I see him in other people – the ways his eyes crinkled, the way his hair curled up, the way his pants were frayed. Sometimes I’ll be doing something mundane; I’ll be washing the dishes, or I’ll be drying my hair. And I’ll smell him. I always think of the same two moments. Just these two.
The first is me when I’m young, and he’s visiting. He won’t be staying long and I’ve been waiting so long for him to get here. We’re standing in his room, which is already pretty special. It was my mothers room and it smells of history. Dresses from the 60s, dolls stacked on antique suitcases. He’s pulled out his velcro wallet, some metro tickets fall out. I ask what they are, and he gives me one. It’s been stamped through a machine and it’s useless but it feels like a golden ticket. I hug him and his shirt smells of him, in that very same way that it smells every time he comes. And I wonder briefly in the sort of wonder that only children have, how can he possibly smell the same every time I see him?
But sometimes when I smell him I think of the other memory. I’m in my bedroom. He’s been gone for a while now. It’s sad, surely, but it’s also something you realize you can’t change. My mom brings in a few of his old t-shirts, and asks me if I want to have them. I hold my hands out and take them and stare at them. I remember him wearing them. I remember them folded neatly in his suitcase. I remember them piled up in the laundry. And I smell them in privacy and they smell just like they did when I heard the sound of his velcro wallet open. The same as they smelled when I wrapped my arms around him in thanks. And I fold them neatly in my drawer, stealing some of my old wonder, curious how they could possibly still smell like him. Hoping that they always do.
And when someone gone and that’s all you have left, I suppose it’s quite a lot to have.