Olfactory Adolescence: A Collection of Scented Memories by Walker Raigh

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pink my little pony - just head and pink mane showing, against grass and purple flowers


This is an excerpt of a memoir of the same name.


Scent No. 13: Sweet Powdery-smelling Plastic Toys

It’s what they tell you newborn baby girls are made of. Little arms and legs of bubble gum, who when unwrapped come with a pink, dusty residue to keep their limbs from sticking to their tiny paper packaging. Polly Pocket hitched a ride on top of Strawberry Shortcake’s head and rode off into the sunset on her My Little Pony.

I wonder what the smell-o-matic machine was filled with at the toy factory. “Little girl scent.” “Society’s binary scent.” “No boys allowed scent.”

Play time never involved a Ninja Turtle that smelled like pizza, or a GI Joe perfumed with gasoline and gunpowder. Only those from the girls’ toy aisle were scented, sprayed with innocence and four parts white, one part red. But at least we had one leg up on those boy toys, am I right?

“The Great Gender Divide! Brought to you by the girliest of the girly toys. Collect them all!”

It is 1987. I am five years old. Fairy-like voices silently sail out of the television screen like smoke. “Did you know that you’re a girl? Girls like pink. You should like pink, too.” I looked down at my boys’ footed pajamas from the local thrift store. I am beaming in Cookie Monster Blue with Clifford-The-Big-Red-Dog-colored feet. I am suited up like a superhero with the freedom to make my own choices. Screw you, TV. Don’t tell me what to like or who to be.


Scent No. 4: ck one

Vibrant androgyny spritzed across the fibers of unwashed flannel and spongy A-cup push-up bras. This is an identity crisis, damnit. Calvin understands. “Unisex” may be a bullshit term but we bathed in its undertones of liberty.

A ghetto-inspired puffy silver winter coat was meant to match the silver Doc Martens I could never afford. Between Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and the mixed populus of a middle school, this jacket was more than a step in the right direction — it was my declaration. Every school day began with a metallic checklist: glitter eyeliner, mercury lipstick that revolted mothers everywhere, and gun metal nail polish. Listening to “Stupid Girl” on repeat I thought, “If I had a band I would call it Silver Toe.” The album cover was to be a glorious big toe, freshly cut from the rest of the foot, with painted skin and toenail glistening like aluminum on a bed of green and blue.

We skated on the frosted glass of the local ice rink and gathered among the brushed nickel bleachers. Tired of making out at the movie theater, we traversed to colder climates. With video games waging war, the parents were happy to see we wanted to do something physical after school. Little did they know we were exploring all that stood below the fog of our bated breath.

It was trying out for cheerleading and failing.

It was playing man hunt behind the condos over by the Ramada.

It was older boys down at the pool.

It was travelling across town on a bike just to see her.

It was trying pizza with mushrooms on top for the first time.

It was Binaca breath spray and vanilla mint Breath Savers.

It was kissing practice. Slurried with spit we trained like militants, tirelessly trying again and again, it was… just… right there…


Scent No. 2: Pearberry

Sweet squeezed sparkles of apricots and pears nestled in Barbie-like pheromones — it was gifted to the babes with budding breasts.

We sprayed it on our chests, hoping the glitter would make them look at us. We sprayed it in areas rumored to be of low confidence, praying it would give us power. We desired their desire to get closer to us. Caress a hand. Touch a thigh. Kiss a neck. Running the tops of fingers along the bottom of their first-time second base. We tease and taunt until an erection erupts on our hips and hands.

“Prove it!” one teenage boy says to another.

The suspect lifts his hand toward the overhead light as silver specs reflect his fingers’ testimony.

“Scout’s honor,” he says, sweeping two digits under the other boy’s nose. A jealous, heavy sigh exits the prosecution’s mouth.

Oh the verisimilitude of third base.


Walker Raigh is a marketing executive and fine artist living in Boston working on her debut release, PETRICHOR: An Olfactory Memoir, in conjunction with Cutlass Press (Winter 2018). The enclosed series of essays stem from Walker’s scent-inspired memories, each curated within the flash of time, space, and tone of the moment.


STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/davidd

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