I don’t smell it because I live here, but my cousins ask what that awful stench is when they visit. I tell my dad and he says, “that is the smell of money, Baby doll.” And it is. It is scent of my braces. It is the scent of every prom dress I had. The scent of my college education. I don’t smell it because I live here, but it is the scent of Friday night football games. It is the cologne at the curve of my boyfriend’s neck and the conversation about leaving the town he never really left. I don’t smell it because I live here, but it is the scent of my father missing birthdays and Christmas and basketball games and my childhood, because shift work waits on no man. (When I was eight, I asked my dad why he couldn’t just call in sick. It was 5:30pm and Christmas Eve. He gently said, “then someone else’s dad would have to work a double and miss all of Christmas.) I don’t smell it because I live here, but it is the scent of his FRC’s as I put them in the washing machine and remember not to use fabric softener. Most of dad’s clothes are fire resistant, unless you use fabric softener. It is the scent of sitting by the phone. Waiting to hear how bad the fire was. Did anyone die? Was it my dad, my uncle, my cousin? My best friend’s dad, uncle, or cousin? (I will never forget the day the call finally came. Mom’s voice on the other end of the line, saying, “I don’t have any details. Turn on the television. It’s on every channel. Lightning struck a holding tank. Your dad is on site.” Dad is the leader of the Emergency Response Team. He is always on site. I turned on the T.V. in time to see the fire have a “secondary combustion”-we don’t call it an explosion, because scientifically it isn’t an explosion, but it sure as fuck looks like an explosion-and to watch my father be thrown back fifty feet.) Dad is fine, but not everyone was. He hurt his knee and walks with a limp when the cold is too much. It’s okay though, because the company had no choice but to shut down and make things safer. I ask my dad if it is better today, with new guidelines and rules. He smiles and says, “Nobody die today, Baby doll.”
I don’t smell it because I used to live there, but it is the acrid scent of fear. And the scent of waiting. And of acid burns. And grief.
Elizabeth Johnson Taylor is a poet living in Oklahoma despite the lack of mountains or oceans. Her interests, outside of poetry, include her daughter, God, and cheesecake.