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Scent Memories

Scent is a funny thing.  It triggers so many memories and there’s no controlling them.  The memories leap out when you least expect them.

I work for a hospital but not in the hospital, so when someone is seriously ill or injured in the building, paramedics get called to transport the patient over to the Emergency Room.  It happened today.  Part of my job is to use an override key for the elevator to get the paramedics to the patient and back as quickly as possible

Like many cities, the fire department is also trained as paramedics so today we had an ambulance and a fire truck show up.  Normally, the guys in the truck show up in their blue uniforms or clean fire gear, but today two of them were wearing slightly smoky fire gear.

The moment I got in the elevator with them I could smell it.  The smell took me right back to nearly nine years ago when Mr. Vaughn’s apartment burned.  It was a hot, muggy Memorial Day.  We were in his tiny apartment, trying to keep cool.  We smelled something burning, a nice woody, campfire type smell.  We even commented on it.  “Hmm, smells like someone’s grilling in the park across the street.”

An hour later someone pounded on the door screaming, “There’s a fire, get out!”  I had on nothing more than a bra and miniscule shorts–trying to keep cool–so I threw on a robe and stuffed my rabbits into a carrier.

I spent the next couple of hours sitting in a parking lot in my robe, trying to keep my rabbits calm as they put out the fire.  It was surreal and such a vivid memory I’ll never be able to get it out of my head.


All things considered, we were lucky.  All of the humans and animals made it out of the fire unharmed.  Mr. Vaughn lost nearly all of his possessions, but he had renter’s insurance.  I lived elsewhere, so I still had my belongings and we had a place to sleep that night.

The next day we were able to walk through the apartment and see what was left.  Most of the fire was contained in the ceiling and it was an old house that had been converted into apartments so the majority of what burned was wood and cellulose insulation.  The scent of smoke and water was overwhelming but it still smelled like a huge campfire.  There was none of the acrid sting of burning plastic.

The next few months were utter chaos and some of the most stressful in my life.  We spent the time battling the insurance company to get every penny Mr. Vaughn was owed.  The 4th of July made me anxious that a firework would start a fire, and the smell of wood smoke made me uncomfortable.

Now, I can happily sit in front of a bonfire or a fire in the fireplace and feel relaxed.  But the smoky scent of fireman’s gear will always take me back to that rush of anxiety I felt as I ran out of a burning building and I know it will never fully go away.

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