my most vivid memories are brought on by my senses. for example, i find that when a smell triggers my memory, not only can i recall the details of the event, i can remember exactly how i felt at that time – exactly who i was and what i was thinking, what the significance of this event was, how the air felt or what i was wearing. with a sense of smell, or a trigger from another sense, i find that the memory swallows me up, and i can close my eyes and feel like i am right back in that moment, as if time hasn’t existed since that point.
there are a couple of smells that i can put my finger on that always trigger the same memory for me, but for the most part the smells that act as a time machine, even when i come in contact with them, are impossible to name. sometimes i’ll walk into a room and i can smell something that reminds me exactly of kindergarten – of walking into my classroom each day, with the sting of sadness that i would always feel when leaving my mom or dad. when i smell whatever smell that is, i feel helpless like a child again, and it is overwhelming enough to make me want to cry, just as i did when my parents dropped me off at school each morning.
one smell i can always count on to bring back a memory is the scent of “life” cocoa and shea butter body lotion. when i was 17 i went away with a couple of friends to halifax, and i bought this body lotion right before departing. it was summer, so i wore the lotion every morning and night during that trip, and now when i use it, i am reminded immediately of the way each night, spent in a strange place, brought about a sense of wonder, what it felt like to be doing such adult things at such a young age, and how it felt to be in the company of all the people i was surrounded by. i try not to use this lotion often because i don’t want it to lose its meaning in my mind.
another thing that probably triggers most people’s minds is a song. for me, there are a select few songs that send my memory into overdrive. lots of songs bring back memories of a general point in time, like my childhood and a blue rodeo song, but those are not the kinds of songs that im talking about. im talking about the kind of song that, for some reason, acts the same way some smells do; the kind of song that, when it’s played, creates a knot in your stomach, because in your gut you are taken to a place that has long since passed.
one song that has an almost eerie effect on me is “towards the sun” by alexi murdoch. when i moved into residence during first year of university, it was difficult for me to adjust to the constant amount of noise that surrounds you at all times. i lived in a single room, so every night and morning, when i would try to block out the noise of night owls or early morning risers, i would play this song. for about three months, this song put me to sleep in the pitch black of night or when the sun was still coming up. now, whenever i hear it, i can see my bedroom, i can remember the comfort i felt in a place i’d just discovered, and i can feel my skin itch with the irritation i felt for all my noisy peers; i can remember the excitement of meeting new people and all the thoughts that ran through my head on those nights, in that bed, with that song; missing my parents, horrified that life would never be as i once knew it, and being heartbroken from a breakup. when i hear that song, i still feel like anything is possible, just as i did back then, just as every university student does when they begin. when i hear that song, the chaos of that time is all too real; those lyrics were the only consistant thing that i could latch onto during that period of my life.
one day my parents and i were talking about this phenomenon, and how it is the memories that are connected to smell or sound that fill your heart up with so much substance, that it makes you feel like you’re going to explode. we then thought of something: manmade sense-triggered memories.
my parents and i spent the evening discussing how to manipulate memory, and how you could use a smell or a song to forge this feeling of time travel, and attach it to something that you want to be able to come back to in your memory just as vividly as it was the day it happened. we talked about choosing a song to play repeatedly while on a trip, or using a new lotion or perfume during the first month that you’re child is born, and many other instances like this. of course, it would seem that for this to work, you would have to be able to utilize these smells or sounds repeatedly for a given amount of time, but nevertheless, we thought it was a great idea for allowing yourself the ability to fall back into a point in your life, just by smelling or hearing something.
i find it much more incredible when your memory is triggered by something that you didn’t even know was present, that you never consciously decided to store away in your mind, like the mystery smell that regresses me to childhood, but even if you are taking away the wonder by implementing your own memory trigger, the capacity for truth that can be swept up into a chosen sense is still breathtaking. so next time you go on a trip, give it a try!