When I was little I had so many books to read. Every Christmas and birthday I would receive at least four new books. It was an easy present to get me; I was always the nerd, the girl with her head in a book, the one who walked down the stairs reading.
I remember how I used to pick a book off my shelf, so full of hand me downs and borrowed books long left behind. I would turn them over in my hands, the cover art and font evoking vague memories – a funny scene, what cookies I ate while I first read it, where I was. I would choose a book to read with no less thought than choosing a movie, ignorant of the fact that whichever book I chose would influence my life for the next week. I still do that now; choose a book to read at a whim. Psychologists tell us that when we make a decision fast, we tend to regret it less and be happier with our choice than if we had agonized over it. If only I could do the same with ice cream flavours.
I love the way that the covers still evoke such memories. Even now, every time I see the metallic silver gleam of the Artemis Fowl books, I still think of lying on the bed in my tiny upstairs room, the afternoon sun streaming through the small window and eating an entire packet of Girl Guide’s. My favourite book when I was 13, Firebringer, always transports me to the grassy area around Room 9 from my intermediate school. I still have no idea why, but it happens every time. Tomorrow When The War Began, always of the shady clearing sheltering the shallow stream down at the back of our farm.
I love sand in books. It reminds me of where I was, the hot sun beating on my back while my head is in another world, where not only plot and characters, but also physics and even generally unquestioned laws of the universe are dictated by the author. I suspect The Help will always remind me of the sombrillas, the white sand and azure water of Formentor, Spain, despite the fact that it is a American book set in the hot dust of Mississippi cotton fields, written from the perspective of the black maids working in white-owned southern plantation houses.
But this doesn’t just happen through books. It happens through everything around us, every sense that we have, every pore of our body – just like skin remembers touch, we remember situations and imprint them onto substances.
L’Oreal Happyderm, a girly foaming pink cleanser, will always and forever remind me of living with my mother, when I was 18 and had just discovered the mysterious world of make up. Every day when I wasn’t commuting to the big smoke, I was excitedly driving the three minutes down the road to Raglan’s only miniscule pharmacy, to browse the L’Oreal, Mabelline and Rimmel stands hungrily, roving back and forth between them, torn between the two products in my hands. I remember the excitement that swelled in my stomach during that short drive, so huge I had to grin, knowing that I could buy another lip gloss, or bronzer, or foundation, to add to my small but growing collection. I remember the exact shape and colour of my first foundation, slightly orangey but so, so glamorous to my young inexperienced hands. And so began my obsession with cosmetics. I should have known then that it was the start of something special.
The Body Shop’s seaweed cleanser takes me back to my second year flat in the freezing, burnt-coffee aroma of North Dunedin, each and every time I smooth it on. I happily remember the stress, the inconvenience of having to return to my awkward, abandoned Castle street room, always clean and tidy but ultimately unloved, rejected and cold. I hated being there, but I looked forward eagerly to returning to Oli’s warm flat, always full of people and heat pumped air, a bag of clean clothes and toiletries in tow.
I wonder how I can remember this time happily all because of a cleanser, and recently I found out why. Nostalgia is always positive. It is a happy emotion, no matter what the context. Maybe that’s why we all love those old L&P ads so much.
These memories follow me around throughout my life, almost as though I had bottled them myself, to take from place to place as a sentimental keepsake.
Strawberries are another one that gets me every time. One taste, one smell, reminds me unconditionally of Christmas in Raglan. I imagine chopping them in half, the knife slicing through the seedy red flesh to meet my thumb, the fizz and bubbling of the champagne as the fruit hits the bottom of the glass. They remind me perfectly of a New Zealand Christmas with the family, happily raising our glasses, smiling faces freshly made up and shining with love, wine, and Mum’s inevitable camera flashes.