I’d forgotten how awful his cologne was.
The smell was musky and thick; it choked me the minute I closed his car door. Even when I rolled the window down in a lame attempt at subtly lessening its impact, the bitter flavor lingered in my nose and made me dizzy.
I leaned my head back against the seat and closed my eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked, concerned and ignorant, and I nodded. “Tired?”
“No.” I made an effort to smile. That was a good way to describe it, though. I was tired of him expecting so much attention from me and tired of explaining “just friends” to his disappointed friends. One movie line played over and over in my head: helplessness is the last thing I am looking for.
It was an ironic smell: strong – though he was so sensitive and emotional and passive – and earthy, though he always had his head in the clouds – a dreamer, a romantic, the farthest thing from down-to-earth. It was rough and rugged like wilderness but he was merely a pansy or dandelion.
It was disgusting and I was trapped. I thought about how he wanted so badly to keep and make me a closer friend than I wanted to be, but all he was really doing was pushing me away. My mouth got a funny metallic taste and suddenly it was difficult to breathe. I was choking, suffocating, on the polluted air, air that was contaminated by unfairness and high expectations and clinginess.
I was the butterfly, unknowingly captured by the lepidopterist who sought only to study me and have me known as his. And, just like the cliche saying, he had held me too tightly. My wings were broken. Who could fly in that dirty atmosphere anyway? I was dying in his hands, tearing myself apart in my desperation to escape, but he still wouldn’t let me go. Each moment spent with him was more poison in my lungs and resentment in my heart. I hated him for not moving on. There were other butterflies, surely, and there were probably butterflies who would actually enjoy being smothered with attention and affection, but I was not one of them. I needed freedom and the pure, clean, simple air. I was too fragile to be held so tightly, if at all.
He turned into my driveway and I unbuckled my seatbelt, the equivalent of finally sneaking a peek through my captor’s closed hands. He unlocked the doors – opening his hands – and I made the mistake of looking back at him before I left. He was broken, too, but what sympathy could I offer to someone who continues to hurt himself? Against the sickness in my stomach, I wrapped my arms around him in a hug, and like the naive butterfly who lands on a child’s finger to offer him a reassuring touch but is then held hostage, he squeezed me and pressed me closer to him.
I pulled away just before I thought I’d throw up, quickly opened my door, and gathered my schoolbooks. The air outside was clean and sweet, and most importantly it was not permeated with his horrid cologne. I savored that air as I walked up my porch steps and unlocked the front door. The first thing I did upon entering was take off my sweatshirt and throw it in the washer, terrified that it, too, would have his smell. Then I climbed upstairs, wrapped myself in a cocoon of bed covers, and breathed in the welcome scent of flowery fabric softener.