In our brains, there’s room for all of the senses to get their own little spots - with the exception of the sense of smell. Smell gets all tangled up in the same area that handles remembering, so that’s why we can often smell a smell and accidentally find ourselves caught up in a distinct memory. So, here are a couple of the smells that plop me right on back into a wildly specific point of time in my own memory bank.

The grass after it’s rained.

I am eight, and I’m standing on the play structure in our back garden in Ireland, looking over the tall stone wall to The Green – the large grassy area in the middle of the estate. Out there in the centre of it, I can see the neighbourhood teen couple kissing on a makeshift bench built with stacks of bricks where someone has started to build a patio of sorts. The cardigan I am wearing matches my sister’s.

Backstage at a theatre

I am thirteen, and coming to rehearsal is like comfort food. All the people around me are fearless. Everything is a mix of blush and hairspray and dust and velvet and heat from the overhead lights. I am more excited here than anywhere else, and it’s in this place where the seed of my confidence is planted.

Almond Emulsion

I am very small and it is Christmastime. The marzipan mice look so beautiful and soft and sweet and lovely, and I am shocked to find that I abhor the flavour entirely.


I am fifteen, and I am quite chuffed with myself as I find John Green’s Looking for Alaska tucked between the books in the G row of the fiction section in the high school library. A friend recommended it to me, and the feeling of running my fingers along the spines of the books fills me with an immense sense that I will amount to something someday.

My favourite tube of lipstick

I am twenty, and I am sitting in his bedroom in front of the sliding wardrobe doors made of mirrors. There are lots of other colours that would probably look better with the ensemble I’ve put on, but this particular shade is my favourite, and it’s the one that I keep in my bag always. Every morning it’s the same: hair fixed in the bathroom, face fixed in front of the mirror, criss-cross-apple-sauce on the floor.

Garages in the summertime

I am nine, and I am reveling in the heat of an Oregonian summer. It’s dense. It’s almost too hot outside, and my sister and I have taken to roller-skating around in circles on the smooth surface of the garage floor. This is all distinctly American. The grass is green, and we have just finished eating those ice lollies that have two sticks instead of one. Through the door, we can hear the theme song to “The Shana Show” playing on the television in the living room.

That particular kind of soap

I am five, and I have to stand on my tiptoes to reach the tap of the sink in the bathroom of my gran’s house. All of the towels are lavender. My sister and I have learned that you can use a coin to unlock the bathroom door from the outside, and I can hear the scratching of the metal as she fits one into the divot and attempts to break in.

Hallways of elementary schools

I am twelve, and I’m using the extra hour I have before middle school starts on a Wednesday morning to help the music teacher in my siblings’ elementary school. I wear the guest sticker on my t-shirt like a badge of honour, and I strut about the hallways with the cool confidence of someone who thinks they know much more than they do. I have never felt so old.

I think I miss it all.