Saturday, December 12, 2015


I hate the smell of Axe body spray.

As a junior high teacher, it's my right -- nay, my duty as an American educator -- to lead the fight against its use. Axe is the pubescent attempt to avoid showering after gym class, to snag a date for Friday's dance, to blend in. It is desperate and overbearing and toxic. My school's hallways are clouded with it often. I now confess to having even used my locker key to confiscate bottles from a few of the worst offenders.

So it was with great pain and regret that four years ago, at the top of my father's Christmas list, sat my worst enemy: Axe Body Spray.

It did not make sense. My father was 68 years old. He'd been married nearly four decades. He is not overbearing or desperate. Why was this on the list, I demanded  inquired.

To which my mother replied, "It makes him feel better."

My dad -- my beautiful, strong father -- could no longer shower himself. Often, he could not toilet himself. He had accidents. He was always sweating. And although the staff at his nursing home showered him every other day, he was ashamed. He would douse himself in his aftershave and deodorant, but to no avail. So he would wait patiently for his next shower day, trying to hide his embarrassment.

My mother had given him Axe after a trip to Dollar General one day. It was the only thing that could cover not only himself but also the smell of other residents and cleaning products. It was a change from the smell of sickness, old age, dependence. It shouldn't have surprised me that Axe was his antidote. It had erased all other living smells from my hallway and classroom for years.

It hurt. All my life, I could recognize my dad just by his scent. He smelled of Lava soap, Old Spice, the roll of Certs mints or cinnamon candy he always kept in his pocket, and just a hint of WD-40. "Just a dab behind the ears", I'd tease him. There have been nights in the past four years that I woke up, longing, heartbroken, for that scent. I can remember wondering what other kids' dads smelled like. Maybe  fresh ink and paper, or expensive suits, or suntan oil and chlorine. My dad smelled like hard work. It was the smell of confidence and independence to me. I felt ashamed for questioning his choice.

So I begrudgingly gave in, buying him cans and cans of it for any occasion: birthdays, Christmases, Tuesdays. It did not matter. If it was what he wanted, it was fine by me.

Last night, as I stood next to my daddy's bed, feeding him ice chips, I took in the smells around me. Antiseptic, colostomy bags, uneaten hospital food, fever sweat.  His eyes searched my face, questioning. His lips moving. His voice a whisper of visions and words I could not understand.

And I longed for the smell of Axe Body Spray.

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