Behind a curtain that provided a false sense of privacy, I was plugged up to a hospital-grade breast pump. In the lactation room of Saint David’s Hospital in Austin, TX, I tried not to look. The consultants told me not to eye the bottles attached to my breasts, that I’d only decrease my milk supply by willing it to increase. Instead, I leafed through a magazine and eavesdropped.
A new mother beyond the curtain made no effort to speak in a hushed tone while on her cell phone, bragging about her milk supply and her preemie’s attachment to her, and only her. “The nurses say I spoil her,” was right up there with, “I guess my biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist.” I was either the saddest new mother to ever be, or at least I was the most honest. I didn’t want to be at the hospital, walking that same hallway ramp up to the NICU, winding through the same parking lot, scrubbing my hands, sanitizing, all to sit in a gliding chair beside a translucent child that could probably see right through me. I didn’t want to be there.
“These beans,” I thought of my babies, not my breasts, “prefer the nurses to me,” and worse, “I can’t even make the one thing I, and only I, should be able to provide for them: breast milk from their mother.” I didn’t cry though. Instead, I continued to flip through the provided reading materials. “Eau de Milk,” the article might have been titled. The idea was that if you were a breastfeeding woman, producing milk, that your friends were more likely to become pregnant simply by hanging out with you… and having unprotected sex, like, duh. I liked the idea that I could help get my friends knocked-up, liked the weird workings of the subliminal and evolutionary. I love, for example, the idea that women who live together begin to share the same menstrual cycle; they sync.
Fast forward six years, I’m now a mother of allergy-free children (each born under 3 lbs.), who love me more than most nurses and say “Thank You” when I pour milk into their cereal bowls. While I’m still on the hunt for new friendships in New York, I also spend my time searching for silly things, like drugstore lip gloss dupes to designer favorites, and for a new signature perfume scent, perhaps something comforting, Eau de Milk Duex. I still love my Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgarie (and the more affordable twin which I also own and wear, Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie), but I am looking to branch out. While in Sephora, marking my arm with patches of different fragrances to expand my existing perfume wardrobe, I thought again of how similar perfume is to friendship.
“Friends, like perfume, can also suit a particular mood. Some are dinner friends who don’t pressure you to go out afterward. They’re spicy and sexy, yet warm. Linen napkin friends. There are lighter summer friends who prefer to spend time with you doing creative projects, pot-luck dinners, pottery on Sunday afternoon. Verbena friends. Then there are the classics, of course, the scents you could wear all day long, despite the activity or mood. Your circle.”
So, the other day, I threw the question up on Facebook, wanting to know which fragrance friends wear when they want to feel pretty. List in hand, I scoured the bottles, smelling all the suggested scents I could find. At the top of the list was a response from my friend Alexandra. Alex visited me when I lived in Texas, and again in Florida. She now lives in San Francisco during most of the year, but she also owns a summer house in the Hamptons, so we’ll play again soon enough. Alexandra’s “I feel pretty” fragrance is Chloé Eau de Parfum.
As a general rule, I want no part of wearing a popular scent. What’s the point?! You smell like everyone else, there’s no mystery. It’s like carrying the “it” bag, that everyone else is carrying. Why would you want to look like, or smell like, anyone else, when what makes you extraordinary is being the only person who does you, better than anyone else? “Because I love it, that’s why.” Sometimes, I fall beneath the weight of this truth, because although it makes no sense at all, it appeals to my senses more than all the reasons in the world tell me it shouldn’t. We want what we want.
“Okay,” I say to the Sephora associate. “I refuse to buy such a mainstream scent, but let me at least smell it.” She sprays a paper wand with Chloe parfum, fanning it to dry, floating it beneath my nose. I do not want to like what I’m about to… “Rose!” I accuse. “My weakness.” The associate nods. “Do not let me leave with this,” I say. “There’s no way I’m buying what everyone else wears. It’d be like walking out of here with Flowerbomb!”
Expand, I tell myself. Find something that’s completely different from everything you already own. Mind you that when I look at everything I do own, I realize that they’ve probably all been best-sellers and that none are nearly as unique as I once believed. It’s the same with mothering—no, you’re not the first to feel like a failure, to feel envy, to want to brag, to feel shame. You’re one of us. And perfume tells that story; it tells all our stories. The story of our own mothers and theirs, in their smells of lotion and closet and scarves. And it tells the story of our lives. I can associate different scents I’ve worn with different men, right down to the season and an article of clothing I was wearing. We all can.
Once the Chloe dried down, I had an epiphany. You know how when you’re eating a dish at a restaurant and then, suddenly, a note hits you, and you know without exception that you are 100% right, no argument–it’s tarragon in there. You know it in your bones. It might be the slightest trace, but you’ve got it. I had such a revelation. Girly yet clean, Chloe dries down to smell like the kissing cousin of L’eau d’Issey Issey Miyake, a scent I associate with one of my best friends from college, Shira. Chloe smells nothing like it on the initial open, but once it has finally hailed its cab, it goes to that same L’eau d’Issey address.
I left the store with samples, with six fragrances covering different parts of each arm, and with a bottle of a major best-seller that everyone will be wearing, Florabotanica Cristobal Balenciaga, another rose perfume that I should really return—I am psycho! I was leaning most toward a woody scent, something outside my usual: Hermes Un Jardin en Mediterranée. I took home the sample and loved it (Phil liked it, too), but it was too subtle and seemed to wear off in an hour. Plus the woody notes floated off to the woods for good, not a trace left.
“This is so wrong of me,” I finally said to the associate. “But I kinda want to get the Chloe, just so I can feel closer to my friend in San Francisco.” And it’s true, I miss her, and wearing her pretty scent would make me feel loved and pretty, as if she were standing beside me, petting my arm, calling me her lover cookieface. Her birthday is next week. I might just have to run to Sephora, yet again, to get a dose of her (I realize this is akin to being apart and promising to drink in her honor).
In the meanwhile, I’m still on the hunt for a woody warm scent, nothing powdery, no Dior Addict smelling stuff. Or something that smells of fresh milk, a comforting smell, like Farina. But it can’t be a quiet scent, rather something you wear, where the cashier at the market has to lean over and ask, “What smells so good?” Sorry to continue at an obvious ending, but I found such a scent in Laura Mercier’s Almond Coconut bath products (this scent and these products are my favorite by far) – a Gourmand scent without the headache or cloying sweetness, but I’m afraid the perfume version wears away, floating off, to be heard of never again, save for a way too long blog entry about the power of perfume and friendship.
UPDATE: Surprise package just opened!