archives, you & me

Stale Linens: I Smell like Him Now.


His room always smelled like linens that had been stored in a closet for a long period of time.

The smell suggested freshness being folded up until the scent became stuck within the folds and became stale. I told him we should wash his blankets, believing that perhaps they hadn’t been washed in a while. When they came out of the dryer and onto his bed, the sweet, stale linen smell permeated the air once again. It’s just how he smelled.

In the evenings, he would open the window and light patchouli incense, and a thick smoky and sweet grassy smell would simmer through the air creating mysterious and fleeting patterns against the dark green walls of his room.

The small and cramped space that was his room had become my home, but within that space I always felt nervous. At some point in his sleep, his ambivalent and unkind heart softened, and he’d wake up different.

He’d throw his long blonde hair into a messy bun and get ready for the day, searching for woolen socks in the darkness of a 5:30 AM room. Then he would come lie beside me with the dim light of the lamp flooding the room in a paralleled new-found softness that broke the deep darkness of the night when he turned it on.

I ached to see him go to work in the mornings. I only knew this kind side of him in such short visits. I had fallen hopelessly in love with his coldness, his dominant trait. When he left, I ached for him to return.

Occasionally, he’d come back having forgotten his lunch box, and my heart would leap. Maybe something had happened, and he had no work for the day, I would imagine. He would just say, “Forgot my lunch kit,” or his gloves, and then he’d go again.

Then he was gone for good. There was an ache that came from so deep within me that if I were to cut myself open and let me bleed out, the dread of having him leave would still be inside me. It was a part of me on a cosmic level — imprinted on my soul, nestled in where it hurts most, poking and prodding at my open wound.

He scooped me up, tears on his cheeks, and carried me to my car away from the linen and patchouli and dark green walls. I drove away with tears streaming down my face.

Now I had to deal with what little was left of me. Now I had to face the fact that I had silenced my soul, my ambitions, and my self-respect for the love of a man who never loved me back. I carried his apathetic glances with me everywhere I went. Sometimes, I think about how often and with such hefty abandon he made it blindingly apparent he hated me.

He told me that as a child he had a clubbed foot. Because of that, everything on one side of his body was delayed in growth and was slightly smaller than the other side. One smaller peck, calf muscle, foot, bicep. Could a clubbed foot affect a heart?

I know with certainty that, had he not discarded me, I would still be there absorbing his hate. His sickness. His ugly. I would still be waiting each morning for his soft side, his love to appear. It was the only time I saw it. It was fast and it was fading, but it was the air I breathed. It was heaven to me. It was sex, and love, and hope all wrapped into one moment.

And then it disappeared with him and his lunch box, and I didn’t see it again until the next morning.

It has been three years since I have seen him. When I open my closet in the mornings to get ready, the scent of musty linens floats off my clothes and works its way through my nose to a compartment of stored memories and sadness. I smell like him now. I never used to smell this way, my clothes never carried this scent. His scent. Now they do.

In the evenings, I put patchouli in my diffuser and let it permeate the room.


Leah Hartung enjoys a rainy day more than the sunshine. Many of her days are spent staying warm under a pile of blankets. She is slowly figuring out what she wants in life, while pursuing her English degree with hopes of becoming an editor. She loves to smile and does so to push her way through life’s hardships.


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