The evolution of smell is incredible. While across the ocean, in my basement flat, the smell of earl grey meant I was about to burn my tongue while melting away the wet chill that had crept into my body. It was nothing meaningful, just warm and inviting. Then I left England, that flat, and the people who had become a second family. I returned stateside, lost somewhere in central New York, soaking up the sun and defending myself from tourists. A summer passed, a warm season of afternoon thunderstorms, before that smell came back into the circle of my life. Snow had begun to fall outside my office window; I watched it build on my commitment purchase of a car. Though I had not been walking on damp sidewalks, or under soaking trees, that wet chill began to set in again. That chill begged for a hot drink. It did not take long for those spices to fill the water and, as I lifted the cheap paper cup to my lips, smell wafted over me with the steam. For a moment I paused, lost in a memory, images blurry as the steam danced before my eyes.
England. Adventure. Me.
I had lost myself. What happened to that girl who got on the plane and was halfway over the Atlantic before realizing she did not know a single person on the island she was headed? How did a girl who ran through the night streets of London to see a musical, who got on a bus with a bunch of strangers just to see Amsterdam and Belgium, forget the strength found within herself. I learned the confusion of being alone in the room, not understanding the spoken language while traveling in Italy. Having the same experience in Norway, when I flew by myself to visit distant family I’d never met. I joined Halloween clubbers in Wales, and French clubbers in Dublin. Then, for the first time in my life, I ventured to Paris with my flatmate to see the history and life that flows through the architecture and soul of that city. Where did that brave, inquisitive girl go?
I breathed deeper.
It took me awhile to bring the liquid to my tongue; nothing was more entrancing than the smell of that earl grey. It was though I knew that sip would be the first of many that would slowly melt away the memories. And it did. My taste began to reintroduce itself to the flavor, the smell, and with each refill from the water cooler the cloud of steam in my mind grew more hazy. It started as a chance to remember, to take me from where I had settled and remind me that there was more out there for me. I knew there was. I had seen it, felt it, tasted it, smelled it. The evidence existed, and it was in my cheap paper tea cup. I would lift it to my face, close my eyes, and breathe. But less and less came to my mind. That feeling in my stomach, excited reflection, began to subside. Soon the tea made me think of one desperate conversation for change and escape after another as my co-workers and I felt trapped in our frozen landscape. Our frozen office.
I tried, I fought, for that scent to remain special, but the more I indulged, the more I lost. It became a panic in my mind, replacing the happy tingles in my stomach to sickness and stress. It was then I knew, things had to change, or change back, before I lost that woman in her entirety. Before I forgot what it felt like to run through the dark streets of London, knowing where I was going and dodging the camera-happy tourists. Before I lost that carefree,independent soul who flourished in freedom.
I breathed deeper.
I had to go back. That smell, the earl grey, evolved again. It was the fighting force. I could sense the dull reminder and the filmstrip connected to it, still hampered by the dread of what I had lost. But there was more now. I used that combination to pull me through the plans. How do I get back? How do I return to where I knew myself best? How can I become her again and not this lost woman, treading day-by-day for the next thing? I took a sip from my tea. Eyes closed, the steam warmed my face, and my mind raced to the park I had crossed nearly everyday to get to campus. Boys playing soccer, people walking their dogs, jogging and children being let loose from school. It was almost more familiar to me than parks in my own town. There was nothing stronger in my memory than that walk, the shadows of trees falling over the sidewalk as the five o’clock sun passed in between the clouds, filling the world with a hazy gold. The same scent as this tea.
Now, accepted back to the University I attended that Fall, there is hope. All the emotions – excitement, thought, loss, fear, aspiration – circle now in the gold spice of my tea. I can drink it, taking them all in, believing in the power of their humanity, using it to strengthen my fight. I will not just sit at my office day-to-day, treading the waters for something exciting to happen. I have taken the steps, regained control. I will no longer just wait. I have a summer till I can return. One little summer, over in a flash, as I fight the battle of actuality versus memory. I will feel the burn of tea on my tongue and it will be my motivation. This time will be different. The best times never repeat themselves. I’ll face new challenges, build a new character, but if I rediscover a piece of that girl who I had began to lose, that will be enough. But for now, I have the cure for a panic that will surely set in, a one way ticket to rain and fog. A one way ticket to the land of earl grey.
(c) Kristin Bergene 2010