reality bites, but sometimes it smells

I’ve come out the other side of the sickness. It’s gone. I’m feeling much better. Even an EUA at-home covid test showed me that. But that’s barely FDA-approved, so can I really trust it, folks? Let me know, I’m still waiting on what all the reality experts have to tell me about what I’m currently seeing. And feeling.

Just not smelling.

I still can’t smell anything. I lost it about a week ago. One day I woke up and it was just gone. I don’t know if any of you have ever lost your sense of smell, but it’s not pleasant. Food doesn’t taste as good, especially sweets. I have no idea how fresh my ingredients are. I don’t know if my garbage smells, if I’ve got body odor, if New York City streets still smell like pee. It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you’ll miss until it’s gone. And right now, there’s absolutely no sign that it’s even coming back.

All in all, I was sick for about six days, then on the mend for another seven. My company required I stay home for ten days and could come back anytime after, as long as I felt better. And one day it happened. I woke up feeling great and was back in the office the next day. I did what I needed to do, and it was time to get back to the real world. But as I left my apartment Thursday morning, the only thing I couldn’t get past was the smell. Or lack there of. I couldn’t smell the city. The asphalt. The dew hanging in the air. Fall’s official arrival to New York City. Not being able to inhale my city’s scent made me feel like I didn’t belong there. Like I was just part of the scenery. Reality couldn’t include me no matter how much I wished it would.

Regardless, I spent a little time outside this weekend. Brought my laptop to the Hudson River, which had no scent, but was still nice to look at. My breakfast was unsatisfying and had no taste, so I decided to eat out for lunch. When I made it to my dessert that had absolutely no taste, I had a thought: What if my sense of smell never returns? My sniffer is just broken for the rest of my life? That’s an actual possibility for someone who has contracted the virus. Many of the people I know who’ve had it either never lost the sense, or eventually got it back. But me? Something keeps telling me I might not be that lucky. I keep picturing all sorts of scenarios that could play out if I officially lost my sense of smell: I’ll go to the beach without bringing home the scent of the sea. I’ll make pasta sauce for Sunday dinner and not smell it simmering. My husband has to explain to our children why “mom can’t smell so good.”

Am I just being paranoid? Probably a little. But I have to acknowledge what’s currently going on with me. If I expect everyone else to “live in reality,” then I have to do the same. And that’s just not becoming as much of a burden as it once was.

It’s not like this comes without struggles. There was a part of me that felt resentment as I watched people walking around with masks on. Perfectly healthy people blocking their smell receptors all because of some once-acknowledged reality that a mask is the only thing that will protect you. They were willingly muting their senses because there’s the perception of performing some kind of civic duty. It just doesn’t make sense to me at this point in time. Be grateful you’re, one, alive, and two, have the luxury of smelling something, even if it’s just a whiff of Garbage Island. It just made me so angry to be a witness to it. But I’m trying to chalk it up as a little bit of culture shock after two weeks inside. It just looked like a lot of sick people were walking around, masking up so their diseases don’t escape, or larp-ing as medical professionals who actually need PPE to protect them on duty.

This isn’t to say I think masks are entirely useless. For a period of time, I had to take my own precautions. I put two masks on my face and gloves on my hands anytime I had to leave my apartment. My bell didn’t work a few times when the delivery guys came, so I made sure I was suited up before going downstairs. Even if I was just going to the garbage chute, I slapped that cloth over my face. I was sick. Presently sick. And it just made good sense to do my due diligence. I wasn’t going to risk anyone else’s health while I was not feeling healthy myself. How am I to know how another person would react to the virus should they catch it? I’m not about to have getting someone else sick on my conscience, so I did what I had to do. And I actually felt good about it while doing it.

But that is not my reality anymore. I’m just wondering what’s lingering in the air to make it everyone else’s.

There’s a lot of talk online about what is “real.” I find it kind of haughty when people have to announce they’re a “realist.” As if they’re the gatekeepers about what’s really going on, like that’s some attainable feat. They’re the experts in all things correct with no hint of ever being wrong. I just can’t operate like that. I’m human. While I’d love to always know what’s coming around the corner like some oracle, I’m forced to reserve the benefit of the doubt over absolutely everything I believe. I can’t run head-first into all my conspiracy theories without pumping the brakes on what I want to be on record saying. And as I’m trying to sniff out my path, I’m watching the powers that be going on record and saying things that I can determine as categorically false. Things that even the most ill-informed among us will know it’s nothing but the scent of the gaslight. A supply chain backlog does not mean the federal government is operating as it should. Food and gas prices going up does not in fact mean the economy is rebounding. Our current wide-open border is always how things go down there. Come on, man. I can smell the bullshit even without being actually able to smell it.

I keep hoping there’ll be the one thing that happens where we all end up on each other’s side. I picture some kind of news story where we report on something so utterly indefensible, the people can’t help but unite around condemning it. I will entirely admit this is my idealism talking, but sometimes I like thinking that I’m living in a world where reality could become stranger than fiction. It could happen at any moment. And I want to take a deep breath, plug my nose, and dive head-first into the swampiest bit of it. I want to hear all the stories of what was once considered inconceivable, only for it to play out right in front of our eyes. I’ll follow the scent until I get to the heart of it. And if we have to cut it out in order to crush it forever, then that’s what we’ll do. But we’ll do it as a united front, not a spore scattering in the wind, causing all of our allergies to act up.

This is the worst time of year for me to lose my sense of smell. Autumn in New York is a magical time. There’s no feeling like it. One day you wake up and that presence is in the air. The seasons roll over and click into place. It’s the only time the city smells like nature. Leaves and grass all ride on a slight chill that pleasantly tickles the nostrils the first morning you leave your apartment. It’s always something I’ve looked forward to as a New Yorker. And I have to live without that reality this year. Sigh. Oh well. Maybe by this time next year we won’t be thinking about all the other stuff I mentioned. The story I’ve been waiting for will have come out by then. Our own October Surprise. We won’t have to worry about repeating history’s mistakes, we’ll just be in the moment, living in a reality that’s comfortable for everyone one arth. Our well-oiled machines can keep all our senses functioning until the day we step into the next plane of existence.

It all sounds nice. I’m sure it’ll look nice. Feel nice. We’ll speak of it nicely one day. I’m just waiting on catching a whiff of that reality being possible. I’m finally hopeful for it. After all, I woke up one day and felt healthy again. Maybe my sense of smell will do the same.

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