But a birthday came, and then another, and I asked for more Anaïs Anaïs. I didn’t grow tired of it; I only loved it more. My first day on a new job, the art director—a gorgeous ponytailed Englishman—walked past me, paused, leaned down and murmured, “You smell fabulous.” How could I ever go back after that? Besides, I’d seen a magazine poll in which women rated Anaïs Anaïs the best perfume for the -workplace—not overbearing, not likely to provoke allergies or complaints. What more could I ask from a scent? It was politically correct, and sexy, too.
Marcy, my daughter, grew up thinking Anaïs Anaïs was what I smelled like—what a woman smelled like. Even as she dabbled in cucumber-melon, she aspired to grow into the scent I wore. I let her borrow it for her junior and then senior prom. Finally, one Christmas, I gave her a bottle of her own. It felt like a rite of passage, watching her unwrap that pretty pastel box.
I knew she probably wouldn’t wear it forever. I don’t think most women are as faithful to a scent as my mother was. But that she could love it, even for a while, as much as I do was flattering, validating: Look at me, getting so old, my firstborn graduating from college—and still she wants to smell like me. I never imagined, at Marcy’s age, that my mother would be anything but angry when I sneaked a few drops of her Chanel. You don’t think about things like torch passing when you’re that young.
Home on a college break, my daughter hurtled down the stairs from her bedroom, on her way to karaoke night with some of her old high school buddies. A cloud of Anaïs Anaïs enveloped her; she was far more liberal with my perfume than with her own, conveniently left at school. “Behave,” I said. “You’d better have a designated driver!”
“We do. Love you!” She kissed my cheek and danced out the door in her heels. I imagined the perfume as a sort of force field, the holy smoke of incense rising from a censer to protect her, deflecting danger the way I used to and no longer can, whether she was going out for an evening or to Mexico for who knew how long.
I wore Chanel No. 5 to my mother’s funeral. So did Mom. I still have a flacon of it in a cabinet in the bathroom, though it’s nearly empty. (I can imagine Marcy with a similar keepsake, hers pastel flowered, somewhere down the line.) From time to time I open the bottle and breathe in another world: a younger me, tentative and insecure, desperate to break free of my mother and longing to hold on to her, too.
SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.
Originally published in the February 2012 issue of MORE.