Claire: “Trust me. Everybody is less mysterious than they think they are.”One of the things that gets discussed in Elizabethtown is the idea of unlucky clothes. Claire has unlucky clothes, a particular little black dress. “Good things have not happened to me in this dress,” she tells Drew.
Hollie: “It takes time to be funny. It takes time to extract joy from life.”
Claire: “Do you ever just think, 'I'm fooling everybody'?”
Drew: “You have no idea.”
Claire: “So you failed.[...] You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you're still smiling.”
I don't have unlucky clothes, or unlucky perfume, per se, but I do have a perfume that I associate with endings. For my law school graduation, I saved up and purchased the most expensive bottle of perfume I own as a graduation present for myself. It was a bottle of limited edition L'Artisan Iris Pallida 2007. When I originally reviewed it, I said the scent gave me a visceral response like the feeling of a sob, caught at the back of my throat. It was so sad and beautiful that it literally brought me to tears. It still does.
For most people, I suspect the idea of paying three hundred dollars for a bottle of sadness seems absurd. Why not by a happy, upbeat scent? Why spend so much money for the scent that captures the inexpressible sound that rings out inside when someone breaks your heart?
As I am frequently reminded, however, I am not most people.
One of the ways I am not most people is that I don't have what one would consider a traditional family structure. My family of origin is very small now and consists almost exclusively of my brother and his sons, who live very far away. David and I don't have a family of creation beyond the two of us and our moody pride of cats. For a girl who grew up in and misses having a big southern family, this might have resulted in a very lonely, socially limited, and withdrawn life.
But I got lucky because I had a wonderful therapist in my mid-twenties who taught me that family can be more than just the people whom you share blood with or the partner you marry. Family of origin and family of creation matter, to be sure, but there's also a family of choice. These are the people that we choose to build a life with even when it isn't warranted by genetic material or legal obligation. They are the people we choose to love and to build our lives around. Some people call them best friends; some people will know them as that “aunt” or “uncle” who isn't really related.
To me, they're my family. We spend Thanksgivings and Christmases and Fourth of Julys together. When we vacation, it is often to see one another. We call each other first with news, good and bad. We help each other move. We loan each other money. We hold each other when we cry. We are each other's emergency contacts. We say things like, “I miss you,” and “I love you,” and “I wish you were here.”
By any real standards, we are a family.
As we get older, and our collective ties get deeper, it gets harder to join, I think. Not intentionally, of course. We will happily bring in the enthusiastic newcomer and embrace them. But I find fewer people, as I go along, who just get it. In my experience, there are always plenty of people who seem flattered by the attention and seem to want to accept a place in this motley crew of mine, but often they don't really understand what it means. Being part of this means making a strange kind of commitment, if not to the group, then at least to either David or to me. This willingness to make you a member of our tribe is something we have always shared, and one of the things that makes us a strong couple. As I said when we got married, “His people will be my people.” I am fortunate that I married someone who shares the reciprocal sentiment.
Though I do not have children, and may never do so, I have a sense that my life will, nonetheless, be filled with children as I grow older. Much as I am everyone's big sister, counselor, confessor, cheerleader, and best friend, I hope to also be a strange, effusive, generous aunt to these babies-to-be. And when I think about how full my life is of people who love, support, believe in, and respect me, I feel, on the whole, deeply fortunate.
So what does this have to do with Iris Pallida, or perfume, or Elizabethtown?
On Monday, when I rose from my bed, I got dressed. Then I stood in front of my perfume cabinet, trying to decide what to wear, and found myself reaching for Iris Pallida. For me, Iris Pallida is the scent of deep, exquisite pain, the haunting melancholy of loss, and the smell of endings.
You see, I knew it was going to be a bad day. I knew that someone I'd thought was going to be a long term, close friend of the sort that eventually becomes a person I consider family was going to walk away. Through little to no fault of my own, that relationship was necessarily going to end, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Was I angry? Yes. Hurt? Sure, that, too. Self-righteous? Maybe a tiny bit. But mostly, I have just spent this whole week feeling terribly, terribly sad. I grieve because I have this nasty habit of letting people dig deep into me, and even though we may not speak for months or years, I go right on loving them. I go on thinking of them, wishing the best for them and for their lives. I wish that for these people whether or not we ever speak again, because when you care for someone, you want them to be happy.
I've been told on occasion that this willingness to love too much, to expect too much, to give too much, to want too much, is a failing. It makes me difficult. It takes up space; it can suffocate. It's something I need to work to correct, so I can fit more within the socially accepted, distantly polite norms that rule most people's lives.
I choose to ignore this socially 'appropriate' course correction. I know that this makes me a somewhat polarizing person. I'm not easy to get along with. I have high expectations, most of all for myself. I am honest, sometimes to a fault. I am free with myself and the details of my life in ways that can seem overwhelming. People tend to either really like me or be really put off by me. For better or for worst, I don't find a lot of people who express their opinions of me in lukewarm terms.
I'm sure I could do as bidden. I could live a smaller life. I could be shrink back instead of looming. But I worry that the thing that drives me to feel joy is the same thing that breeds my occasional sorrow, and living life in a box so that other people are more comfortable would crush the spark in me that can create whole worlds from the fabric of my own imagination. It is the same part that finds the exquisite beauty in a well-made perfume, or that cries over a well-crafted, heart stirring essay like those in Alyssa Harrad's Coming to My Senses because I see in this would-be stranger a part of myself, and led to a wonderful phone call that I hope is a sign of future friendship to come.
When I tried to name it recently, I came up short.
“Passion,” someone supplied.
“Yes,” I immediately answered.
I could suppress this impulse that drives me, but I don't think I'd like my life much without it. And, to quote another Cameron Crowe movie, Vanilla Sky, “You can do whatever you want with your life, but one day you'll know what love truly is. It's the sour and the sweet. And I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.” So when I looked upon the vacant waste that was once a fruitful beginning, I did what I do: I leaned into it. I wore my expensive, painful perfume. I cut my hair, watching little pieces of me fall and be swept away. I drank, and I cried, and I laughed.
And then I let go.
But there will never be a day that I won't occasionally be stopped by the joke unshared, the laughter unheard, the love unfelt, that beats on beneath my breast despite its absence.
Camaraderie of country that turns,
before me, salty
rust on fragile parts.
All you have inspired,
the crew and ship of empire,
rig and mast and spars,
box of stripes and stars...
I am aching.*
You can't deny me my kingdom.
Sailor on the lonely sea,
will you turn and promise me
you'll always be alive?"
~ "You, Sailor," Erin McKeown
* I originally misheard this lyrics as "I am aching." It may actually be, "I am a king." I like my way better.