The empty bottle had been sitting on a table in the basement for at least a month before I moved it upstairs, to the counter above the trashcan, signalling its permission for release into the recycling bin outside. It sat there for a week or so more, taunting me softly, reminding me of its emptiness with every trip to the coffee pot, or pass by the microwave.
I said nothing about it, made no passive aggressive comments about its need for removal nor did I make a move to shove it into the recycling section of the trash can as to hide it from my eyes and ergo my heart. I just let it sit there, unmoved aside from a slight shift to the left or the right, to give way for whatever sat behind it for whomever's path it blocked.
And then, yesterday, as I disposed of some paper shreds, I saw it, unceremoniously shoved into the tiny capsule of the back of the divided trash can, on it's side, suppressing the other sorted materials underneath its awkward and barely-fitting size. I paused, my breath hitching for just a moment as I took in the sight, but only briefly, as I knew dwelling on the image before me would probably illicit tears and we had things to do, places to go, no time for an emotional breakdown. I quickly disposed the contents of my clutched fist, unintentionally causing them to scatter over the bottle as one might toss a handful of dirt over a grave or ashes into the wind over the sea and I nearly jumped away from the bin, releasing the push pedal with more force than could ever knock the pneumatic lid of the can into any sort of speed to its destination as I turned my back and stalked out of the kitchen, away from the crystal clear photograph my brain just took of something so stupid, so simple and mundane, yet so heartbreaking and final.
We are officially out of baby detergent.
Not just any baby detergent, mind you, but a discontinued scent from a much-trusted brand that I researched tirelessly while pregnant with Kiedis. A scent that permeated the very core of my baby laundry experience, from the first whiff at the health foods store where I first spent way too much money on it, to that first load of newborn clothes I washed in our then-brand new washing machine, perilously aware that the delicate scent was a milestone in and of itself, a marker of things to come, lives changed irrevocably. A scent that expanded to a stain remover and a dryer sheet, creating the perfect trifecta of scent layering, causing the opening of the dryer or a dresser drawer to be a sweet ballet of maternal nasal delight, the knowledge that there lay The Baby's Things, pristine and poised for the child they would clothe, swaddle, and protect.
My child, who would end up needing so much more protecting than we anticipated.
As time went on, the scent carried over into a short-lived baby care line -- from bubble bath to sunscreen, every product carried the same mix of honeysuckle and apple that came to trigger my brain's acceptance of clean and baby-ready, for if it did not smell like this, it wasn't for my child.
Surely, over time, the scent of that detergent and all of it's derivatives became intertwined with the scent of my child, and on to children, and their babyhoods. The sweet smell of their downy heads intermingled with the warm scent of their bedding fresh from the dryer were one and the same, that scent becoming their scent, the one I recognized with every fiber of my motherhood to be theirs, to be them.
It was the scent I ached for when I lost Kiedis, one I tried to self-soothe with clean swaddling blankets wrapped around my arms and chest at night when he wasn't near me, and the scent I huffed as if it were the headiest drug when he was there. It didn't matter that I purchased more detergent so I could launder his things, our things, wherever we landed next -- there was something about that scent made gently warm by infant body heat that was intoxicating, identifying, that not even the freshest from the dryer blankets could quite emulate to fill that void, that hole that was my infant without me.
I should have been suspicious when I saw it popping up at TJMaxx, marked down to a great price that made it possible for us to stock up, to keep using it when we barely had enough to eat on. Something should have gone off in my head when my mom came over with four bottles of detergent, three bottles of stain remover, and random toiletry items she found hidden away on clearance not long after. I shouldn't have been so elated to appear to discover that there was just a slight label change between bottles at the health food store, accrediting the third-hand retail find to brand syntax.
Shortly thereafter, it became very difficult to find about half of the line. First it was the diaper cream, unavailable even on Amazon. Then most of the baby sundries were missing from the health food store shelves, leaving only some balm and some expired sunscreen to be purchased. Then the dryer sheets were impossible to track down, and finally the stain remover.
I found that a larger company bought out the the makers of the detergent, maintaining most of the products except the baby line, reformulating and concentrating the smells I had come to so intimately love and identify with my own flesh and blood into something else, something more saccharine and almost putrid, nothing left of the gentle olfactory delight that once graced everything intended for my children.
What I had left was my stockpile of detergent.
