My breath caught and my chest tightened. “What do you mean?” I asked, already knowing and trying desperately to sound normal.
“I don’t know…I remember that Christmas had a special smell, you know, and when the air smelled that way at other times, I would remember Christmas. It felt good. I don’t have that anymore.”
I could feel that familiar lump in my throat, the one I always get when I think about that day, and although I was fighting it, tears began to well up in my eyes. Thankfully, he was unaware of the impact his words were having on me and I was determined not to let him know. He talks about it so little, I don’t ever want to react in a way that would make him feel hesitant to do so.
“I really think memories are linked to smell,” he continued, “like Thanksgiving and other times. It’s as if not being able to smell anymore, is causing those memories to fade and I miss them. I miss the smell.”
All I could say was that I was sorry and then I reminded him of all the other things related to memory and the good times we have had and again, I reminded him that perhaps one day that part of his brain will heal and those smells will return and he will appreciate them in a way he never could have otherwise. I reminded him of how lucky he is that in spite of his brain injury, he can laugh and walk and talk and play basketball, and be treated normally. He nodded.
After that, all I could do was hold my breath and hope for control, at least until I dropped him off at school. Then I could give in. It’s like a panic attack I think—the tightening and the sinking feeling. It’s almost like reliving that day. Just like when I drive by that hospital—the one where I first took him, certain there was something horribly wrong.
Kids are resilient though—we all are. He’s come a long way. He has gone from saying, “If I have to stay this way, I will kill myself,” (He didn’t know that it was probably permanent at the time) to smiling at me and telling me dinner is good and taking the Spirit Championship for his senior class by drinking a horrible concoction in the fastest amount of time. All in all, it’s okay now.
Some people say if they could go back and change a horrible incident in their lives, they wouldn’t, because of what they have learned. I guess they are better people than me, because if I could go back to that day, I would have insisted on giving him a ride to soccer practice instead of letting one of his teammates do it. Life doesn’t work that way though and I can’t go back. We just find the good where we can. We’re closer, I’m more understanding of those who have to see their children suffer, and Noah has a greater appreciation for things he didn’t before.
One of the most difficult things is helping people understand the gravity of his loss. He lost one of his senses, one that adds vibrancy to life, but also one that protects him from harm (Toxins, smoke, etc.) It’s a huge loss, yet people tend to make light of it. That is until I tell them the,“I Miss the Smell Of Christmas” story and suddenly, in their eyes, I see it—the light of understanding. That means everything.