There’s a plant, with tiny white flowers, people call, “Baby’s Breath.” Florists always bundle a little Baby’s Breath into floral arrangements without anybody asking them to. Why? I don’t know, they just do. You’ll learn of this when you buy carnations or a corsage, or roses, for some school event you’ll attend with a date.
When I bought flowers for a girl for the first time, I panicked as the florist casually tossed a few sprigs of the stuff in with the carnations I’d ordered. “I can’t afford those,” I confessed meekly. “Oh don’t worry sweetheart, they’re free,” the florist assured me.
I think the point of Baby’s Breath is to, as they say, “add some interest” to what otherwise is a visually dry clutch of flowers stuck artlessly into a vase or pinned to a girl’s chest. Baby’s Breath eases the eye’s transit from wondrous achievement of nature to cheap glassware from Target without overwhelming the flowers you actually pay for either visually or olfactorily. The Baby’s Breath flowers are tiny, colorless, and if they have any fragrance at all, you pretty much have to shove your face into them and inhale deeply to detect it.
I should buy your mother some flowers, it’s been too long since I last did. Maybe I’ll do that today. And when I do, I’ll ask for extra Baby’s Breath so I can try smelling it. Because I’m curious now, for the first time in my life, what it smells like.
Not long after you were born, and then for months afterward, I had my own idea of what Baby Breath – specifically, your Baby Breath – smells like. And let me tell you, it was exquisite, greenly sweet like a breeze meeting you from across a field of mown alfalfa. Among my favorite early moments with you are those I spent inhaling your tiny exhalations, your head snugly in the cup of my shoulder.
Your mother was still breastfeeding you back then. To the already mountainous pile of sentimental observations on the relationship between mothers and sons, add this one: The human baby does something truly mysterious, wonderful, and beautiful with its mother’s milk to produce the scent of baby’s breath. The process must be utterly impossible to replicate in laboratories, else by now a scheming capitalist or a brilliant chemist would have found a way to bottle the stuff for filling our homes and public spaces with it.
I’ve been reminiscing of these favorite moments today, starting with your first full-throated laugh, which you heaved into my face as soon as you woke, but just before I did.
Something’s changed. Something’s gone horribly wrong. Your breath, since your weaning, smells of warm cat shit in the throat of a human corpse three days decomposed. The corpse of a man plagued by halitosis his whole life who died friendless for it. I suppose this change means you are not a baby anymore.