Wednesday, January 28, 2009
A Memory of Sunflowers
I mentioned in my first post that I began trying new fragrances in the hope of replacing an old scent I no longer enjoy. I’ll name that fragrance – and review it – later. First, I want to go back a little further, to the first bottle of perfume I ever owned. It was Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers, and I’d asked my parents to buy it for me for Christmas when I was 18. Why, you may wonder, would a self-described “boi” have ever requested such an insipid, girly fragrance? The answer is really quite simple: to fit in.
I’ve always been the sort of person who likes to congratulate myself on my own nonconformity, but the truth is, it’s a total ruse. The need for belonging is wedged firmly in the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and, no matter how much I’d like to protest, I’m no exception. Starting on the day I painted the paper towel tube biplane I made in art class pink and baby blue – just like all of the popular girls in my class – instead of a more visually appealing red or dark blue, my life has been a study in decisions made out of a desperate desire to fit in. The only difference is, I’ve never been terribly good at fitting in. I don’t wear men’s clothes just because they’re more comfortable or make me feel sexier (though they are and they do); I wear men’s clothes because, even though I’m curvy and have reasonably soft facial features, women’s clothes make me look like a bad drag queen. This was true even when my hair was long and curly and honey-colored. Put me in a dress, and I still blunder about like a confused bear cub.
Anyway, back to the Sunflowers … I asked for a bottle because it was the unofficial scent of a clique of girls I joined during my freshman year of college. Thinking back on those girls, I realize Sunflowers was the perfect fragrance for them. Like it, most of them were artificial, sickeningly sweet, and vaguely unpleasant for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. In fact, when I wrote the word “clique” just now, the first word that actually came to mind was “cult.” For one thing, everyone in the group had a different Winnie the Pooh nickname. I was “Owl,” the bookish, somewhat pedantic one.
They were my first real group of friends. I had friends in high school, but I’ve always been more of a one-on-one kind of person. As you can probably tell from my description above, I don’t have very fond memories of this particular group of friends. It’s not that anything memorably bad ever happened between us. They just grated on my nerves most of the time. I think, perhaps, the only reason I ever hung around with them in the first place was because I had a crush on the girl we’d nicknamed “Tigger.” I wouldn’t have put it that way at the time, of course … I was still trying to be straight at that point in my life.
It’s no coincidence that I decided to enroll in a foreign exchange program in Manchester, England, at about the same time that group was becoming more tightly knit. I knew leaving meant I would grow apart from the group, even as the rest of them grew closer together. And I actually remember feeling somewhat conflicted about it, too. But when I packed my bags for the UK, I left that half-used bottle of Sunflowers behind in my closet at home. I don’t think I ever wore the stuff again.
Image note: These are real sunflowers, which, unlike the bottled version, I quite like. I haven't smelled Arden's Sunflowers in more than a decade, but my memory of it smells a lot like real sunflowers, which actually don't smell very good.