April 1, 2014
Underneath her full-length fur coat, my ballet teacher wore sweatpants. The fur coat served two purposes. It kept her warm in our studio (which boasted no heat on the weekends and drafts on the other days). And it hid the sweatpants. You see, she would tell us, it doesn’t matter what you wear underneath if no one is going to see it anyway. I had a nightmare about that fur coat, several years after I’d stopped studying with her. In my dream, I had gone back to the studio to see my friends. Like Norma Desmond, she swept into the room. And she threw her arms out as she approached me. And I knew that I had two options. I could either be enveloped in that fur coat, or I could jump out the second-story window. Either way, I was not going to survive. (I woke up before I had to decide.)
You would think that people who work in the field of medicine would be aware of chemical sensitivities. I mean, we’re only allowed specific hand lotions to be put out in the restrooms. (It’s okay to have your special lotion that you keep at your desk, but it must be kept at your desk.) And yet I have colleagues who leave a trail of perfume wherever they go. I was going to describe them like the Peanuts character Pig Pen, but he’s more contained. Even when they’re gone, the aroma remains.
Now, I know you’re wondering what the one paragraph has to do with the other. I was heading out to my car after work today when I got caught by a perfume-drenched colleague. She wanted me to know that she’s been thinking of me. She wanted to give me a hug. She said that she waited because she knew I was overwhelmed when I first started back at work. (I should add that I distinctly remember her giving me a hug the day I got back, too. As I was trying to get out of the bathroom and back to the safety of my office. Clearly, she has forgotten this.) She asked how I was doing. “It all depends on the day,” I told her. I did not tell her that the last thing I’d wanted at that moment was a hug. I was trying to get home. I just wanted to pay the rent and then not be around people anymore. I wanted to unpack the box with my new dishes. I did not want to surrounded by her perfume. I fought back tears as I walked to my car. And when I got in the car, the scent of her perfume lingered in a cloud around me.
It’s in the 40s today. And windy. I drove home with the windows rolled down.