My favorite perfume sinks into my skin like a snowflake. It smells like the city at three in the morning– tall skyscrapes and neon moongods and the husky solos of midnight natures.
It suits me, but not most people. It’s soft on me, but strong enough that I leave it behind in homes and arms I’ve rested in. It never really smells as gentle on anyone or anything else because scents don’t really melt like snow.
They skim the top of us like dewdrops, dripping in all directions, reflecting light entirely based on where we grow and how our roots hold us.
Scent is like shame. You can never really know how it will sit on a person, and what part of it will stick around.
I’m not ashamed that I went to prison. I served my time gracefully and responsibly, and I know the full story of why I went. I try to not be ashamed that Dave died while I was there, that he died at all.
I don’t know how that story smells on you when I hug you tight. I don’t know what notes are left on you like skindrops and what kind of perfume it plays in your reflection when I am no longer there.
I don’t know if it dews you like sunlit shame, if it sniffs on you like a jailhouse at two in the morning full of drunk and sorrow.
I don’t know if you want your loved ones to know, so I wash my bruises from my knuckles before I shake their hands. I dodge the tales that tell them I am fighter and I am quitter, and I didn’t go to jail because I killed a man, I killed a man because I went to jail.
I jab and I duck, and my time with your people is always that time in the morning when the dew hits the grass and the early birds sing their songs, and the sun is too full for me to smell like myself. My time with your people is always that moment in the ring when the gloves are on, and the feet are floating, and no one knows what will happen next.
And that’s okay if it keeps my trauma from turning on your skin, from dripping you in shamelight.
I owe you that much, at least. I love you enough to hold your gentleness with gloves on.
I can’t help that they’re boxing gloves. I can’t help if my past is stronger than it should be, that the notes of it ring like the deafening punch to a face, that the cold of it stings like the hour before the snow comes.
It stinks when it sits on a certain kind of skin, but not mine, on mine it is just part of the city. The tired skunk and burnt tires, the restaurant grease and the rest stop smoke. It’s not the best part, but it belongs and the streets in my heart hold it well.
Jasmine grows around it, and streetlights spark over it, and the stars sponge up all the parts of my dew that reflect the wrong light.
I am careful not to leave my story on you. I stay light-footed in case you don’t know how to ask the sky for a washing, in case my yesterday glistens on you like unmeltable flakes of shame.
I am careful not to leave my story on you. It’s not a smell most would ever want to wear, and I want to be good to the people in my corner.