It hits my nose at the same moment as my memories—the smell of lime.
Instantly, I can hear the raucous laughter, feel the stuffy, smoke-filled room, see the stubble on a dozen strangers standing too close for comfort.
I’m actually sitting in my open, brightly-lit home, hearing my kids laugh with each other and my husband call out answers to Wheel of Fortune. There’s no smoke and there are no strangers here, but the smell of the lime in my to-go pad thai has somehow transported me to a place 20 years before this moment.
Instead of the comfort of my home, I’m filled with a rush of emotions that a child experiences when she’s surrounded by drunk people; when she’s the only person in her right mind; when she’s the daughter of an alcoholic.
I remember more of my childhood than my parents, obviously. Where they might have hazy pieces of long nights with friends and laughter, I remember sitting in a bar before I’d even reached double digits. I remember making meals of the crackers on the pub tables, trying to slowly inch away from the men who were so drunk they forgot their age—or mine. I remember having to tell waitresses I really meant it when I ordered a virgin drink, and the burn in my throat when they thought it was fine to serve me alcohol because my parents were with me.
I remember nights we didn’t go home, nights we went home in stages, nights we were pulled over, and nights I was picked up.
The smell of the lime accesses images of people I don’t even know. They’re taking shots, licking salt, and slapping my dad on the back. I remember the words to songs I only heard coming from a jukebox and see my mom slurring her way through them. It’s dark in those bars, but with enough neon light to make out the glassy eyes and too-tight shirts on people of all genders.
The cigarette smoke seemed to stay in my hair for days, long after I’d showered and washed my stinky clothes. Smoky, smothering, musty yet sweet. It smelled like Friday night, like Saturday night, like a game night, like a long night.
The cigarette smoke made me nauseous and ill, as harmful to my lungs as it was to my eyes while I tried to look through the haze and find someone else to hang out with.
Anyone other than these strangers who were too comfortable because they’re too drunk.
Anyone who will see me in my parents’ presence and realize I wasn’t there with their approval, I was there because of their neglect.
The cigarette smoke was strong, but nothing transports me like the smell of lime.
It’s the smell of drinking games just getting started, the smell of tears waiting to be shed. The smell of people who’ve never met having the time of their lives . . . perhaps because they can’t remember much of their lives before that night.
The women whose hair was teased and the men whose hands were loose. Everyone’s voice was somehow raspy and booming at once. The words that flowed forth from their lips were never meant for my ears, and the secrets they freely shared were never meant for anyone.
I smell the lime and I can see them, women draping an arm around my dad, men wrapping an arm around my mom, predators scooting closer to me. Everyone’s affectionate when they’re drunk, and only the other drunk people think it’s OK.
No one stands up for me.
No one tells the man with the mustache that it doesn’t matter how old I look. No one tells the woman with the sun damage that the way she’s approaching my father will result in his divorce from my mother. No one tells the man that the way he’s speaking to my mother will make her putty in his abusive hands.
Maybe they don’t need to be told. Maybe they don’t care.
But I care.
Maybe they won’t even remember.
But I remember.
I remember every time I smell a lime.