Of the people I know, I have the weirdest memory.
I remember birthdays very well – but not the important ones so much. Not family members, so I could remind my Mum, or anything useful like that. More like, my ex-ex-boyfriend’s birthday, or a friend’s old registration plate, or exactly what date that great-auntie died and her funeral five days later.
It’s not exactly useful.
But weirder than that, I remember smells very well. Which makes me even weirder because I allow myself to say things like “Oh, is that Diesel, Fuel For Life aftershave? My ex boyfriend used to wear that!” It’s harmless really, but it can cause the odd awkward moment.
There’s a proper name for the smell thing, it’s Olfactory Memory and, according to Wikipedia (look, I researched my degree from there, I may as well research these posts too), it’s a survival thing.
Sometimes, my Olfactory Memory can cause a few problems.
As you’ve possibly read on this blog, I have history with a friend who is an alcoholic. These issues are slowly being resolved. But before this was the case, and before these issues were being faced head on, I’d sometimes smell his aftershave when I was on the Tube. It was Abercrombie and Fitch, popular, and meant that it was quite a common occurrence. One whiff and I’d be back there, in the thick of it. And my brain would go into overdrive and I’d panic. I’d wonder where he was, if he could see me (he’s not a ghost, that was highly irrational) and then I’d panic further. I didn’t want to see him. I couldn’t see him. And the more I worried, the more I’d be able to smell it.
The other is a much softer smell, and one I look forward to catching whenever I can. But it caught me by surprise. Again, on the Tube, before I knew it I was in floods of tears and it took me a second to work out why. I hadn’t smelled this scent in over 18 months. It enveloped me like a hug – the one thing I realised I wanted. My Gran’s perfume on the stranger who was cramped up against me on the Northern line. Grief is a funny thing, because it completely catches you by surprise. You can have gone quite a while without the tears, and something will catch you off-guard. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, I just realised exactly how long it had been since I’d smelled it.
Smells are funny things –they can be comforting, unpleasant, bring up a range of emotions of feelings. They can disguise things you don’t want people to see, or exaggerate things you do. They can trigger memories you didn’t even realise you still had.