Your late teens, very early 20s are such a strange bit of limbo, aren’t they? Or…at least they were for me. Along with the angst of trying to figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life, you are sometimes trying to figure out, quite literally, where you are doing these things from, where are they taking you…sometimes even trying to come to terms with where, exactly, your home is, anyway? At that time I was living with my sister and my ex-step-father in one of his longtime friend’s home, and it was an awfully peculiar arrangement.
This friend had a fairly sizable house, and I believe he was going through a divorce, so it was empty, save for him. And he needed help paying for it. In the meantime, my mother was in rehab for her addiction and my grandparents were selling the house that we had grown up in. Actually, why were they selling that house? My sister and I still needed a place to live! She was maybe 17 years old, I was about 19…we weren’t ready to move out and we didn’t have any place to go! This is really weird, now that I think on it. Well, maybe they needed to sell the house to pay for my mother’s rehab. Who knows?
So this guy needed help paying for his house and my sister and I and my ex-step-father needed a place to live, and it seemed to be a decent arrangement. There were two extra bedrooms, which my ex-step-father insisted that we take, and he turned the living room into his bedroom.
At this time I was in my second year of community college and working pretty much full time at my first job, a local fast food chain. College was tough for me–while I like to learn, classroom settings made me terribly anxious and I resented being tested on what I was taught. Often times I could not even drag myself out of bed to make it to my one or two morning classes.
I would lay under the covers, paralyzed, wondering if this is all there was to life. I couldn’t see beyond my immediate issues and neuroses to any sort of future that made any sense to me. And then I would get out of bed and take a shower and wash my hair because that, at least seemed a good first step.
This was probably 1996ish; my hair was growing out after a hair dying catastrophe wherein we had to cut it very, very short. My stylist convinced me that I needed a “Rachel” cut, and anyone who was of television watching age at that time knows precisely what that looks like. Of course my hair was coarse and puffy and frizzy and the cut looked less like Rachel and more like Rachel’s deranged cousin. I don’t have many physical photographs, but here is one with myself and that haircut, in that particular house, along with my sister who I think was trying to tickle me til I puked.
Revlon Outrageous was the drugstore brand shampoo and conditioner that I used at that time and it was the most splendid smelling thing I had encountered up until that point–sort of a sweet, musky floral? I’ve never been able to describe it accurately, but in any event, it was a very “perfumey” scent. Quite sophisticated smelling, at least for something in Walgreens that you were picking up for $3.99 a bottle. My sister once sniffed my head and delightedly told me that I smelled amazing and if she wasn’t my sister she’d want to be my girlfriend. She claims now that she has no memory of saying this, but I know what I heard!
The shampoo eventually became very difficult to find and as I grew older, I’m afraid my tastes became a bit more expensive and so I stopped purchasing it…but I never forgot about that scent.
Many years later–just last autumn, actually!–I stumbled across a tiny store in Portland that had a few offerings from Library of Flowers, whose whimsical storybook packaging I had often admired online, but the scents I had never actually sampled. And wouldn’t you know, the first one I sniffed, Willow & Water, smelled EXACTLY like my beloved Outrageous shampoo!
The notes are as follows, but don’t let them turn you off:
Top: Cut Greens Middle: Flowering Lotus Bottom: Watercress
…which doesn’t sound like it smells anything like what I’ve described, and yet it is. It captures the worldly complexity of that cheap shampoo, the existential crisis of figuring out my early twenties and tinge of sadness that goes along with remembering the last time I would ever live at “home” with one of my beautiful sisters.
Despite the uncertainty and instability of that time, Library of Flowers Willow & Water conjures such a lovely, nostalgia for me…although I suppose it is of the bittersweet sort.
Sometimes I wonder if there is really any other kind.