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  • Tami McCandlish

The Smell of Memories

My best friend and I saw each other every day from the time we were three years old to 18. When I lost him, I lost myself.

I'll never forget his last words: "I'm tired of defending you. I just want to be popular."

Over the years, I've tried not to replay that moment. It's one that will break my heart over and over again if I allow it. I brace myself every time I edit the chapter I wrote about us, but sometimes I can't prepare for the memories it brings, and even if I could, I'd still welcome them.

I had just finished my final edit. I closed my laptop and walked away. Suddenly, the smell of his house stopped me. I haven't been there in 20 years. In fact, I can no longer go there. All that remains are the foundation's blocks. But I’d know that smell anywhere.

For a second, I'm in his living room. Fried cube steak and cigarette smoke clouds the kitchen, where the table is set for his parents to play Gin Rummy. We slam the door as we run outside to catch lightning bugs.

Then it all disappears.

In our brains, our olfactory nerve is two synapses away from our amygdala, which is responsible for certain types of emotions, and three synapses away from our hippocampus, critical for long-term memory. We know a smell can evoke memories, but I’ll venture to say the connection works backward too.

As deeply as I inhaled, I couldn't smell the memory back. But in that breath, God reminded me I don’t have to revisit grief every time I return to the story. I can simply enjoy the moments that made friendship worth it.

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