Smoke Of A Distant Fire

Back a few long years ago, I was honored to be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding.  We wore beautiful wine colored gowns, had wreaths of dried flowers in our hair.  I sported an 80's Diane von Furstenburg-esque long perm kept in place with massive amounts of hairspray.

At the reception, I danced with a long-time friend of Wingman's.  We circled the dance floor and he dipped me backwards gracefully. As I came back up, I saw this look of horror on his face, and he started hitting me in the head.  People all around were starting to scream, and I saw the photographer coming towards me with a water glass and a wet linen napkin, which he threw on my head and doused me with cold water.

The reason for the hitting, screaming and sudden cold shower was that my dance partner had dipped me into live candles and my dried flowers and the back of my hair had caught on fire.



I was known for the rest of the wedding as "That Bridesmaid" which I'm sure most guests have long since forgotten.  But I never forgot that smell of smoke...especially when I started smelling it again last year.

It started when I was juggling a battery of things both at home and at work. I needed to buy a new car. I struggled with both a variance and a crappy fence company, while having some big projects finished in the yard post-Sandy. The dog chewed the new French doors, new coffee table and wood trim in the house as well as as the heel off a very good pair of Italian red leather pumps. I got not one, but two letters from collection agencies for Wingman's medical bills (which were lost in a pile of muck in Sandy) that had to still be dealt with.

After getting a second director in only three months in my new job, he announced that because his wife was pregnant he wouldn't be working nights or weekends anymore, which meant that myself and two other women would have to pick up his weekend slack. When he promoted the only woman in our store who knew how to do everything to a bigger location, he promoted me into her position. I had to learn a new computer system while taking on scheduling and all the operational functions in the store.

It started the afternoon she began teaching me the complicated scheduling. "Do you smell smoke?" I questioned. I sniffed the stockroom, bathrooms and selling floor asking my co-workers "do you smell that?" They thought it might be the construction going on both upstairs and next to us, and we dismissed it.

Then I smelled smoke in the new car.  I was on the phone (snazzy new hands-free device) crying and yelling at the owner of the fence company for yet another delay when I smelled it again and thought the car might explode. I pulled over and looked under the hood (like I had any idea what I was looking for.) Nothing.

Over the next couple of months, I smelled smoke everywhere. I thought the fireplace was burning as I sat paying bills. The shed was on fire as I struggled to maintain Wingman's yard and gardens. The stove was left on as I cleaned the kitchen. People were smoking in the back hall at work and in the foyer at church as I raced from job to bells. I looked for open flames in the grocery store as I shopped for event snacks for work. If there was no smoke, I must be going crazy.

Or dying.

Google said so when I queried "Why do I keep smelling smoke when there is none?" and found out that there are two symptoms-one called Phantosmia is a hallucination which can be brought on by coughing, laughing, crying, sneezing, loud speech or shouting, or any intense emotional outburst, physical exertion, strenuous exercise or hyperventilation. The other-Parosmia is a dysfunctional brain which can't identify an odor’s “natural” smell, and transforms it into something different, typically something burning. It too can be brought on by anxiety, depression or an infection. Or a brain tumor.

Was I hallucinating? Disfunctional? Or did I have a brain tumor?

Forget the crying, yelling, stress, emotional outbursts, crazy customers, keeping up the inside and outside of the house, and every other thing I was doing. I could be dying and the smoke was a symptom.

So I went to an ear, nose and throat doctor-actually the son of the doctor who took out my tonsils when I was a kid.  He checked everything, ordered an MRI which was clear, and said, in not so many words that I was just crazy.  Take it easy, and if I needed pills for anxiety, well, he could get me those. I was cured.

And the smell went away-right through Christmas.  I got a whiff when I procrastinated and messed up part of my kid's Christmas gift of a family vacation to Hawaii, but it came back big time, like a five alarm fire just two days before we were scheduled to leave.

My dad, who had been treated for almost a year for on-again, off-again pneumonia, was put in the hospital.  And a phone call came into me at work to come right down-he was not expected to live.

I was adamant that I was not getting on that plane, and he was equally as stubborn that I was.  His condition, while critical was down-graded from life threatening. And with these reassuring words from one of my siblings "Don't worry, if he dies, we'll keep him on ice until you get back," I went. I smelled smoke on the plane-checked EVERY bathroom for someone sneaking a cigarette.  Asked one or two of the stewardesses if they smelled it.  Well, maybe more than one or two. Or the same two repeatedly. Checked the smoke detectors in the house we were staying in every day.  Bought cases of water-just in case the fire department couldn't make it up the ridiculously steep hill to our rented house to save us.

Dad held on and held out for two months and the smell of smoke was there as well during his highs and lows and his remission into the death watch. A month of  moving back into my parents' home to be there if/when something happened.And when it did, the smell disappeared.  And I didn't smell smoke after that.

But it was promptly replaced with my left eye twitching. There were work problems with vacation scheduling that had to be dealt with.  Problems with associates leaving for college.  Problems with shoplifting and ridiculous customers complaints like why we wouldn't take back year-old shoes when the shoelace broke. As well home problems like grass and flowers that wouldn't grow, kids that needed money, not to mention the sadness of not having a plus one for two weddings. From April through September, it twitched incessantly.  Google, my go-to guy, lead me to a page diagnosing stress, fatigue, caffine, alcohol, nutritional imbalances...or Bells Palsy.  Or Parkinson's Disease. Then, a fellow blogger posted her own dilemma with her eye twitching while she began the process of selling her home and I realized that I'm not alone.

Paging Dr. Moe, Dr. Larry, Dr, Curly...I diagnosed myself that I'm just plain crazy.

So while I sit in bed at night, making the management schedules for November and December, the eye twitch has left me (again), and that familiar smell of smoke is back. I sip a glass of wine, munch a small bag of cheese curls, and troll dating websites looking for Mr. Right (or Mr. Just OK In A Pinch) while I watch infomercials to lose weight interspersed with Hallmark movies and "Keeping Up With The Kardashians". (Hey, I'm patiently waiting for E to bring back The Royals-OK?) And I smile and keep telling  myself with all the craziness going on, "It's not my circus, and they're not my monkeys".

And I thank God that these are the worse problems I have.

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