It’s funny how certain memories can slip to the back of your brain for years, filed away so deeply that they’re all but forgotten, yet the strangest triggers can retrieve them instantly in perfect detail. In that moment of catching a few notes of a song I haven’t heard since high school, drifting from the open window of a passing car, suddenly I recall the precise lyrics as well as friends I was with one rainy afternoon so many years ago, friends I hadn’t thought about in decades. It’s something I’d all but forgotten, yet it all comes back to me in with such vivid clarity, as though it had only been yesterday.
Scents are even more powerful. One whiff of mothballs and I’m eight years old, rummaging through the trunks in the attic for hidden treasures. The right combination of a bus passing outside Starbuck’s, and my brain remembers a backdraft of diesel over the transom mingling with the aroma of fresh-ground coffee as we passed the massive neon Maxwell House cup, perpetually dripping that last drop of coffee, glowing like a beacon along the Hoboken shoreline as we motored down river. The scents of sawdust and varnish don’t have any specific moments attached to them, or perhaps it’s that there are so many years of moments that they’ve all blended together, but whatever the case, it’s not so much a single memory so much as an emotion. I smell that smell and my brain switches to ‘happy’.
So what is it about removing old 3M 5200 from Annabel Lee’s rudder components, a task I’ve been attacking with a pick, thread by thread in endless sessions and feel as though I’ll never complete, that brings to mind my late friend Butch, and leaves me with a smile? It’s not a sound or a scent. It’s a riddle Butch once said that my brain retained as surely as if he’d set it there with that very adhesive. “What’s the difference between 5200 and true love?” he’d joke. “5200 is forever.”