“Sillage” – (n) a scent that lingers, the trail left in water, the impression made in space after something or someone has been and gone.
I often wonder how much life is just a chain of sensory experiences that we have contextualised and intellectualised to a mulch. A good amount of how we interact with the world and each other is an interpretation of sensory cues. A look, a smell, a touch – such simple experiences producing a profound ripple effect on the receiving end. How many times do you hear a particular song and it has an immediate effect on your mood – it can lift your spirit just as quickly as it can send someone else into a crippling spiral. Certain smells can retrieve memories we had thought we had forgotten, like the scent of mum’s coffee brewing or an old boyfriend’s cologne. Someone’s gentle touch can at one time feel loving and generous and other times cold and annoying.
After my ex boyfriend and I broke up it took a couple of weeks and the willful pleas of my housemate to wash the sheets we last shared. His lingering smell, which at first was so strong that it caused me physical pain, began to weaken and dissipate over the coming weeks. Growing staler every day until, eventually, it disappeared completely. In those first two weeks, I would wake up every morning and search for his scent with my nose, wrapping myself in my duvet and holding what was once deemed ‘his’ pillow close to my chest. The more I breathed it in the more it struggled free triggering a sense of unbearable longing inside me. The day it went away I cried more than I had on any of the previous days and when I’d had enough of self pity, I got up, washed the sheets and moved on.
The effect of sillage is potent in what it leaves behind, whether it be a wreckage or a garden. It holds many powers in that it anchors our memories, acts as a time capsule and transports us to some of the darkest or most beautiful parts of our mind. Living on the other side of the world from my home means that the trail of loved ones coming and going, is long and enduring. My mum has shared my bed on her visits, left her fragrance in the living room and the scent of her cooking in the kitchen. All of which speak loudly and painfully of home. Eventually, the feeling passes and I embrace my independence and the life I have hatched all on my own. Nonetheless, every moment no matter how small or invisible, will leave an impression on our souls. Memories etched on our brain like a tattoo that can’t be reversed. That song will loop on the radio and never fail to remind me of my best friend. The smell of fire will always take me back to camping trips with my dad. That cologne no matter who wears it or whether it’s just hanging like bunting in a department store, will always induce a yearning for morning cuddles with someone I once loved so deeply. Thankfully, after all these years, this final example of sillage, reignites only the fondest of memories and rather than reducing me to tears it makes me smile.
(*) My friend Hanna and I leaving impressions on the water at Camp Cove, Sydney, Australia.