This story is not intended to make light of the serious topic of suicide. Rather, it was written to generate empathy for an often underestimated body part. Sniff on.
It’s a horrible substance to drown in, given my affinity for it. But after you read this, I think you’ll understand why I performed the final, fatal inhalation. Technically, it’s called “natricide”— death by violence to the nostrils — but I call it madness.
I did it for his body.
He would toss his hair, pretending to clear it from his eyes. I knew, however, that it was really to tease me closer with an explosion of oils, to seduce me with sebum. In the summer heat, his glands oozed everything I liked.
Then he’d tip his hair with gel and toss a little more, wafting chemicals my way and ruining the moment. I’d skulk off. Of course, he was hurt by my disdain for hair products but kept tossing for other noses to hide his pain.
I was deceitful, too. When he wasn’t looking, I’d position myself downwind and sniff. I couldn’t get enough.
Betcha my family photo album looks nothing like yours.
Close-up of me as a baby nose. Swaddled in blankets and my own newborn smell. My pores — which would later become thick marshes of blackheads — were still closed. I’m a shiny button, yet to be awakened by the rot and bloom of life. Oh, wait — there’s a wrinkle. Perhaps an awareness that breast milk was only a few feet away.
Another shot; one of my favourites. A curious honker, growing but still little. Far too hungry for sugar. Jolly Rancher is a square candy. Nostrils are round. Tell me this blockage isn’t the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.
You might say, even way back then, that it was obvious I was headed for trouble.
I’d swarm him as soon as he took off his socks. I found a fresh day’s mould irresistible, especially when packaged in new-shoe smell. The most precious substances on earth are matured: Oka cheese, 1983 Château Lafite Rothschild, toe funk. I loved watching NBA basketball because I knew the players all harboured the same beautiful problem.
His balls were a swamp where I went to get lost. Scrotum so rich in folds, trapping his every secretion and distilling it into deliciousness. Piss drops would evaporate there, leaving salty rings that smelled like the semen hidden inside him. A tang like bleach. The scent of his piss-hole changed with his diet: tuna, maple syrup, coffee, apples.
Lime Jell-O was a dead giveaway.
Know that I didn’t kill myself over a boy. His smells were so much better than he was.
The phone rang during one of our sniff sessions, and I let it go to voicemail. Later, when I checked my messages, I heard my doctor saying she wanted to discuss “some of her findings.” I put off calling her back, because it didn’t sound like a dermatology issue. It sounded like something I didn’t want to hear.
This one’s a Polaroid. Puberty had finally given me a bit of heft, puffed me out with pride. In the shot, I’m sprouting pubes in both nostrils. With my blackheads and acne, I was engaged in all-out war with the world. My fighting stance was angular and defined, because the sun hit from the side and cast half of me in shadow, like it does with the great pyramids at sundown.
You’ll have to forgive me for having a superiority complex. It’s just that the Egyptians built the pyramids in the shape of noses, and it’s all rather flattering…
His bike gave me months of pleasure at a time. After a sweaty, summer ride through the city, he’d strip and sink into a chair in front of the TV. A smile would creep across his face as I planted myself between his splayed legs and sniffed his nuts and perineum until I passed out from the concentrated virility. Like breathing pure, scented oxygen. His ass was equally intoxicating.
Pits are nice, but too vanilla. I’ve always made a point of exploring the uncharted body. The waist and wrist often smell like rubber (underwear elastic, waterproof Casio). Behind the knee can be buttery, and shins can be pine-fresh.
We are all synesthetes, but with different wiring. That is to say, our senses are connected in ways we might never understand. For you, the smell of grass burning in the sun will make you feel the snakebite all over again. Barbecue chicken will always sound like Radiohead.
For me — a nose — it’s the opposite. All stimuli lead to smell, and that’s why I’m no longer with you.
One day, the shit hit the fan. This is no cliché, because I could actually smell the feces radiating down as it spun around on the fan blades.
I finally went to see my doctor.
“Chemosensory disturbance,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You have smell impairment, and it’s getting worse.”
“Impossible! I could smell you from outside,” I said.
“Dysosmia. The smells are distorted. You’re already relying on memory, because you’re not smelling much.”
“You’re such a fucking odour-kill. I hate you.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but there are ways to cope with this.”
At first, I didn’t think it was that bad. The nose is a memory cum-dump; I was a hard drive with 40 gigs of RAM that archived every whiff, scent, waft and hint I’d ever detected. I had interpreted this man as a mind-map of smells and could conjure a Smell-O-Vision rendering of him anytime I pleased.
The memories were perfect. But that was exactly the problem. They were sterile.
His hair smelled like Pantene Pro-V, even when he hadn’t taken a shower in days, his feet like laundry lint and fabric softener. Crotch? Bicycle seat and Irish Spring soap. My memory had frozen out any trace of raunch. In other words, pure fucking hell.
I was guaranteed a lifetime of smells not worth smelling.
What follows is the text from the back of a box of Lime Jell-O. I hope, for your sake, that you never have to follow these instructions:
• Add mix to 1 cup boiling water, stir until dissolved.
• Add 2 cups ice cold water, refrigerate until it sets.
• Dive in.
A final photo. I’m sealed in green gelatin, entombed with my too-perfect memories the way pharaohs were buried with their treasures and gems. The Jell-O is in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza, replica limestone bricks jagged and crumbling where I jumped in. As limey as lime gets.
What stinks is that when I inhaled for the last time, I couldn’t taste a damn thing.