I think I was eight years old. Maybe nine. I was at a friend’s house, we were sprawled out with heaps of her mom’s tattered fashion magazines, and I was pretty swept away by the glamour of it all since the only glossy pages in my house were catalogs from Sears or TLC Canvas.
I was flipping through the pages, probably blowing bubbles with my gum and sprawling in some slumber party pose, and I remember happening onto a page with a long, peelable strip down the edge of the right side. I peeled it back and encountered my first perfume sample. It was like ‘scratch ‘n sniff’ for grownups.
I caught a whiff of this musky scent that I was sure must be the very essence of sex and high heels.
“Don’t!” my friend gasped.
She leaped across the bed and slapped the strip back onto the page, trying to put all of the scent away, but it lingered in the air and on my fingers. I felt like I had opened Pandora’s box.
She kept her hand over the strip just in case I was tempted to rip it open again. Of course I was. She said, “If you smell it, all the scent will go away. You have to leave it covered up so the smell will last longer.”
I had no idea this could happen, this idea that a fragrance could be used up. It was my first lesson in the law of diminishing returns.
I don’t know why this memory has emerged recently. But it has led me to think of the things that must be kept away to keep their goodness, the things that must be spread if their joy will multiply, and the times when I’ve confused the two. The times when I have kept the bottomless goodness locked up tight for fear that I couldn’t get more of it, or the times when I have scattered what I didn’t know I could never get back.