking note of how nice you look and how good you smell. To you, you smell clean and feminine. You don’t. You smell like knives, tearing through my sinuses. You smell like a thousand hammers pounding in my head. You smell like suffocation. I’m pretty sure I might die.

I always know the moment you walk in to work when you’re wearing your signature scent. I know because my eyes instantly turn into flowing pools of salted tears. I know because my nose begins to itch, then burn as all of its inner workings begin to swell in irritation. My skin feels like a thousand tiny pins are pricking away at it, and my head feels like it might explode. It feels like there’s a giant rock lying on my chest, weighing me down heavily so that my only breaths are short and punishing.

It doesn’t matter the number of memos that have been sent out by supervisors and HR regarding perfumes. It clearly doesn’t apply to you, because you smell good. To you, and to others that don’t experience allergies, you probably do smell good. To me, you smell like pain. To me, you smell like a plastic bag tied tight around my neck, covering my mouth and my nose, slowly suffocating me in the heavy air. To me, you smell like I won’t be able to breathe when I go to bed tonight.

I want to tell you what your perfume does to me, but I know your history. I know you’ll take it personally, like I’m telling you that you stink. I promise, you don’t stink, but you smell like suffering. I guess you don’t see the correlation between the days you wear your scent and the days I’m sneezing at my desk, or the following days when I’m miserable, battling a vicious cycle of being unable to breathe then being overwhelmed by a running nose and hacking cough.

I wish I could make you understand. Other people in the office don’t get it, either. They think I’m being dramatic. They think I keep catching a cold. They use examples like my love of vanilla candles as a way to “prove” I’m not allergic to smells or perfumes. Perhaps if I could trap them all in a small plastic bubble and stuff cotton in their noses while forcing them to chop onions, they may get an idea of how it feels. Perhaps you would understand, too, and you would stop wearing your perfume.

Ah, there you go again, leaving your scent trail behind you. You think you smell wonderful, but, to me, you smell like tissues.

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