59. She Wears Perfume To Bed
It’s already the weekend again, after just two days of working in the new year. C is in the living room sunnily jibbering to one of his old friends from college. He has invited C to a boy’s weekend in France this March. May the wine and cheese gods keep watch, and have mercy on my anxious soul back in Switzerland.
I’ve begun a new working regimen, with the help of my fiance, designed to make me more productive in this new year. So far it’s proved successful, possibly too successful, as I am too sore to move my arms from the muscle-building workouts I’ve been doing consistently all week. I only today started to feel my butt again; now I have to prop my arms up on the desk like a sentient Barbie doll, at 90 degree angles, leaving them stationary and using my long pianist’s fingers to type on the keyboard.
Life is good, though. From my office window I can see the snow starting to fall, the mountains in the distance obscured by a thick sheet of white. We spent the morning at the fresh market in the main square, me flossing between carts looking for Italian ingredients to make the recipes from the cookbook I received for Christmas. My new schedule has me writing on the weekends, so I hope you don’t mind if this becomes a Monday morning thing. Hopefully it will brighten up the start of your week.
When I was in my one-bedroom duplex on the west side of Nashville, I was living alone for the very first time. It was during this stint that I experienced many things that would forever change my self-image. Some discoveries were obvious, huge life events; others were miniscule to the passerby, but cataclysmic under the surface. First and foremost was the living alone itself, which held up a mirror to my habits like nothing else had before. What was great about that, was that it wasn’t so bad. I realized I was totally fine with the way I did things, and felt brave enough to try new methods without the input of anyone else.
In the first year I lived there, my landlords rang in my six month anniversary by offering me a gift as incentive to stay put (I learned later that it was much harder for a property owner to find a decent tenant, rather than just bribe their current one to live there longer. In lieu of the offers made to me (I can’t even remember what they were), I asked for them to invest in an herb garden I could plant in the flower beds on my front lawn. Having lived for several years next to the community garden of Nashville, I was used to walking out and grabbing what herbs I needed to make a recipe at home. They agreed to my request. On Easter weekend, I carted a truck bed’s worth of seedlings back to my house from Home Depot, and planted them just before a light spring shower began to fall. Within a few weeks, my herbs had taken root, and I was pulling weeds each morning, coffee in hand, which is still one of my favorite things to do (I gaze longingly out at my empty, snowy balcony as I type this).
The herbs gave way to more recipes, like making gnocchi until past midnight one evening, and not regretting a single second. I grabbed ingredients from my pantry, which were hidden behind an nifty pull-apart curtain that my mom had come up to Nashville to design and hang. Grasping the cloth that dangled from metal hoops encircling a long, thin, metal rod, I would fling them aside, making a very satisfying ssshink sound every time. I cut the little potato pillows with a knife, dropping them into the boiling water gingerly with eager anticipation, making sure to keep a close eye so they didn’t gum up and become one enormous single gnocchi within the pot. Legs tired, forehead sweating, steam clambering up the pantry curtain hanging just a few feet above the cauldron, I watched, triumphant as the balls began to float, individually, up to the water’s surface.
The gnocchi led me to attempting blackened catfish. This did not go well.
After narrowly escaping a run-in with the West Nashville Fire Department, I decided that what I really needed was a drink. Thus began my quest of affordable, approachable bourbon, which led to an unassuming Scotch whisky, and then to a gasoline-lit, peaty Scotch, and a bottle that lived on my shelf, nursed an ounce or two at a time. When I later worked at Tartufo, about four months in to my gig the bartender gleefully noted that when he would pour me a glass of good whisky, I would hold the crystal against my chest between sips as if protecting it. Reflecting, I determined that it was a habit I had formed in the year I spent living alone: back then, I only had one good glass.
As all women eventually do, I became obsessed with Audrey Hepburn. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I happened to watch on Netflix by chance one night, she was a captivating beauty with poise and class for days. Sitting alone in my duplex, sweaty-faced with no personal fashion sense to speak of, I was shaped by this discovery. I now possessed a desire to appear put together; I was resolved to regality. In Sabrina, when she looks at her crush, wearing a tight bonnet, fresh from Paris with her new pixie cut and a tiny dog, I sighed, out loud in my living room, clutching my glass to my chest. The following February 14th, single and dateless, I spent no less than four hours applying makeup as close to Audrey’s as I could possibly come, as well as attempting countless times to achieve a classic french twist hairstyle, until at last it stayed in place. I put on a black dress and rode an uber to a speakeasy in town, hoping to meet no one. It was one of the first times I can remember simply loving the experience of eating a fancy meal entirely by myself.
