"Are you lost?"

"... Yes."

Now, I'm not sure if this phenomenon is unique to me, but 20 years ago this summer (shiiiiiiiiit), I spent nearly a month in California, with about a week spent in San Rafael and San Francisco, another week in Los Angeles, and the last few days in Union City with an aunt. Whenever I think of being there, I don't necessarily remember it by sight or sound, but by smell. California had a weird, unique, woodsy scent that I enjoyed very much. Even in LA (well, Hollywood, entirely), I could smell it. Kind of like how New Orleans has its own scent; a miasma.

I still have the olfactory memory bouncing around in my head. It comes to me now and then. It's lovely, really. I kind of treasure it, despite the bad memories associated with it.

It was a strange trip with a long run-up before it happened. I'd entered into an online relationship with a then-shockingly gorgeous woman named Heather, who lived in San Rafael. Long, light brown hair, perfect skin, slender figure, and a face that belonged on a billboard. She was, like me, a goth, but not the serious type; more into cheesy vampire stuff, LARPing and BDSM (often mixed together). She was also a writer of sorts. Mostly poetry and short fiction. She went on to become a published and known horror author{1} some years later. I don't know if she's still doing her thing, and I don't care. Anyway, we'd encountered each other via a mutual friend—also named Heather—and hit it off immediately. We chatted mostly via ICQ (it was the late 1990s, after all) and email, and she was really into what then passed for web-based chat on some cheesy vampire website that I thought, even then, was tacky as hell. But I digress. The purpose of my trip was to see Heather and stay with her for a couple weeks. I was 20 years old, extremely shy, still a virgin, and as clueless as it is possible to be when it comes to relationships. She was 22 and originally from the east coast. We planned the whole thing for months, and I flew into SFO on my 21st birthday. I met Heather at the gate. She was waiting for me with a single black rose and we recognized each other immediately. Before even speaking, we were kissing, right then and there. My personality has a defect that makes me love too immediately, too intensely. It's been the cause for getting dumped by a few women. That same flawed personality also tends to slide into complacency in relationships, which has also caused the end of many of my relationships, although I haven't really had that many. Nearly three weeks into the trip, Heather decided that it just wasn't working out and that I should return to Michigan, which is what I ended up doing. I was so extremely nervous around her that we didn't have sex. I'd grown up under the falling piano of bullying, and then, as now, I could not make myself believe that anyone would actually want to have sex with me, after being told for years by classmates that I was stupid, worthless, unattractive, unwanted, disliked and all sorts of other nasty things, which makes up a large part of my PTSD. I'm not over being bullied and now, 22 years later, I'm still believing what was repeated day after day, grade after grade, for my whole childhood. I guess this makes me difficult to love.

Anyway, the only time I didn't encounter the scent was driving over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge into Richmond, where the only scent I could identify was the large number of factories and their chemical air pollution. But that was confined to Richmond. In 1997, San Rafael wasn't as run-down as I hear it is now, so it may be different at present.

The scent is really the only thing I miss about being there. I think I would have had a much better time there, then, had I gone simply to walk around and smell the air. It would have saved me a lot of time and sadness, though it was my first foray into Real Adulthood, and I learned a great deal about personal responsibility and empathy. In all the worst ways. I'm almost kind of glad that it ended up the way it did, because it carved an opening into being an adult, which, at 20/21, and still living with my parents, I knew nothing about. It was a hard lesson but I got over it long ago.

I've never mentioned this in detail on the internets before. I don't know why. It's on my mind often enough to inadvertently slip into daydreams about that trip, always accompanied by the olfactory memory. It's kind of a Sheltering Sky moment; particularly, Paul Bowles' monologue at the end about a person's treasured memories and experiences. I'm not one for sentimentality, usually, but this is an exception because it was such a learning experience, though a negative one. I haven't really had many experiences like this one, before or since, but it shaped many of my bad traits into what they are now, and I blame nobody but myself.

NeurosisLost1993Resonates with above experiences
The CureThe Caterpillar1984Listened to repeatedly on the flight to SFO
Switchblade SymphonyMine Eyes1995The first song I ever danced to at a goth club

Footnote 1: Using the bit.ly URL shortener here to avoid search engines catching her pen name, which is in the URL that was shortened - a link to her Wikipedia article - and possibly having her contact me, which I very much hope doesn't happen. Here's an interview with her from 2017, also obfuscated with bit.ly.

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