And with every capful into my machine, I slowly watched the infancy of my children disappear from my senses. As I washed the things they had outgrown for one reason or another so that I may pass them on to friends and family or sell online, I mourned not only the loss of those times in their lives, but the scent that still lingered as I packaged them up. It was hard not to feel like I was packing and sending away the babies I knew as the toddlers they became slept soundly upstairs with the jammies and sheets and blankets already compromised by the lavender dryer sheets I substituted for the baby scent ones, the familiar purity of brand loyalty already fading from their bodies and my memory.
I was less haphazard with washing their things, waiting for full loads instead of washing something because I could. I started siphoning out their bed linens and towels from the larger loads, using the lavender detergent (that matched the dryer sheets) to wash away the evidence of grime and gross from their surroundings, hoping the extra aromatherapeutic benefits of this new scent would help them sleep, soothe their little bodies and minds.
And as the bottles of detergent slowly decreased over the span of well over a year, however imperceptibly to the average nose, the smell of my children mutated into something else, something not of the familiarity of their infancy. Generic bath products and fruit-flavored toothpaste filtered into the bouquet and trampled the lingering aroma of their clean clothes, the adventures of their days morphing into their skin and hair and causing so far at times as a stench on them, a muddling of the babies they once were and the children they are becoming causing my barely-functioning nose to question if this is right, if these are the little creatures I held inside of me and then cuddled all hours of the day and night because they don't smell like it, not quite.
At least not until I did their laundry, the familiar scent filling my nose as I folded their clean things, sometimes lingering upon my hands as I moved on to the next task at hand, before another, stronger smell overpowered it.
But now, now I don't even have that. The lavender scent has superseded any remaining aroma form the threads of their old clothes, while each new day and growth spurt bringing on new items that never knew the glory of that delicate flavor, the one that has become one and the same as that of my children and their infancies.
Sometimes, I find a rouge pair of outgrown socks or something bought years in advance of actually fitting that saw the inside of my washing machine from the prior four years and I cannot help but to bring it to my face, to breathe in that sweet, untampered scent one more time before sending them on or putting them into the new fray of olfactory chaos.
In those quiet, small moments, I can almost feel the softness of a newborn's skin against mine, remember the weight of them in my arms as I fed them, the gumminess of their mouths before teeth broke through, giving sloppy kisses and drooly smiles. I can remember the impossible delicateness of their chubby fingers wrapped around one of my own, the give of ticklish knee rolls and the paper-thinness of fingernails that weren't quite strong enough to scratch. I can see their faces, round and without hair, looking up at me with immeasurable trust and wonder, before I had to be anything more than kind to them. I can hear the sounds of their first giggles and their newborn cries and the gurgles that preceded the mishmash of syllables which now more closely than not reflect our mutual language.
In these moments, I can see my babies as I couldn't see them then, and it's as if my other four senses are trying to bolster this one I so rarely have command over, as if they know with every discovery we are that much further from these fleeting times, inching closer to never again knowing this visceral reaction to this singular scent and therefore dulling the memory of these babies as new, sharper intakes of them as children layer over top, slowly erasing more of a time we already feel robbed of, a time we will never see again.
So I held onto that empty bottle for as long as felt even quasi-sane, and in small moments when I needed it the most I would open the lid and inhale the remnants, closing my eyes to the tears and the longing and letting the scent take over, taking me to a place that feels so far away from where I stand, though it was always right exactly there, here, in the laundry room in the basement and upstairs in their rooms and all the spaces in between and all of the spaces we traveled together and apart and every space we occupied physically and emotionally and I let it take over before I part my lips for a bittersweet smile, which inevitably changes and ends the reverie, due to tastes in the air that bear stronger than those which my dysfunctional nose can cling to.
And when the presence of the bottle became more of a nuisance than a benefit, I took a deep, jagged breath and carried the slightly-sticky plastic jug, its TJMaxx red clearance sticker still clinging on for dear life, upstairs from its hideaway on my laundry table and placed it on the counter above the trashcan, not quite capable of disposing of one of the last remnants of my children's infancy and with that, the infancy of my motherhood. I waited for what I knew to be inevitable, for Kyle to become frustrated with what he would see as clutter, and for him to dispose of it as a normal person would an empty laundry detergent container.
He did not disappoint.
I wish I could say the same for myself.