There were also some not-so-nice moments during this time: finding ants in my kitchen, for example. Having a plumbing nightmare that resulted in a backed-up sewage pipe, with dark water showing up…in my shower. While I was taking a shower. A few ghosts haunted my doorstep; I was foolish enough to invite them in.
On a sunny spring morning, I opened my eyes to a silent bedroom, clothes littered across the floor, originating out of a lazily unpacked suitcase. My heavy stage piano in its gigantic road case positioned upright in the middle of my narrow hallway, like a track-and-field hurdle between me and the bathroom. There was no food in the fridge, just a shuddering old coil attached to the back that shook the floor in its vicinity. I had lain in this space before, but not like this…feeling like it may just be better to stay in bed for a few more hours until I decided what to do. Which mountain to move first. No one else lived there but me. No one would be knocking on my door to make sure I was productive today. All the ghosts had flown the area; I was left to decide my own fate. And so, with my eyes focusing, I sat up straight. It was finally happening.
I put my clothes in the washer.
I dragged my piano out of the way, and to a designated ‘place’.
I took a shower, and I put on clothes. Not pyjamas. Not sweatpants. Clothes.
I grabbed a notebook. I sat down:
I wrote a list of the things that I knew I liked. I hypothesized what kind of person I believed I was. I designated who I knew I wasn’t. I recorded my dreams and my ambitions, and I listened to the dreams and desires I had in my head, new and old. I confessed that I was still afraid of the dark, and that I couldn’t stand spiders. I wrote that I was afraid of heights, but what I was most afraid of was being alone.
Somehow, writing that last one down made it less true when I read it back. I thought back on the past year, one I had spent very much alone. I had been introduced to Audrey, I had grown my own garden, and I had learned what foods and drinks I liked, uninfluenced by anyone. My living arrangement had been a testament to the dichotomy of me: my greatest fear: being alone; and yet my biggest goal: to have my own place. Perhaps my greatest fear had really been to face myself, the girl who at her core felt flawed; who never seemed to succeed at making many friends; whose self image had been linked to all her past boyfriends, in whom she staked far too much claim; the girl whose thoughts she couldn’t bear to be alone with or to give any credence. My greatest fear, really, was to learn who I was with no one there to support me if I didn’t like what I found. After it was all said and done, no boggart from Harry Potter emerged from my armoire, looking exactly like me. In the end, there was nothing to fear. I just grew up.
I used to shower late at night, after a day of writing or having finally come off the road, with the warm water to lull me to sleep. When I stepped out of the shower, the room steamy and humid, I would stand directly in front of the small mirror perched above my sink, which framed just my face. Late into living there, I remember staring at my reflection until I went into a kind of trance. I was getting ready for the day, moving through my morning routine at 1am. In a haze, I brushed my teeth. I washed my face and I put on my nice moisturizer from Kiehl’s, the only thing on which I spent any real money. Just before leaving the bathroom, I grabbed my perfume and I sprayed my chest, and then my wrists, as I did every morning. As the mist dissipated, I looked at my hands in confusion, placing the bottle back on the shelf.
There is no one here to smell my perfume, said a voice in my head.
I responded to my own thought.
But I’m here.
That moment was later funneled into a still-unfinished song, “She Wears Perfume to Bed”, about the night I finally, accidentally, came to understand that I had no one to impress but myself. I wore perfume to bed, where I slept alone, in sweet-smelling sheets engulfing a woman who took care of herself not necessarily because she felt obligated, but because she wanted to. And if there was someone else there with her, she would do the very same, regardless.
Since I began living with C, I have changed in many other ways. I shower often in the mornings now, and in lieu of girlie old movies, we regularly opt for sitcoms or YouTube videos in small, digestible chunks each evening. My food tastes have expanded, not changed, as has my love of growing my own ingredients. But nothing will ever match that first year and a half spent living alone on the outskirts of Music City. I became who I am today; or more accurately, I recognized who I am, and who I’ve always been.
A day or two ago, I was in a rare late-night shower, with C asleep in the next room. I took a solid look at myself in the mirror as I stepped out in a cloud of steam and humidity. I thought back to those cherished days of solitude, and how grateful I am to have experienced them. For the first time in a long while, I reached for my perfume and I sprayed it once on my chest, once on my wrist, and I headed off to bed.