They say that smell is the sense most linked to memory. And I believe it.
Just now, a woman walked into the coffee shop. Her perfume was a powdery, flowery smell that mixed with the smell of paste and chalk. I was immediately transported back to 4th grade. My heart pounded and my palms sweated as things I hadn’t thought about in years flooded my mind:
People buried alive under mountains of ash. A mother holding her child. A dog hideously contorted, trying to get away.
You see, in fourth grade, all the “smart kids” took tests and were put into one of two programs: “quite smart kids,” or “super-smart kids.” (Of course those weren’t the names, but everybody knew that’s what it meant). Once a week, we “super-smart kids” were bussed to a whole different building with our own special classrooms. We had a blast! We did Independent Studies on topics that we chose (mine was veterinary medicine), we wrote plays and performed them, we played (pre-computer) Simulation games, and ate chicken-and-cheese for lunch.
It was awesome!
Except for when it wasn’t.
Which was for about two hours every time we met.
You see, every year we would do one massive group study. In fourth grade, the group studied Pompeii. We watched documentaries, read books, and saw countless pictures and videos.
I was what you might call a sensitive child. I wouldn’t call me sensitive, though. I would just say that I hadn’t been de-sensitized. I was appropriately horrified by this tragedy. I would come home and cry. I would have nightmares. I would get “sick” on days that a Pompeii video was promised. The other kids seemed fascinated! Of course, I may have seemed fascinated too. I wasn’t about to tell everybody that the whole thing scared me to death.
As the year came to an end, I started to relax. After all, with the end of “super-smart kids” program came the end of Pompeii. I could go back to my regular life, which didn’t involve re-living the ins and outs of a horrific tragedy every week. I didn’t have to study a civilization known for the way it suddenly and violently ended. I was in the clear.
So on the last day of “super-smart kids,” I was elated. Pompeii was over! Today was the day we were being introduced to our new group study!
Our teacher, smelling of powder and flowers and paste and chalk, smiled broadly as she picked up a big, beautiful book full of photos, stories, and even the layout of… The Titanic.
My stomach dropped. I sat and listened to her talk about would-be passengers being warned in dreams and the Irish immigrants locked in steerage and the rich people taking the lifeboats etc, etc, etc.
I went home and told my mom I wasn’t going back. She called the school and pulled me from the program. The teacher called my mom back, asking her to make me go. My mom said she wouldn’t put me through that. I remained happily in the “quite smart kids” program until it ended.
So I’m a barista now. And a writer. And an actor. Would more years with the super-smart have changed that? Would I be a bio-chemist or a software designer or a something else?
I hope not.