I’ve written many “letters not sent” in my life. The one that follows is from a NaNoWriMo story I started writing about two years ago. I think. It’s in the jumbled mess that is my spiral-bound notebook…
To Hannah, Nine Days After Your 40th Birthday
I remembered your birthday, Hannah. I am cursed to remember your birthday until the day I die.
Thankfully, you are a vague memory these days. A spontaneous recollection whenever I see a red Toyota truck drive by, or see a calico cat sitting in an apartment window. Mostly, I remember you by smell. You rarely wore perfumes, or used scented soaps, so you always smelled of you alone.
And that’s a difficult thing to pin down, isn’t it? How do we smell when we don’t decorate ourselves with perfumes? What is a human smell, besides salty? Besides “vaguely of seawater?” So, I’d always say that you smelled like “Hannah,” and I know that no one else has ever, or will ever smell exactly like you.
And some days, the right combination of molecules combine in the breeze and in my nose and my brain immediately pulls up your file. I recall everything in an instant. What songs you’d sing when you were happy. How your voice would soften when you were angry. The arc of your arm that night you threw your engagement ring at me because of some perceived slight. How you adored your cat, but hated my parents. All these stabbing memories, triggered by a random amalgam in the air around me.
What I hate more than these flashing memories is that the whiff of “Hannah” in the breeze ignites a sudden panic that I’ll bump into you in the street, or in the park, or in my hallway. My brain convinces me that because I smell this smell, you must surely be near. And then? What would I say to you that wouldn’t give away the fact that I hate myself for still caring about you? Every stammered word would be evidence, convicting me of loving you still, in spite of the way you tore out my heart over breakfast on the 20th of April, fifteen years ago.
But it’s always just your random smell. You never appear. You left, and I never saw or heard from you again.
This disjointed letter has no chance of finding you, so I’m going to print it and burn it. Maybe you’ll smell the smoke of copier paper and toner in the breeze wherever you are, and think of me. I doubt it.