This piece of writing is close to my heart because it encompasses my two favorite things, psychology and love stories. I wrote it after going through a very similar thought process (albeit less poetic). I’d just learned that only three synapses, or breaks between neurons in your brain, separate the sense of smell from the memory center. As you’ll notice, it made me a little crazy to think that smell of all things was ruling my memories. Eventually though, I had to admit that I saw how it could be true.
If you like this, please see the first Writing File
An Original Short Story By Nicole Locorriere
(That’s me, bros.)
I recently learned that only three synapses separate the olfactory bulb from the hippocampus. Essentially, this means that your sense of smell is the one most closely connected to your memories. It’s the only sense that’s processed emotionally first, allegedly.
I suppose I can see how this would be true. I just wish my most powerful emotional responses were triggered by something other than smell.
For me, I’d imagine it would be the act of getting in a Ford Focus. Especially messy ones with pizza boxes and empty Gatorade bottles crunching under my feet on the passenger side. Especially especially ones owned by drivers who don’t brake until I’m mid-heart attack.
And shouldn’t the sight of your old house be a powerful visual trigger? Particularly when paired with the somatosensory trigger of cold, icy nights like when I slipped on the way over? After falling once, I wouldn’t climb the rickety metal fire escape to your bedroom drunk. I rang the doorbell and stood before you with blood running down my right shin, soaking my torn black tights. Is it also somatosensory if I feel like I melted when you broke out your cute-ass smile to laugh?
I must admit, I did think of you the next time someone called me a dime. You’d said that’s what I looked like, even as I propped my leg up on your toilet in a skirt to clean the dirty snow and cobblestone crumbles from my wound. I think that auditory prompt was so strong because I expected to feel fulfilled by that stranger. I was hyper-sensitized to your terribly infrequent compliments- so much so that when I got one, I was high on it all day. To know that you thought I was pretty was worth more than hearing it from ten strangers.
The taste of hard cider should be a gustatory trigger because you turned me on to it. Somehow though, I don’t really think of you when I drink it most weekends.
Unless that Jason Derulo song about the trumpets also comes on, because of that night you brought me to your friend’s apartment above Hookah Matata. Someone turned it on while we were playing beer pong, and you put your arm around my waist in public because you were drunk so I was feeling especially yours–
I happened to look up at you while you happened to look particularly beautiful and the image is permanently etched.
Okay, so it’s clear I think of you often. But, for as much as I’m triggered by things that are checked in by other sensory systems, I will admit that there is a smell that really gets me. Oddly enough, it’s not your hair gel or a cologne– I’m talking about the smell of Main Hall.
Main, of course, is the eyesore of campus. West Chester has buildings made of gorgeous serpentine and limestone, ones that are dubbed national landmarks, and then this 1970’s concrete monstrosity that has the waxed-floor-smell of a middle school gym. On its own, that smell is enough to evoke an emotion or two. But when paired with you-
I’m reminded of the first time I saw you, in the fall of sophomore year. I was so glad I’d forgotten to schedule Italian the semester before, because that work of fate landed me in your class. I always hoped Professoressa would group us together for assignments, but I only got that lucky once and I was so nervous, I couldn’t think of one thing to say to you.
The next semester you missed a bunch of classes, and I remember worrying about you before I even knew you. That turned out to be when your friend had passed away, and even though I didn’t learn that for another half a year, I wished I could express my concern for you via osmosis or weird, stranger-to-stranger eye contact when you finally came back to class.
And Fall of junior year, when we finally did get together, you told me you liked the way I dressed. After that, I always ran to Main from my class all the way in Brandywine so I had enough time to stop in the bathroom and check myself out. I took my coat off to assure you got a good look at my outfit. I tousled my hair just right. And then I hung out until I caught my breath. But after all that effort, in the classroom, I never looked to see if you noticed me. I always looked up at the clock. I didn’t want you to know I cared about your reaction to me.
But I did.
And I should’ve looked. Because watching your face as I came in the door might’ve clued me in to what I would deal with for the next two years. I’m sure you didn’t turn your head toward me. I could’ve known as early as then, and all of this smacks me in the face every time I walk into that ugly, smelly building.
I don’t know why the olfactory bulb nestled itself in with the sentimental parts of the brain like it did. And I don’t know what it means cosmically that it’s the only sense to get processed emotionally. But I do know I’ve tried to train all of them to forget you, or hate you, and they won’t. So, I’ll sit, and I’ll wait, for the day when your face isn’t burned into my brain like a brand anymore, as easy to remember as how to breathe or lift a glass to my lips. And I pray I won’t miss it when it’s gone.