The coast is clear. I shove the closest book I’m reading down the back of my Fraggle Rock undies and heave myself up into the tree. Don’t look down, scurry around so the trunk is between me and the front door slamming open then FREEZE! while my sister looks for me, evil-eyed and discontent. She never looks up, we never see eye to eye, she sought my destruction and I hunted out wherever she wasn’t. Being eight is a tough gig.
Finally, higher than the roof of the house, suspended and hidden in the middle of the front yard, I pull out the book from my ever saggy underwear, and settle in to read. My family say I read too much, that I need to go out and get fresh air, so I’ve learnt to hide my papery friends and climb fast. The tree leaves neon yellow stains under my fingernails in the warmer months, the boisterous red autumn colours camouflage me in autumn, and I’m left bereft like a forgotten scrap of tinsel in its naked arms in winter. When I’m told to go to my happy place, for real or in my head, I’m up a tree, wrapped in leaves, licking library stamp ink and sap off my fingers before I turn a page.
Now, decades later, the sour green stink of the sap floats through my dreams, where I have a house in the same tree with a dragon-gargoyle-dog lying in the sun beside me, and every room is walled with bookcases. Now, thoroughly in my thirties, I’m studying neuro-physics and -anatomy, can explain and draw the way scent and memory are so deeply, permanently entwined, but the theory is as empty as a handful of sky when compared to the emotional and sensual kick of plummeting through time back to a day, an hour, an event, a person long ago known.
The sweet dusty haze of the smoke machines at the high school disco. The gut deep red of a cherry torte, freshly cut. The peppery cologne of great uncles, the sweet wine breath of my Nanna. Libraries I describe first by smell, then shelf layout, then lights and librarians. The stench of sparring partners sweat soaked through my shirt and into my bra. The divine smell and curve of my sons’ newborn heads, their journey from play dough scented shadows to pre-date grooming clouds. The tang of steak and barbecue on summer breezes, beside dams and speedboats. Daffodils and candy canes, the ocean and cheese dip.
All this flooding forth because I opened a random book in a second-hand store, and the pages threw sour dust and memory straight up and through me. Some say heaven won’t be bothered with the senses – that forever has enough going on without the baser, natural distractions of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. I disagree. I have a multitude of people and pets I can’t wait to hug close again, to see face to face through my tears, to have our noses deep in the creases of each other’s necks as we cry and rejoice and talk together. It doesn’t make sense for there to be no senses there. And just like here, I’m sure the reality is going to be so much more spectacular and incredible than any theory we currently know. I dream of heaven in colour, with loved ones I can hold, hear, joy I can taste, and a tree I will recognise by smell alone.
What is one of your earliest memories tied to a sense? Do you remember things after seeing, smelling, tasting, touching or hearing a prompt? Do you think there will be senses after this life?