Intimate Seasons

by Tracy J. Roach, SUNY Cortland, March 20, 2008

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The summer smells like having the house to yourself when your parents are out of town. Lingering burning of putrid tobacco, leftover charred cow flesh on the grill and the organic, refreshing smell of new pot yet to be smoked. Sweat, body odor, and stale semen aromas litter his bedroom. My vagina smells exactly like chicken bouillon cubes, which explains why my boyfriend says it tastes salty. The overwhelming smell of chlorine being added to the pool reminded me of new secrets being told to my new boyfriend. His guitar serenading smelt like burnt sienna potential. It was a promise of reverberating strings and eighth notes that tied me to him, like the association of buttery, fluffy mashed potatoes would forever link me to Thanksgiving. His smell, him, would now remind me of the excitement of a new relationship, and later of the comfort I had felt when I smelled his sweaty, dirty, musked hair every morning. We took hot showers together- the pure, clean smell of steam washing away last night’s sins. Followed immediately by gorging ourselves on delicate slices of perfectly triangulated pieces of key lime pie. We sat outside, near the lake, taking in aromas of greasy fried things and cedar mold surrounding wooden posts in the water.

The after-sex smell is one of safety, of new familiarity. I feel content being contained within the rectangle of his twin bed. We ignore the chaos outside of that rectangle and focus on each other’s bodies, as if we didn’t have time to look at them before we had sex. “I’m just going to sit here and examine your body,” I say, running my fingers gently up and down his thin frame. I try to pinpoint the smell of us- our smells mingling together, lingering in every facet of his body. All I can smell is comfort. Vulnerability, but with a stable sense of security. I rest my head in the notch above his hip bone. My head rests in this indentation while I smell his skin, delicate and intoxicating. “Old pennies and Clorox bleach.” Adam insists that is what semen smells like. But I think it smells oddly contained, like the quiet after a gunshot. I rub my greasy hair over him while I smell every inch of skin, hoping to find a new way to describe the safety his smell brings me. But my orgasm has left me numb, a time where I don’t worry about finding the exact words. I lie next to him and place my head on his chest, knowing no words have to be said. But I say them anyway: “I love you.”

Adam always had resonating cigarettes or fresh, fizzing beer on his breath. Beer kisses were tolerated; cigarette ones were not. Back at his parents’ house, ivy entangled the fence just as Adam’s disgusting, smoky smell surrounded his coat and clothes. I made him get into bed naked, even if we were only going to watch tv. He was fine with that until the winter months. Even the smell of my fresh, stainless sheets and ridiculous amount of blankets wouldn’t lure him into bed. At least not without long johns on. And, even if you’re only 25, long johns smell like generations of old men, working hard in cedar cabins, isolated from everything except their slow process of going crazy. The lack of light had a depressing effect on both of us, and sadness- unlike salty tears or bad love poems- had no distinct smell. Only a feeling of relying too much on one another, building a contained cocoon of misery.

Adam’s body in winter is often far away. Some nights he doesn’t cuddle, and shifts his frailty to the very edge of our bed. Distance entangles us like ice encases branches during a storm. I stop playing with his hair and he stops holding my hand. The cold air outside becomes a thick coldness between us. Saying I love you fades until neither one of us can remember whose turn it is. It becomes a chore like shoveling the driveway until your fingers are numb.

The blanket of snow that covers the ground suffocates our words. Little pockets of anger coil in ourselves because of the silence. When winter has been quiet and pure for too long, storms surround. When people have been silent for too long, anger no longer has a place to go, and forces its way out in bursts of futility. “Maybe if you stopped buying cigarettes every week, we could afford to go out more often.” Adam’s response would be masked by a thick fog of smoke coming out of his mouth. His eyes shifted back and forth, like a car swerving on the ice.

Winter was unpredictable. Its façade of melting snow would soon turn into a hail storm. But Adam just stayed quiet, and this kind of quiet was much scarier than any fight we could have.

As it became a little warmer, Adam got happier. As it became a little lighter, I got happier. We both laughed when my friend sent me play dough scented cologne for my birthday. It smelled like freedom and flexibility; the ability to create without judging. I was hoping the new promises of spring would reignite our ability to love without judging. Geese flying back to us marked the return of our affection. When I said I love you as if I was lying on a beach, Adam took my hand and kissed it gently.

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