Those first years, we had so very little money. Straight out of college, we moved in together, sharing a tiny, costly apartment on Cathedral Street in downtown Annapolis. What the place lacked in charm and square footage (not to mention off-street parking, central air, and sound-proofing) it made up for in location. We were in the historic district, tucked among the million-dollar colonials and the brick-lined streets.
When we first met, my husband wore only one fragrance: Aspen by Coty. I loved lying next to him, resting my cheek on his chest, my nose almost touching his white, cotton undershirt. He smelled of citrus and what I later learned was vetiver and a manly sort of lavender. Aspen is one of the ultimate drugstore colognes: comforting, cheap, long-lasting. Our first holiday together, I bought him one of those perfume gift sets that you can find during the winter season at any CVS or Walgreens in America. It probably cost $30 and contained a vat of Aspen plus perhaps some soap and aftershave.
That was more than 15 years ago. Now, my husband has a shelf full of fragrances. He uses scents from By Killian, Creed, Montale, and Bond No 9. His favorites are from Tom Ford. In other words, the guy has expensive tastes. Yet, somehow, almost all of his fragrances contain the DNA of Aspen. They are fougeres, perfumes that evoke dark forests thick with notes of coumarin and oakmoss.
When I think of Aspen and how it made me feel--protected, wrapped in a green stillness--I reminded of this wonderful poem by Lisel Mueller. In the best moments, love can make us feel safe, even if the outside world is nearing winter and the wind brings with it sharp threads of ice:
Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.