I worked in a room with no windows. It was in the basement of a building on campus, and the only means of light was the fluorescent artificial bars above our heads and the glow of the computer screens we looked at.
It was a cold, brutal winter, as it usually was there. Often that winter I would walk to the basement cafeteria on break times and order cheese bread sticks and marinara dipping sauce. They put it on double paper plates and the oil still seeped through. The lighting in that cafeteria wasn’t much better. It was darker, but the reprieve from the harsh fluorescent lighting was welcome. Those breadsticks honestly weren’t even that good, the bread part was too boxed frozen breadstick tasting, but any carbs were a comfort to me. Especially carbs mixed with oily cheese.
In that cafeteria was where I told my boss I’d been accepted into grad school, that I’d won a limited spot in a program I wanted to be in with all my heart. I was scared to tell her, but she reacted with a bright smile and congratulations and we discussed how I would cut my full-time job to part-time come the Fall. We sat in a little blue vinyl booth and I left the meeting feeling excited about the future. This is it, I told myself. This is going to fix everything.
I had to wear snow boots quite often, and would change into work shoes when I got to my office. My hair was always staticky from the cold, dry air and my walk to work, bundled up in scarves and hats and heavy winter coats. At night I would come home and climb into our bath, craving warmth and humidity – and I can’t even remember what color the tub was. I want to say it was yellow, like a mustardy yellow. You would think after all the time I spent there I would remember, but I don’t.
Every morning I hated my hair. I had grown it long, long, long for the wedding, and chopped it all off the day we got back from our honeymoon. It annoyed me constantly. It felt like it barely grew and was too short to pull back. I hated it. I missed my long hair every day.
At some point my mom bought me a Ginger Peach reed diffuser from Pier One. That was the year I became an obsessive cleaner. I would clean top to bottom every room on Saturdays (a practice that has stuck with me all this time) in that dingy, old campus owned apartment. One day I opened that reed diffuser and set it on our hand-me-down end table and it smelled like hope. Every day I would get home and smell it, as the snow started to melt and the sun stayed out longer. It sounds crazy, but that smell seemed to tell me it was all going to be ok. I smelled it and felt sunshine and Spring and Summer and that all had to mean hope. It had to.
About this time, the Ginger Peach time, was when it all finally fell apart. Where our relationship took its last dying breath. When I was packing up our apartment, it was green and sparkly outside. My parents came with a U-Haul, just like we had when we moved in together the week after our wedding when I was tan and had long hair and everything was still deceptively perfect. They brought that U-Haul and we filled it up and I threw that lying, hopeful diffuser out into the trash bin outside our complex.
I sat again with my boss in that dark basement cafeteria. This time we sat in a little table for two in the back corner, far from anyone else. I told her I was getting divorced, the pressure behind my eyes and constriction in my throat feeling like it would suffocate me. I told her I was giving up my position in grad school and moving home to live with my parents because I just didn’t have enough money. That was partly true. The other part was I couldn’t stand one more second in that town, that bright shiny, breathtakingly gorgeous town that once held all my dreams. She looked at me and her eyes welled up too and my successful, powerful, confident boss looked me dead in the eye and said “I’ve been there.” She couldn’t say much after that. She just reached out and touched my arm and later I went to the bathroom and sobbed in a little stall by myself.
A few summers later I was walking through Pier One with my mom when all of a sudden I felt like I was suffocating. I felt a weight on my chest and an impending sense of doom for no reason at all. That’s when I saw what I was standing by – the Ginger Peach reed diffuser. That beautiful smell had been ruined for life.
Today sometimes I have my husband pick up frozen Dijornio Pizza Sticks from the grocery store to have as back up on days I can’t think of a lunch for me and our daughter. The bread tastes identical to the cafeteria breadsticks, but the cheese is different. Our daughter will take a few bites here and there, but they definitely aren’t her favorite. Which is weird – she is a pizza lover through and through, just like me. Something about those carbs and oily cheese, man.
One day this Fall I got the urge to cut my hair. We had completed our family with the birth of our son, were living in a house like I had always envisioned, and for the first time I felt like I was ready to cut off my security blanket of hair. Not just ready, but excited. It had been long, long, long for exactly 8 years – since the year after I cut it all off on the day my ex and I got home from our honeymoon. The second the scissors hit my locks, it felt brand new. I instantly loved it. I haven’t missed my long hair a single day since.
A couple months ago I was in the shower and I opened a new body wash. I had bought it at Target the week before. As I lathered it on my body I couldn’t believe I hadn’t purchased it sooner – it smelled so amazing and I didn’t know how it was possible I hadn’t picked it up to smell before. I glanced again at the bottle and it took me a while for things to register before I started laughing.
White Peach and Ginger.