It’s amazing, the way the human mind functions. The way a smell or a taste can bring back a flood of memories always astounds me. Girl Scout cookie season is upon us, and I do more than my fair share to support our local troops. I usually buy a few boxes of my favorite classics, like Thin Mints and peanut butter sandwich cookies (also known as Do-Si-Dos in the northeast region of the country), along with others that I had not tried before, such as Lemonades.
This morning, I came into work to discover that a coworker left a few boxes on my desk that I could add to my collection. Thin Mints, Lemonades, Peanut Butter Patties, and Mango Crèmes were piled nice and neat on the corner of my desk. I hadn’t planned to eat any before I got home, but my curiosity got the best of me. I opened the box of Mango Crèmes and swore to have no more than two (or three). Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the smell. That aroma of mango and coconut had tucked itself into the neglected portion of my brain some years ago, and the opening of that box brought a whole slew of memories to the front of my mind. Some were happy; others were painful and made my throat tighten as I tried to hold back tears.
I believe my stepmother, Jetaun, was excited to inherit two daughters when she married my dad, since she only had a son. I imagine the idea of finally having someone to share her girlish tendencies was exciting for her. The poor woman, she was nothing but sweet as pie to my sister and me but we didn’t always reciprocate. The thought of someone replacing my mom in my dad’s life was incomprehensible at first. I had no problem making that known. I got over myself eventually though, and came to understand that sometimes relationships don’t work out between people. I learned that my heart was big enough to love both my mom and Jetaun.
When I was in the seventh grade, Jetaun gave my sister and I each vials of roll-on perfume. She felt that we were old enough to appreciate nice smells. My sister received a vial that smelled like Channel No. 5. Mine was called Coco Mango. It was sweet, but not over-powering once I let it set in. Every day before school, I would apply a swipe to the inside of my wrist, and would sniff it throughout the day. Each sniff felt like a hug, and I smiled each time I put my nose to my wrist. Even when I got older, I continued to buy the scent for myself. It was bright and fruity, and the epitome of happiness.
When Jetaun was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, my dad kept it from us at first. He didn’t tell my sister and I until the oncologist advised my him to begin making funeral arrangements. They didn’t expect her to live for more than two weeks. Dread filled me as I rode the elevator up to her floor in the Roswell Park Cancer Institute to visit her for what would be the last time. My dad alternated from pacing back and forth near the foot of Jetaun’s bed while raking his hands through his hair, to sitting and holding her hand, begging her to wake up and fight. My dad and I didn’t always have an easy relationship, but my heart broke for him in that moment. Having buried his father not long before, he would soon have to bury the love of his life. She was no longer conscious, and never would be again. The amount of morphine that she was given to keep her comfortable also kept her comatose.
She was buried in a coral colored suite and a white coffin. I remember thinking that the suit was all wrong for her. I had always seen her in snazzy outfits, but never anything so formal as a suit. I hated to think of how uncomfortable she would be sleeping in it, and wished someone had instead chosen to bury her in one of her cashmere sweaters and some soft slacks. I couldn’t see her feet, but gave myself some peace of mind by pretending they were covered in her pink slippers instead of pointy shoes that pinched her toes.
The smell of those Mango Crème cookies nearly sent me over the edge today. I choked down the two that I had committed to eating and then closed the package, knowing I wouldn’t have another. I couldn’t have another. Coco Mango belonged to both Jetaun and me, and I can’t enjoy it without her.