A few summers ago in London, I had an extraordinarily traumatic experience in which I thought I was about to go to the house of someone very close to me and find her dead. The night before had been awful, I had had almost no sleep, and was in a state of dread and apprehension as I prized myself off the mattress at the house round the corner I was staying in, priming myself to expect the very worst.
If things were as I feared they might be, ahead would be a nightmareish day of tremendous grief, upset and extensive meetings with the police and ambulance services, family calls…..in other words, grim. And in many ways, time was of the essence, even though I couldn’t actually get in to the house as it would require banging on doors to make other tenants to let me enter (the person in question, in the flat on the top floor, had been subdued by eight police officers during the night when becoming violent and hallucinating under the heavy influence of alcohol and put in the recovery position, so there was no way at all of getting into the house to check on her as she was unconscious; her phone smashed on the pavement outside; nor could I call up the police). In my exhausted, panicked, dazed state, I simply didn’t know what to do.
What shocked me more, when I woke up, after about 45 minutes of sleep in the early dawn, was my own callous and distancing coldheartedness.
Something inside me said fuck it – you know what, if this is really what the day has in store, then I am definitely not going out the house looking or smelling like this.
I am going to take a shower first (even if the clock is ticking).
And then I am going to put on some perfume.
And then I will face whatever it is that I have to face.
But this is what I am doing.
And so that was exactly what I did: I took a hot shower, and then, because I knew that she wouldn’t mind, I stole quietly into the room where the friend I was staying with kept her astonishing collection of perfumes; looked over what was there, and settled on Nahéma. Yes, that will do, I thought. That is perfect. The vintage parfum in the square bottle. A few lavish sprays of that one will suffice nicely. It will see me through. For a start, it is perfection in itself – the segue of powdery rose peach and hyacinth over that Guerlinade base: it is very beautiful.
But it also had a tightness; a hermetically closed pristine greenness in the beginning that felt like innocence; an inviolability; a sense of refuge and of elegance that I knew would help me over the coming hours in whatever contacts I was going to have with whatever people.
Before bracing myself to face the possible inevitable, on a cold but brilliantly bright sunny August morning in North London, I sat down at an outside table at a cafe on the town square that had just opened; ordered a latte, and then called up the Samaritans for advice. On how to proceed. Stating the problem, clearly, my voice breaking, I still managed to regain some composure, listening carefully to the calm and collected volunteer’s cautions and suggestions, all the while getting secret, surreptitious pleasure from the scent that was emanating upwards and making me feel wholer ; sturdier.
(This memory just flashed back to me now as I get ready to go out to Kamakura to meet D and a Japanese friend back from London for a week as I tried to decide what to wear.)
Waking up the other day, I suddenly, out of the blue, also found myself craving Nahéma, even if the vintage parfum de toilette (pictured) I have is compromised in the top notes and it doesn’t smell quite right when I spray it on skin. On a cashmere scarf though……mama mia. I don’t care if it smells feminine – to me it just feels timeless; borderless. And though this classic Guerlain doesn’t suit me in the way that say, Shalimar or Vol De Nuit do (ie perfectly), it is still quite soothing and calm; unerotic but that’s fine you know sometimes when you just want to float. And on fabric, the essential interior of the perfume is kept lingering and intact; velvet but fresh – truly stunning. I am going to wear it today.
As for that hideous, hideous day (and night) in London : as it turned out, after waiting outside for what felt like an eternity and then finally banging on the door of her apartment, having been very cautiously let in and forced to show ID to nervous and understandably suspicious co-inhabitants at the earliest time I thought I could do realistically so, when I pounded up the stairs and she eventually roused herself and came to the door, she didn’t even remember anything – had no recollection whatsoever of what had happened the night before. Oblivious. I was horrified, furious, but also unspeakably relieved and happy at the same time, even if directly after this I was to go up to my parents house by train to celebrate Christmas dinner (they were giving me a ‘summer edition’ as I always miss it being here in Japan). Pleased and moved though I was, I was so tired and upset I could hardly even speak.
That perfume ‘incident’, though. It still haunts my conscience.
Like a condemnation.
Re-remembering it today, I wonder what it actually means. That I could be so chillingly decisive in ‘preparing myself’, even in circumstances that amounted to a real emergency.
The steely resolve I experienced so strongly in that desperate moment of self-preservation first : : : come-to-the-rescue second.