Map: Massachusetts, setting of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" creative nonfiction by Dina Honour on Andrea Reads America
Map: Massachusetts, setting of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Dina Honour

This is a guest post from Dina Honour who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” first appeared under the same name on Wine and Cheese (Doodles) in October, 2013. The setting is Massachussetts. Enjoy!

Autumn brings a whiff of homesickness. A scent of smoke and leaf color and longing and nostalgia. I forever miss the vibrancy of the New England autumns I grew up with. Even in New York fall was muted. Outside of the Northeast, it is like watching the season unfold through nearsighted eyes; but travel to New England in October and it is as if a myopic veil has been lifted. The colors are sharper, more intense, there are more of them. I miss my father stockpiling firewood and boxes of kindling for the stove. I miss the stove itself, sitting in front of it, hogging the heat it threw out, my back to the warmth with a book splayed on the floor in front of me. I miss the long stretch from the humidity of August into the quiet snows of a Massachusetts winter.

My memories of autumn go deeper than leaves of gold and apple-smoked air.  Fall is high school football games on cold, metal bleachers, scalding hot chocolate and cheers shouted between gloved hands. Fall is speech bookended by the frost of breath in the chill of an afternoon.  It is foot stamping and blankets and fervently hoping the game doesn’t go into overtime. I cannot explain the allure of high school football for Americans, but it is pervasive and palpable.  Not just in the deep south where it is a quasi-religion, but even in small towns way up in Yankee territory. Perhaps it embodies the lost dreams of fathers who are desperate to rekindle their glory days in the end zone or of mothers who recall the swish of pompoms and the hoarseness of cheer squads.  The whys don’t matter so much.  Football was a big deal.  It was part of the collective consciousness of the school, of the town, of the time. Even I got caught up in the whipped frenzy of pep rallies and big games.  No jock, I tagged along to my fair share of football games.  And the school dances that followed.

Couples were made and unmade in those dim cafeteria nights. A shy glance under the lashes, a whisper from a friend of a friend.  Teary break up postmortems took place in the girls’ bathroom, and I’m sure that whispered confessions still echo in those pink and white tiled walls.  In between swipes of Bonnie Bell and spritzes of Aqua Net the names of crushes were spilled, gossip spread, blue eyeshadow reapplied and bangs re-feathered.  It smelled of wishing and nervousness and hairspray and young love. Of unyielding hope and sweaty palmed nervousness.

We called it slow dancing, but really it was just swaying in time to the music; draped casually over one another, her hands on his shoulders, his hands on her hips–A Frankenstein stomp. My sophomore homecoming, I was part of a couple.  I borrowed a purple, cowl necked sweater-dress from a friend and the quarterback and I slow danced to Whitney Houston, my nose buried in his neck.  I went home smelling of joy and Obsession.  There were group dances to Ozzy Osbourne and Twisted Sister, there were the white boys who did their own version of breakdancing (which I thought was great until I saw the real thing later in NYC), but it was the slow dances that I remember.  The way his arms slung down over my hips and linked up in the back, just above my tail bone.  The way he smelled, the song that played, how good I felt.

Of course I experienced the other side too, the soul stomping of watching the boy whose name is all over  your book covers shyly approach only to blurt out a stuttered invitation in the direction of your best friend. O trodden and pock-marked heart, how you still beat is a miracle.  The disappointment of getting into a parent’s car at the end of the night, alone with thoughts and dreams of crushes that crashed.  The jealousy of those girls who had a steady stream of dance partners, but even more, the ones who had the same one dance after dance. The ones who went home smelling of Drakkar Noir from make out sessions in the corners where no one could see.

Always though, the smell of longing, seeping through the pores of children poised on the brink of young adulthood.  The smell of chance, of luck, of prayer mixed with a woodsmoke and leaf rot.  The smell of wallflower nervousness mingling with the self confidence of a cemented couple.  The smell of lust coming off of young bodies in waves in between sips of Pepsi and the coming winter chill.

The music’s changed, but I bet those smells still perfume school gyms across New England come autumn.

Dina Honour is an American living abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. She writes about parenthood, family and her observations of America through the lens of expat experience on her blog, Wine and Cheese (Doodles). She is currently at work on her first novel, which draws on her experiences growing up in a small, New England town. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @DinaHonour.

7 thoughts on “Smells Like Teen Spirit

  1. Oh wow. I was transported back to my own high school, the Friday night games and post-game dances, and the one night that I had waited my whole high school career for — the night Nick Cantrell finally asked me to dance. It was only one dance, but it was a slow dance and everyone was there to see it. It was my crowning achievement (because my own academic and athletic successes mattered none compared to that social high-point).


    1. I love how there is always ONE boy (or girl) whose name you will never, ever forget. Even if they turned out to be a jerk later on. As I get ready for my own son start going to his own games and Friday night dances, these memories become even more vivid for me. I am glad that they evoked something in you as well. Thx.


  2. Thanks so much for bringing my youth and autumn back to me. It was always my favorite season. Now I live in a city where the climate just skips over it–the province of Madrid, Spain seems to know it can’t compete and would rather just hold onto summer until winter forces its way in. (Guess I’ll just create a small stash of Halloween candy and read your piece over & over again 🙂


    1. Halloween candy stashes should never be small. They should fill pillow cases and last you the next few weeks. :-). I’m glad you found your own memories in here, fall is a magical time, especially for me, it’s always played a huge part in those movie memories I think and dream about. Thank you for taking the time to share yours a little.


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