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Nose First

I travel through life nose first. It is my defining sense, my defining feature.

Scent is a tell for me. More than touch, more than sight, more than sound: I smell. Anything that is new, barring the disgusting, I will place it to my nose or take in a whiff of it before engaging in any other way. I can catch small hints of things in the air — herbs, smoke, a bit of electrical fuzz — to provide a status report that others might be missing. My nose is like an upside down creature whose double faces sit next to each other, nostrils gazing out into the world with all their senses fused into one to take on the world: they smell.

This quality has followed me, the type of thing that is to be determined as the chicken or the egg in my life. Was I born a smeller or did smelling choose me? I only wonder this because my nose is neither big nor small but leans larger over more petite incarnations. I was always razzed for my nose, brothers and friends poking at it literally and figuratively, trying to understand how someone could have such a big rounded facial feature. “Look at that nose,” some have said. “That’s where all his hispanic qualities went,” was a common joke. It’s a funny thing to think about, having a big nose and being nasally inclined. Perhaps the two elements are inextricably related, both the size and the power bundled as one. My attraction to the fragrant was meant to be: I am my nose and my nose is me.

But I smell too. I can pick up on myself so uniquely, often describing my evolving resting scent as anything from sliced onions to a bowl of chicken soup, the two tied to varying degrees of warmth and sweat. I’m different when dry and clean though, much like a dog emitting everything from musty fur to fresh puppy: I smell coolly metallic or like an artificial passion fruit, diluted in water. I do not smell real in my resting state but turn into a meal when I get sweat. It’s funny how we perceive ourselves through our noses. I’m constantly doing that, trying to figure out who I am or how I scentually appear to others.

But you smell too. You are just as bad and, unfortunately, I am always tuned into how you come across. Particularly their breath, particularly when said breath becomes stale, trapped in a mouth without anywhere to go. I call it vacant breath. I cannot figure out where it comes from or how to fix it but I smell it everywhere — my old boss, passing an only man on the street, a teacher who was a close talker, my boyfriend at the end of a long day — and must look elsewhere as to not scrunch up my face under the weight of the vacancy. Perhaps it is a deformed coffee scent or something born of a lack of flossing. Perhaps it is that. The vacancy of this breath is the most pronounced smell of you, closely followed by the bodily functions of others that I would love to gift to dogs. That is when smelling becomes a curse, when my scentual nature becomes a curse, when I wish I had gotten a nose job for cosmetic and practical reasons.

This makes me literally nosy. I don’t mean to snoop but I do. I don’t mean to know your history but I can, able to tell where you have been and what you have been doing. Have you been drinking too much? Did you not shower today? Are you menstruating? Have you been crying? Have you not washed your genitals, sir? This sounds hyperbolic but I can typically tell. It’s why I flash back and forth through time via my nose, scent memories taking me to my grandmother’s cloyingly clean basement laundry room and to my first boyfriend and his bathroom, two items overrun by the expensive scent of wood grown out of citrus rot. Some aspects of the sense have dulled but, unfortunately, my heightened fifth sense still leads me. My operating system is wired through my nose.

This is good. It ties into taste and, while I have not embraced or pursued a means to understand this quality further, I like to think it helps with drinking wine, with tasting food, with picking fragrances, with sniffing people I love. I can ferret out smells, like a dachshund. I can narrow the good and the bad, the common and uncommon, with my nasals. Everything is done nose first, my nostrils consuming the world in a way that no other sense can. It’s a funny approach then again I have no idea otherwise: I know no other way.

To smell, to me, is to be.

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