Obsessions, compulsions, dislikes – We all have them in one form or another. Some people hide them, some people flaunt them. To whatever degree they are, they are often the reasons we act and react the way we do. When an occasion presents itself I like to connect the dots from my erratic often neurotic behavior to the origin of its cause.
In this case it had to do with a wool sweater.
Caught in a sudden downpour I had run three long blocks dodging tree limbs and puddles figuring I would get less wet if I got home quickly. If anything, I made matters worse. My wool sweater, worn on what started out as a clear cool day in Miami, was now soaked with steamy rain and perspiration.
“I stink. Don’t come near me until I get rid of this sweater and take a shower,” I said in response to Stewart’s outstretched arm.
“I don’t smell anything bad. Why do you think you stink?” he asked, inhaling deeply.
“You’re oblivious to odors. You have a deviated septum,” I snarkily replied, turning the shower spigot on full force before giving Stewart a quick peck on the cheek without getting too close.
Under a steady stream of hot water, I obsessively lathered up with a mix of fruity scents. I rinsed, and repeated my cleansing routine ending with a cool splash before reaching for my towel. Slightly damp, I layered my fragrances with dusting powder, moisturizing cream and matching eau de toilette. I applied spring-fresh deodorant, brushed my teeth and wrapped myself in a lightweight terrycloth bathrobe.
In the midst of blow-drying my hair, Stewart’s question hit me, his question being, why would I ever think that I stink? My hair-blowing ritual gave me five minutes to connect the dots.
It was mid-October, shortly after I turned twelve. The morning started out with below average temperatures, a windy 49 degrees. I wore my charcoal gray pleated skirt with a long sleeved white man-tailored shirt and dark blue tights with penny loafers.
“Put a sweater on under your coat,” my mother told me before I left for school that day. I selected my favorite teal blue mohair pullover.
As the day progressed the temperatures rose and by 4:00 p.m. when school let out it was an unexpected balmy 70 degrees. Waiting for the bus, carrying my heavy book bag in one hand and my coat in the other I was taken by surprise when the one overhead cloud suddenly burst. At the end of my forty-minute bus ride home, in addition to being drenched, I was overheated. As soon as I walked into my apartment, I hung up my coat and headed to my room to take off my wet clothes. My mother stopped me midway.
“What stinks? I just got a whiff of the worst odor. Can’t you smell it?” she challenged, and ordered me to take off my sweater and give it to her.
My mother was smell-obsessed. Anyone she associated with malodorous perspiration, wet wool, stale urine, bad breath, open sores, heavy spices, fried fish, or dirty old clothes, were people she avoided and debased.
So I braced for the worst as my mother put my sweater to her nose and wrinkled her face with disgust. She handed me her deodorant spray and ordered me to take a shower. When I came out of the bathroom, squeaky clean, she unceremoniously tossed my favorite sweater into the garbage. She didn’t mention this incident again.
A half century later, certain as to why I was smell-obsessed, I counted the time I wasted taking over-long showers and calculated the money I spent on expensive fragrances that lost their aroma after the first spray. Then, I laid THIS wool sweater out to dry.