There’s a beautiful smell in Chicago that exists only for me.
That’s not metaphor, hyperbole, or fiction. I am genuinely and completely convinced that I am the only person in the entire city that can smell it.
The Smell in question I’ve gathered deep in my nose and mouth and lungs for the four years I’ve lived here. My first encounters with it were on the long and poetic nighttime walks I took along Roscoe Street during my first summer in the city. Later I discovered entire pockets of the Smell in the overgrown gardens of Ravenswood, which perfumed my monthly walks to the Metra Union Pacific North line. I’ve smelled the Smell hundreds of times since, during summer, often near gardens, mostly alone but not always.
When I’m alone the Smell stops me in my tracks. I close my eyes and inhale as deeply as possible for as long as the Smell lingers, which is never more than a few seconds.
When I’m with friends I’ll cry out, “Do you smell that? Can’t you smell the Smell I’m smelling?” And invariably my friends will say, “No, we can’t, what the fuck are you talking about?” and give me quizzical looks like I am the one who is mad, like I am the one who is lost. And then I’ll close my eyes, forget I’m not alone, and suck wind.
Attempts to describe the Smell escape me. Words, as with so many non-visual sensations, cannot do it justice. But, in essence: the smell is deeply floral, a cousin to the after-the-rain-stops smell that sprouts from the earth (also known as petrichor). But my Smell is all flowers, an ocean of flowers, more intense by orders of magnitude. It has been known to knock me off my bicycle. When I smell it, I feel how a honeybee must feel when the first spring honeysuckle burrows into its fuzzy little nostrils or however that works. The Smell feels purposeful. If I’m drunk, divine.
The Smell lives on the wind, which perhaps explains why other people can’t smell it. It travels around the city like dandelion spores. This summer I’ve tried to map it, writing down coordinates in my iPhone’s notepad after I’ve come to from a Smell-induced reverie. But mapping these encounters has done little to pinpoint what I like to think of, in dreams, as the Heartflower—the prophesied fountainhead of the Smell.
What I ask of you, dear reader, is that next time you’re strolling down a lush Ravenswood avenue on a hot summer’s night, open your nose—and your heart—to the Smell. And if you should smell it, seek me out. For we have much to discuss.
If no one else should ever smell the Smell but me, then it is my burden to bear, and bear it I shall until my dying day, which might arrive quite soon if this is all the result of a brain tumor.