I was born with a very sensitive nose, and years of chronic sinus infections did not dim it—until one finally did. Suddenly, a couple years ago, it went dark. I was diagnosed with agnosia, or loss of the ability to smell. Time and medications restored just a ghost of its former wholeness. If a smell was really loud, I could pick it up, but a delicate melody was lost. I’m hard of hearing, so the metaphor is apt. I became resigned to a slightly duller olfactory life and made an effort to compensate with my other senses: using my eyes rather than my nose to check the litter box, the cake in the oven, the soles of my shoes when I came in from the street.
But suddenly it’s back! My nose knows again! Which is good but has its downside. It’s the downside that announced the return of my former acuity. There was the week, earlier this month, when I was tormented by a strong urine smell that emanated not from the litter box but from our kitchen or the adjacent hallway. I brought it to Other’s attention, but it didn’t bother him. I couldn’t stop sniffing around the house. Finally, I located the source: onions that had rotted to liquification in the pantry closet between the kitchen and the hallway. Then on the plane to San Francisco, a free-spirited young man sat in the center seat and released stink bombs of b.o. every time he rearranged himself, which was a lot. I pressed my nose against the window, but of course that did no good. Five hours of smelling someone else’s unwashed armpits! When I deplaned, I couldn’t resist asking the woman who had occupied the aisle seat whether she had been bothered by it. “I did notice an odd smell!” she said. “But I couldn’t quite place it.” And here I am in my parents’ house, and it seems the mildew that I thought I had eradicated is back. Or perhaps it never left and it is my nose that is back. Could there be hope for my hearing?