The Story Behind “Essence”

February 27, 2005 at 11:40 pm (Uncategorized)

If you haven’t read “Essence,” its below in my Saturday post.

“Essence” was born of a series of events and an incredible, at least to me, transportation in time. When I arrived in Tübingen, West Germany, I was assigned to a dorm with four or five other exchange students on my floor. There was a communal kitchen on each floor and ours had a very peculiar smell. Not necessarily bad, but different. I can’t even recall the smell as I sit here, it was so peculiar.

I do recall there was a counter around most of the room. A couple of sinks, cabinets, a table with a formica covering, tile floor, and once a day, the sunlight sat in the room at the perfect angle to illuminate the dust motes. Having rooted around somewhat, I found a jar of peanut butter, one of my favorite things to eat. There was only one non-exchange person on our floor. A medical student who was very friendly, but he spoke no English. Well, that’s another story.

The time I spent in Tübingen was very frustrating, new, exciting, lonely, and anxiety riddled. It was very difficult even with the quick friends I had made. We were in an intensive language course, designed to give us the best chance at being able to communicate with our families and others. I had trouble with my blood sugar and spent time in the emergency room with panic attacks. I cannot say it was a wonderful time, nor can I say it was terrible. I have a great many memories of that time, fast and furious memories. As fast as the time we spent there.

One of my friends was Bill. He was from Pennsylvania and had a U2 tape which I borrowed. “New Years Day” was on that tape. I played it to the distraction of everyone around me. Can you hear the song in your mind? The opening bars? When I close my eyes, I can hear it and still see the view as I walked the short distance from my room to the kitchen, the jar of JIF on the corner of the counter, the peculiar smell, the dust motes.

I left there, never to return. Or so I thought.

After I returned from Germany and settled back into my life here, my mind would wander back to my time overseas, but rarely, if ever, to that kitchen in the dorm. The memories at the forefront of my mind were those of my family and friends in the town I had lived. Until one day, my friend G.G. and I were out running around, picking up vodka and orange juice for the weekend. I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, we were sitting at a gas station. She climbed back in the car, dumped one of my favorite snacks in my lap, and then turned the car on.

I heard the opening bars from “New Years Day” and I saw her hand go out to change the channel. I remember stopping her and then I wasn’t there anymore. I was standing in the doorway of the dorm kitchen and that smell, that peculiar smell was all around me. The peanut butter jar, the dust motes, the feelings, especially the anxiety was right there. I wasn’t looking at myself standing in the doorway. I was standing in the doorway. I could feel the chill that only concrete and tile has.

It was so fascinating I wanted to stay there. I wanted it. I wanted to go back. I missed my exchange friends, I missed my family, I missed my other friends. Regardless of the overpowering feelings of angst and loneliness, I wanted it. It was the beginning of the one of the happiest times of my life. It was the beginning of one of the few times I have ever felt accepted completely based on who I really was. I was expected to change, expected to be different, and I tried to hold onto it.

I couldn’t though. Literally, it was like my focus shifted and I was right back where I had been. My hand still on G.G’s, “New Year’s Day” still playing on the radio. I looked over at her and she had a very confused, questioning look on her face.

“Where the hell did you go?”

“Germany.” I felt the tears fill my eyes and I looked away as they ran down my cheeks. I cried the tears I probably should have cried then. I let my pride down and allowed the feelings I had denied and shoved down inside overwhelm me, and as I cried, I let them go.

I have had instances where a particular smell has brought back memories. I have had instances where a particular song has brought back memories. That time though, was the only one where the emotion was tied to both, and it was the music that lead to the smell, which lead to the emotion, which lead to the music, which lead to the smell, and on and on.

That is “Essence.”

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