Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Traumatic Fragrance

How Reading Look Homeward, Angel Got Me into Diapers

Actually, it’s more like thinking about diapers and their distinctive fragrance. A few days ago, I started reading Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. The novel gets off to a grim start and seventy-three pages later, is still chugging along the same route.

(Note to Self: Wolfe was only twenty-nine years old when the novel was published, so his excessive grimness can be excused. Everyone is grim at that age. Twenty-nine was the grimmest year I had experienced by that date. So overlook grimness in all writers under the age of thirty. They have earned it.)

Thus far, I cannot figure out the characters; there is no logical pattern that I recognize. It’s like the author has forced opposing personalities, who usually avoid one another at cocktail parties, to inhabit the same person. What I find even more disconcerting is that the infant Eugene appears to have a higher level of consciousness than the adults. He is aware of how new and strange his world is, and it terrifies him. 

Eugene is traumatized by everyday occurrences because he does not understand them—and he knows he does not understand them.  Smiling adults peering over his bassinet, tender arms picking him up, sounds of cooing from his siblings, all make Eugene’s waking world a nightmare. It’s just too weird.
However, to be fair, I thought about whether babies in general could be traumatized by innocent Life. Then I remembered the time I changed my sister’s diapers when she was a baby; I wondered whether she was traumatized by the ordeal. I was three years old at the time and was dead set on Helping Mother, however much she dreaded it.

I think my mom was outside hanging the wash when I discovered that Debbie had a soiled diaper. I felt called to the task of changing it. I vividly remember two things: One, the diaper was huge; it was like negotiating with a wool blanket. Two, feces was everywhere; like the movie The Blob, it kept growing and devouring everything in the room.

I tried to kill it with a liberal sprinkling—make that dousing—of baby powder. Powder, powder, everywhere! It didn’t work. The Baby Blob was undeterred. To this day, the fragrance of baby powder carries with it a slight hint of baby poop. I guess I was traumatized.

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