Today is the forth episode of the collaboration of six bloggers: Portia (A Bottled Rose), Elena (The Plum Girl), Sheila (Alembicated Genie), Daisy (eau là là !), Old Herbaceous (Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities) and Undina (Undina’s Looking Glass).
Most of you probably already know that, but just a quick explanation for the project: once a month one of us selects a word (any part of speech, no guidelines), and we all try to find and describe a perfume association that we come up with. The initial idea was to choose just one perfume, but it was a guideline, not a strict rule – so, anything goes.
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This month’s word is: TASTE
Finally, we’ve got a word that was along the line of what I expected when we were discussing the collaboration. I mean, not this specific word, but the form. In my mind, the words we would be choosing were nouns, singular. Why? Because that was how it was traditionally done for crossword puzzles in my native language. I’ve never got used to the local way of using different word forms, and The New York Times crosswords have never made sense to me. So, it was a noun! Has it made it easier? Nope. Had I known in advance that we’d have this word, I would have saved Angel Taste of Fragrance for today. And it would have been very fitting both to the topic and the occasion of honoring Mugler‘s memory. But I “used” it up already for one of the previous episodes. (Interestingly, Mugler’s Angel was the first perfume that kept popping up in my head in response to each next word offered for the project. Think of it, isn’t it “brave,” “angelic” and “luscious”? And, as the first gourmand, of course, I could make parallels with “taste.”) So, since the simple route wasn’t available any longer, I kept thinking about it, and as the result, I came up with a story that takes a somewhat unexpected twist on the topic. (And you tell me if reading this month’s word you expected anything like that.)
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I don’t remember exactly how young I was: it was during my middle school, age before any dating started (at least customary for that time and place), but with romantic feelings in their pre-blooming phase and the onset of the relationships building. When thinking about this time, I imagine characters from the King‘s book It or the recent TV show Stranger Things. While reading the story below, it is important to remember that we were children/pre-teens.
N. was one grade above me. He wasn’t a bad boy (I’ve never been attracted to those) but rather an artistic type. I remember that he had a good voice and impossibly beautiful brown eyes. I wasn’t interested in him (at that time I was still unrequitedly in love with my classmate), but he started demonstrating some interest in me: I would be catching his gaze at me in the school corridors during the breaks.
Back then and there, you would expect a boy to look away once his glance was “caught,” if he was shy, or a girl to avert her eyes pretending not to notice the attention (a ritual of submissive modesty). N. wasn’t shy. And I’ve never been submissive. So, once I realized that he was staring, I took it as a challenge and stared back. It became a game for the next several months. I don’t remember if we had any other communications, but any day when our scheduled classes happen to be on the same floor, we would engage in the eye “sparring.” Additional points went to the one who didn’t blink first during those encounters. I was still sweet on my classmate, but these silent duels became a part of my daily routine boosting my self-confidence and raising my status among my girlfriends.
After the end of the school year, we had a couple of weeks of strange semi-compulsory activities: children from all classes from one or two grades were bussed to a summer camp outside of the city where we would do some agriculture work for several hours in the morning and then have sports, music and other group activities in the evening. My main romantic interest’s parents managed to excuse him from these exercises, but most of my friends were going to be there, so I didn’t mind going. And I was pleased to find out that N. was also on that trip: our silent matches would continue!
But suddenly something unexpected happened: within a day or two, N. joined a small group (6-7 girls and boys, my class-mates) that we formed at the camp (which was quite unusual since he was older – so, the boys from our group were happy to include him and girls didn’t mind either), then he completely lost any interest in me and switched his full attention to another girl from our group, V. I watched him performing the same routine of watching her attentively, catching her eyes and making sure she notices this. And it was all intensified by the fact that we were spending most of the time together.
I was crushed and confused, both by what was happening and my reaction to it. I knew that I wasn’t romantically interested in him, and going out with him wasn’t in my plans or dreams. But he was my admirer! And suddenly he wasn’t. I was hurting. And the worst part was that saving my pride, I had to hide those feelings. I remember that all I wanted was to get back home or at least to spend some time alone to cry. Ironically, I had so many friends in my class, that I just couldn’t get any time on my own: someone would immediately join me. So, I pretended that nothing had happened and kept spending time in that group with my ex-admirer, V. who had quickly fallen for his charm, and the boys who were clearly impressed by his maturity and bravery to express his feelings. Every evening, we would gather on the porch of one of the cabins where we stayed, play some games, laugh and sing. N. had a great voice. And he would sing with us, but you could tell that he was singing for V. while not taking off his beautiful brown eyes of her. And she looked beautiful and happy. If I’m not mistaken, their relationships progressed to the public hand-holding territory.
And then V. got sick, and her parents took her home several days before the end of the camp. That’s where the next chapter started. I did mention that V. was an artistic type, right? He was publicly suffering in such a way that we all, including me who came to terms with his change of heart, my other girlfriends and our boys, were sympathizing with him and trying to cheer him up. He was sighing, singing sad songs (especially the one that, by coincidence, had the name V. in it, which he previously sang to V.) and even holding a scarf she forgot when leaving. And then, as the oldest of us all, one evening he announced that he needs to drink (to drown his sorrows, I think, though don’t remember). Not only at that age, but for several years after that none of us, most likely, drank anything (unless trying something at home from the parents’ glasses). And of course, there was absolutely no alcohol at the camp. But.
In the country where I grew up, there was a well-known phenomenon of drinking surrogate alcohol. Of course, it was something in which people engaged when they didn’t have other choices (e.g., alcoholics or people in incarceration), and not only for us, children from good families, but in general for the majority of the population, it was something from the marginal subculture. But we all knew about it. So, when N. proudly produced a bottle of the aftershave (I’m not sure why he had it with him – I don’t think he was even shaving yet), none of us was really surprised.
This is not the exact bottle of what he had (his one was blue if I’m not mistaken), but it’s the closest I could find online. Back then it was a hard(er) to get aftershave from Poland, so on its own, it was impressive. I don’t remember what was used instead of a shot glass, I just know that we didn’t drink it from the bottle itself.
I was the only girl in our group who made a sip or two of that blue liquid. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove, but for some reason it was important to me not to blink, so to speak, in that strange game. I had nothing less exotic to compare that WARS aftershave to, but it tasted yucky – about which we all agreed. But we all felt a little proud of being such a badass. And I think it did cheer up N a little.
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Over the next two months of the summer break I completely forgot about N. When we came back to school, I noticed that N. and V. did not have any communications any longer, but I’ve never learned what had happened (if anything). And when during one of the bus trips where, for whatever reason, N. was again a part of our group, we started singing that song, I was watching N. and V.: he was completely nonchalant, and she was obviously hurting. His parents moved soon, so he transferred to another school, and I’ve never met him either as a teenager or adult. I wonder who he grew up to be.
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I had never tried to drink another cologne or perfume since, but I think I still can imagine that taste.