A while back, my wife Tonya bought me a bottle of cologne.
“Here, honey,” she said. “I want you to wear this.”
“Why?” I said.
“I want to smell it on my pillow after you go to work,” she said.
"Because,” she said, and she sprayed a little on my arm.
"Did that hurt?" asked Tonya. "Maybe if I spray it from a little farther away..."
"No, that's okay."
"Smell it, then," said Tonya.
I was never a cologne kind of guy. Three times a week, I'd smell like aftershave, but most of the time it was Irish Spring and whatever stick of deodorant I happen to put my hand on first at the drugstore. I whiffed my arm.
“It's not bad,” I said.
“Good,” Tonya said, which, loosely translated, means “I'm glad we agree, throw it in the cart.” It's a wife thing.
And so it was that I had a high dollar bottle of cologne sitting in a drawer with my razors and my aftershave. I looked at it everyday as I got ready for work. Like I said, I'm not a cologne guy. I had visions of those young bucks with the high and tight haircuts and Member's Only jackets strutting around in a cloud of Polo. Not me, baby.
Then one day I was in the closet looking for something that I hadn't needed for a year (and probably still didn't), and spied Grandpa's old cowboy hat. He's been gone for over four years now. On a whim, I took the hat off the hook and smelled the hatband. There was Grandpa, in that relentlessly fading aroma of sweat and Old Spice, bringing with him fragile memories of hugs and fishing trips and plaid shirts and muddy boots. More than the fading images of long ago times, the scent also recalled childhood feelings of acceptance and peace and unconditional love. Pictures fade, but as I paraphrase Maya Angelou, you never forget how a person made you feel.
The next day, as I got ready for work, I spied that cologne bottle in the drawer. Tonya was in bed, sleeping off another swing shift. Thinking about Grandpa's hatband, I took out the cologne and gave myself a little spritz. Not much, mind you—only one person in the world had to know I even had it on.
I turned on the closet light so I could finish dressing, like always. The last thing I did before I left for work, the last thing I always did, was give my wife a kiss. My day would not start properly without it.
“Goodbye, honey, I love you,” I whispered. I held her hand. Her eyes didn't open, but as always, she gave me that sweet mostly asleep smile and murmured the same words back to me.
“I love you, too, honey,” she said. And then, her voice fading as she drifted back to sleep, she said "You smell good."
As usual, I tucked her in a bit before I turned off the light and shut the bedroom door as quietly as I could.
Maybe she really didn't know I was there. Maybe she wouldn't remember that I kissed her tenderly, or that I held her hand. But later, as light begins to dance ever so gently around the edges of the curtains and her dreams begin to bubble to the surface and fade away, she might smell that scent again and know that I was there—that I will always be there.
Later, at work, I got a whiff of that cologne and immediately thought of my beautiful wife, and how much I love her, and...
Ah, I thought with a smile.
Well played, honey, well played.