I have a hand soap that I use in my bathroom. It's a store brand, a generic hand soap. The scent is honey and milk. I use it even when I don't need to wash my hands. When I use it, I raise my wet, lathered hands to my nose and breathe in the fragrance. I sink back into the past. This particular generic soap has the scent of my childhood summers spent at my grandparents' lake house in North Carolina. I don't know what chemicals in the soap recreate that time and place for me. In her memoir Motherland, Fern Schumer Chapman writes that "Smells, I think, may be the last thing on earth to die." It's true. The smell of those summers of my childhood will not die. They are resurrected in a plastic bottle of hand soap.
When I smell the soap, I see my father swimming in the lake. I see him showing me how to do handstands in the water. I see him at the arcade, winning my mom a stuffed animal. I see my mom's face when we surprise her with the stuffed animal. I see us eating ice cream cones from the local Diary Queen. I see the bookshelves in the lake house. I see the books, mainly romance novels and mysteries that my grandmother read. I see a copy of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the one with the iconic cover of the girl in a red dress with a white, winged hat. I see the rocking chairs on the screened-in porch. I see the little television that was in my room; it had an antenna but could barely get a signal and only showed things in black and white. I smell the eggs and sausage that my grandma used to cook for breakfast. I feel my body in the water. I feel my feet in the sand. I hear kids laughing and playing. I'm young again. My father is alive, my grandmother is alive, and my uncle is alive. My family is whole. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. I don't know anything about death or loss or suffering. I'm just a little girl in the 1990's who has her whole life ahead of her. I'm happy. I don't know that this is the happiest I will ever be. I have no idea what is coming.
I raise my soapy hands to my nose and then I rinse them off and dry them on a towel and I return to my life as it is now. I remember and then I have to let go. I have to live this life, not that one, even though all I want is that one, even though I will always want that one and will always ache to have that one again. I will never stop aching.