He used to smell like Vicks.
Maybe it was from all the constant years of congestion and our mother’s unwavering worrying, but he had this medicinal scent when I hugged him, which was often. He was incredibly little – stick arms, black hair, twig legs, droplet eyes. I was in love with the impossibility of his stature. My baby brother was the size of a Beanie Baby in his crib.
He began to smell like rain.
All his dark hair fell out by the time he was two. It was replaced by thick blond locks. Freckles splattered across his button nose the more time he spent outside, and he was outside often. He was this nature thing, possessed by the wind, moved by water. Tadpoles swam willingly into his palms. Birds took food straight out of his hands. Leeches kissed his toes but never lingered. I could never tell if it was dirt or a birthmark on his arm. He had green knees in-between the rips of his blue jeans.
He started to smell.
At first, it was masked by the scent of his Dr. Pepper breath, but then it became overwhelmingly male. Pit stains in the corner of his t-shirts suffered through a storm of Hollister cologne. Socks that had seen the inside of three new shoe sizes in a year laid crumpled and unwashed on his bedroom floor.
Then, he smelled like stationary.
The art class he took his freshman year inspired the stockpile of oil paints and lead pencils in our spare closet. Clay residue hardened underneath his fingernails. His soul was created by wonder, and his spirit was filled with great doing. He excelled in school, and he genuinely enjoyed it. He joined the band; our home was full of sheet music, piano keys, and French Horn melodies.
He smells like home.
When he bends down to hug me, I bury my face into his neck and know the aftershave he uses is stolen from our father’s sink. His shirts are clean, and the familiar smell of fabric softener reminds me of our mother’s hands. There is a sweet perfume when he talks, like the Starbursts he keeps hidden from our brother in his truck. A line of sweat on the back on his tanned neck winks at me as he picks up a ladybug from the ground mid-conversation and places it on a tomato plant. I notice the pencil lead smeared on the side of his left hand. When he opens the door for me to go inside, I feel the wind deflate as he steps in with me. The sun clouds outside and reappears in his smile.
I miss my brother when someone in the dorm burns popcorn, or when it’s 8am and I’m in a math class I hate with the calculator I stole from his backpack the last time I went home.
He called me just a while ago to check-up because he’s my best friend, and that’s what we do. He told me he was stopping at Stripes before he picked up our little brother from the Intermediate, and I could almost smell the Dr. Pepper slushie I’m certain he was going to buy.