It has been eight months since I lost my sense of smell.
There are certainly moments when I am positive it will never come back. My olfactory neurons seem to aggressively advertise their stagnant growth with silence.
I can clearly imagine myself at eighty-five, stooped and wrinkled, hair white as snow, baking cookies with my young granddaughter. Right before we take them out of the oven - golden brown, glistening pools of melted chocolate – I’ll lean towards the small girl and say in my creaky old voice, “When I was a little girl, about your age, the smell of baking cookies was my favorite. It always reminded me of Christmas; it smelled like school vacation. I can only imagine it now.” I will have a far-off, nostalgic gleam in my eye. And the little girl will just smile at me, confused, her batty old grandmother.
The fact that I actually do imagine myself (with vivid dexterity) as a gray-haired grandmother is slightly disturbing. So is my apparent penchant for wild exaggeration. Because the truth of the matter, when I take a small step back and view my sense of smell with a hint of reality, is that things are getting better. Slowly, almost so sluggishly it is impossible to tell if I am hallucinating.
I got a whiff of Spring the other day. I walked outside of my apartment building and most decidedly, concretely, could smell Spring. I couldn’t put my finger on any of the scent-details that were once so familiar - the freshly cut grass, perfumed budding flowers, a sweet warmth in the breeze – but I knew they were there, hiding under the inexperience of my regenerating olfactory neurons. The strength and depth of smell is not there; it was a simple baseline of Spring. But it was something, something concrete.
Beyond the distinctively sharp, recognizable scents I have had back for a while (chocolate, cinnamon, citrus, laundry, herbs, wine), I am now gaining a general sense of “scent.” Unknown and indescribable. But, I think, infinitely more hopeful. Even lacking the subtleties and nuance that give scent a name – there are smells, constantly. I find myself walking into a room and with a slam, my nose registers something. Something indefinable and weak. But it is something. I will say, confused, “What does it smell like in here?” And whomever I am with often looks equally confused, sniffing, and says ‘I don’t know… nothing much.”
I had almost forgotten that there is scent everywhere. It is easy to forget the universality and continuance of smell when you have it. The subtleties are so common they are literally unnoticeable. Every room, everywhere, has an individual smell. Temperature, too; warm has a smell, as well as cold and wet. Their baseline scents are different than their physical feeling. And the difficult thing for me at the moment is that I don’t have the words to describe them. They are registering in my nose with such a weak hum that it is more of a feeling, an idea, than a smell. But at the same time, I know that it is the beginning step to a full scent palate.
The only way I can describe these new delicate smell-ideas is to say that they make me feel alive. It is surprising how quickly I forgot that these universal scents ever existed, as I myself have existed in an odorless world. But the memory, however feeble the actual smells coming back, gives me the momentum to step out of black and white and into a world of color. Or at least sepia toned. Small steps, moving in the right direction. There are hints of a newfound vibrancy lurking everywhere.
On another note, it has been one year today since I began writing My Madeleine. The past year has been the most difficult and, simultaneously (the realization has been slowly dawning on me, though, I suppose that is another story in itself) the most beautiful of my life. I am very happy to have documented a great deal of the change here; the process of writing through it all has helped me in an infinite number of ways. So thank you, all, for reading.