In the bottom drawer of a dresser in our bedroom I keep two Ziploc bags with some of Noah’s dirty clothes inside—a tee shirt, a pair of mittens, some hand splints and a winter hat. They smell just like Noah. I wish there were more items, but I washed things up too soon after he died.
When I’m longing, I’ll open the bags and breathe in the scent that is him.
We have a DVD of him at summer camp and once a year or so my husband Mike and I will play it. We can hear his voice and see him zipping around in his wheelchair with his friends; he looks so happy, tan and independent. We have at least a thousand photographs of him; I started taking pictures of him the day he was born until just a few weeks before he died. We keep our favorite images of him throughout the house and in our offices. What I really miss, though, is his smell. I think because we had to lift him so much, and to lift safely is to hold close, I was always very conscious of his scent. I could tell by how he smelled if he’d been sweating at night, if he’d eaten garlic or if he’d gone swimming at the Y. I could tell if we’d used a scented soap in the shower or if the clothes he was wearing had just come off the clothesline or out of a plastic box for the change of season. I loved the smell of his head. Through the mess of blonde curls I could detect a little bit of sweat, a little oil, and the flowery smell of Aveda shampoo mixed with the scent of clean air from the pillowcase. His hands were always clenched because of cerebral palsy and they smelled damp, but never dirty—more like something he’d held and then eaten—like an apple slice. At times they would smell like a crayon or pencil he had used in school. Often his hands smelled like neoprene from his hand splints. When I would kiss him good night after reading I’d lean over and take in some of the air around him, it was sweet and soft, almost undetectable to anyone other than a mother.
After all these years the dirty clothes in the sealed bags still smell potent. When I’m missing him more than usual I’ll go to the dresser drawer, opening one bag I’ll breathe in the air, then seal it up quickly. I don’t want to scent of Noah to be diluted by new air. I’ll do the same with the other. They don’t contain notes of grass, licorice, chocolate, fall leaves or beach air like wine does. The bags smell like love, that’s all. Just love.