I originally wrote this Sept. 18, 2008, in about fifteen minutes. Back when entries were easy for me to write.
Words are coming back to me gradually, but I figured it was only fair to share a little something about the other side of my family, even though it's old, after airing out grievances with the other on Monday. The song remains the same.
We are all about equal opportunity here.
A tall, slender black man boarded the bus yesterday with three kids. They looked just like him; the four of them were practically joined at the hip until they split up to find seats near one another on the bus. Dad stayed at the front to pay their fares then walked toward them, his watchful eye taking inventory of the family. He stepped into the space by the bus' back door, just in front of my seat, and I was hit with a wave of musky cologne in the breeze his body created.
We always gave my dad cologne on holidays. It's such a dad gift. He always joked that all he wanted was socks and underwear, but I guess men's fragrance got dumped into that cliché as well. He had just as many bottles of cologne as my mom did perfume; he never seemed to run out, but we always bought him more. I tried to remember, yesterday on the bus, being enveloped in his smell — freshly showered, groomed and suited — when he hugged me before leaving for work in the morning. But I draw a blank when I look for positive recollections of him. (The one true memory I have of our daily home life? His mock groans lamenting the smell of hot peanut butter when we'd spread it on our English muffins at breakfast.)
This is the kind of thing I always wish I could have held onto after the divorce, totally intangible but comforting memories that could bring a smile to my face at unexpected moments. I don't have those for my own father, but for some reason, I was affected by the smell of that man on the bus, a stranger I'd never met but whose heavy, fatherly scent seemed familiar to me.
I see my own dad exclusively on holidays now. My sister and I make the drive to Atchison, once during the Thanksgiving holiday and once over Christmas, and spend a few hours at his house. Eating together and making conversation that attempts to hide the fact that we almost never talk anymore. In the master bathroom, there's a shiny tray that holds 10 or 15 cologne bottles, including a bottle of Victoria's Secret Very Sexy for Men I bought him years ago at Christmas. It's my favorite.
I wonder if he even uses it. I imagine a thin layer of dust settling over the entire tray. My red bottle, or the jaunty Nautica with the screw-on top and a sailboat printed on the glass, or the preppy Polo bottle obviously left over from his days as an upper-middle-class suburbanite.
Because in all the times I've seen him in the 10 years since my parents were divorced, I've just never noticed. A lot has changed in a decade. And there are so many other things that comfort me more now than the smell of a cologne-drenched absentee father ever would.