I didn’t want to write this, let alone publish it, but Natalie Goldberg told me to. I wasn’t willing to be split open but that’s what happened anyway. Writing this really split my heart open, more than once. I had a proper cry after I wrote this, and two close-to-tears moments while editing. Writing this hurt so fucking badly, I wanted to tear the pages out and throw them out the window. I’m now typing it up, sitting on the same bus that this piece is about, and I already want to cry but I’m stronger today than I was on Saturday. Here goes:
The bus smelt like us.
It came out of nowhere, this smell.
It wasn’t a passenger or something from outside,
it was the bus.
The bus just smelled of us.
It smelled of our propinquity,
our physical closeness,
that sense of absolute togetherness,
the smug familiarity of our unity,
the opportunity for uninhibited sexual adventure with guaranteed pleasure.
Warm sweat on cold skin,
cold sweats and hot breath,
naked tangled limbs,
the whites of my eyes,
on nights that we thought were endless.
It was lust and love in matrimony,
mingled with our childlike affection,
our mutual adoration,
our almost unhealthy infatuation.
When you’d come home and crawl into bed
with your stale sweat from football and work,
I was so proud of you: the scent of hard graft
and doing what you love.
Then you’d do me
(you loved me too)
and afterwards I’d bury myself under your arm
and think about forever until long after you’d jumped in the bath
and come back clean.
I try to pin down this smell
and maybe there’s just someone on the bus
who uses the same laundry powder as you
but there’s more to it than that.
The smell was our warm bodies on those cold, crisp dark blue sheets,
the cum stains and the spilt cup of tea,
the faint smell of my perfume, your cheese on toast,
your deodorant, my cigarette smoke,
my paranoia, your hair gel,
our kisses, our secrets
and whatever we’d been drinking the night before.
It was our smell, and it lived was where I lived
where I felt safe and at home
There is nothing seedy or repulsive about this smell.
Not like when you walk into your budget hotel room
and it hits you, the smell of sex,
of bodily fluids and STDs and £20 notes and shame,
where you lift the sheets up, gingerly,
and check behind the shower curtain with a grimace,
no, no, ours was the smell of two people
madly in love, sharing every possible minute
with each other
in our little kingdom
in our unmade bed.
This smell was so familiar for so long.
Of course, I only really realised it once it was gone,
of course, fucking of course.
Then I got on this bus and it smelled just like us.
It smells of us, our love, our lust, our hot, our cold,
our mad extremes and our everything inbetween.
Our smell, our smell,
the one I knew so well —
the smell that now brings stabbing pains
and nauseating heartache,
the smell that now leaves me breathless
in the wrong kind of way.
I think I’d rather cut my nose off
than relive this pain again.