My Recent Divorce, and/or Dior Homme Intense
In late April, I filed for divorce from my wife of two years, who was also my girlfriend of four and a half years.
Following a volatile weekend, I’d taken a week away from her to decide whether we should continue our relationship, during which I crashed on my friend Steve’s couch in LA, next to his weight bench, electric piano, and a window onto a typically leafy and sun-baked LA laneway.
During that week, as I mulled things over, my car was stolen, as well, while I ate a Cubano sandwich for lunch and felt every emotion I was capable of experiencing, in an emulsion which hung about my skin.
It was an intense meal. I felt rage at the joy we’d felt together, and joy at the rage I felt towards her and myself, and, flickering in and out, flamelike reevaluations of all of my most dearly held recollections of our early romance, as I palpated the greasy bread.
Then I returned to my parking spot and the car was gone. By the next day, after I wandered around the neighborhood to make sure I hadn’t just parked it somewhere weird, I’d decided that we should, in fact, call off the marriage, which she’d predicted I would.
Then I just fucking kind of walked around for a couple of days.
In May in Silverlake, the jasmine blooms enormous, and its thick glamorous treacliness, along with its armpitty undertones, cradle you while you saunter amongst the hot people and overpriced real estate. Guard dog urine and puffs of weed accompany the jasmine, and the sun sweeps clean through you, animating colors so vivid that your meagre awareness feels unable to hold it all, like it might spill over at any time.
We are tempted to think that our identity resides inside us: that we are the little homunculi operating the controls behind our foreheads.
But, clearly, this is not true—our identity is distributed in the people around us, our routines and possessions, as much as it is held in a bone cage perched upon the spine.
We are the people who use this lotion, who stand, indecisive, upon that threshold—to say nothing of how much of our consciousness is held in the form of the body sleeping next to us, if there is one.
My life was in the shape of a person, a house, a landscape—the desert, where we lived—and a car, roughly in that order, and they were all gone.
Without any of this, the days were composed of raw sensation, pouring through me, with nothing to catch it.
I’d faced this once before, some months previous; during a trip to Peru we’d broken up, and while she resided in the east of the country, I languished in Lima, confronting the possibility that I would spend my life without her.
There and then, I made some friends, and we went to the beach and rented wetsuits from some sketchy dudes selling random shit out of cars in disrepair. I sat on the rocks and did not swim, with my head in my hands, feeling reality become blurred and unaccountable, while the surfers went far far out, almost disappearing from sight.
And then we went back to California, gave it another shot, and it didn’t work out, and my reality ruptured again, the foreignness returned. Even my own body was foreign, being that it was so strangely un-held and un-kissed.
During this week of wandering, it was important to have some familiar things to hold onto, so that my current existence didn’t feel entirely discontinuous.
One of them was Dior Homme Intense, which had been my favorite fragrance, my daily wear, during the period where our marriage dragged itself through its final dirt.
Afterwards, the fragrance became a portable home, an anchor, something I could hold as evidence that I both had been alive and was still. I would wake, confused, at Steve’s, and then make my confusion smell better with a spray of DHI.
DHI is designed by the master perfumer Francois Demachy. Like many well-made fragrances, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end—it changes throughout its wearing, each alteration complimenting the next. So it was a beautifully recognizable drama, a series of gestures I was intimately familiar with, playing out on my wrists alongside the unrecognizable drama of those first few hot desperate days.
Every masculine perfume is, in some way, a referendum on a vision of masculinity. DHI is unusual in that it is iris-focused—usually, iris is a hallmark of feminine fragrances, such as the classics from Chanel.
When I say ‘iris’ you probably imagine a flower, and there is such a thing, but, in this case, we are referring to the root of the plant, which, correctly processed, smells like the inside of certain handbags, or like a carrot’s sexier cousin.
It is a scent both light and grounded. When it is added to rose, as it often is, it anchors the rose’s brilliance without overburdening it. It provides a chunk of atmosphere which frames the rose’s luminescence.
It’s the pale core of spring earth, the slender butter of morning, the lightest air breathed from the mouth of a slightly musty hallway.
It has a fundamental freshness to it, smelling like something recently grown, recently plucked from the claws of entropy—but, contrary to what expectations that might give you, iris butter takes a long time to produce. The root must grow for three years in the dirt, and then age in the sun for another two, before it takes on the painstakingly produced newness that is its trademark.
If, on some crazy intuition, Victoria and I had planted some iris on the day we’d met, it would have been almost, but not quite, ready for use by the time our relationship ended.
The plant would just now be crystallizing in the appropriate way, as I sit here writing, on the opposite coast from her, writing this, watching children play in a courtyard in Manhattan. (In point of fact, I don’t actually know that she’s on the opposite coast—we haven’t talked in a week or so.)
But this is pure whimsy; we never would have done this; and we spent the first part of our relationship mostly on planes; we didn’t plant anything other than the seeds of the insane narratives which first nourished our relationship, and then proved completely inadequate to the trials we (or at least I) failed to surmount.
About two weeks in she was telling me that I should die after her, and I was calling her my FLP, 'future life partner.' Now, looking back, these declarations were obviously warning signs, lovely as they were at the time.
Every masculine perfume is, in some small way, a referendum on one or another vision of masculinity. What does it mean for a man to present himself on such a fluffy foundation? What is the iris man all about?
One could read the situation optimistically or pessimistically.
Perhaps the iris man has a positive kind of ethereality. He is light, but not insubstantial—firm, but capable of surfing fluctuation.
He is supple enough to read the present situation without prejudice, open enough to perceive a basic incompatibility in a relationship, undeniable despite the historical abundance of love and affection. He can accept that, as much as there is a ring to the phrase ‘til death do us part,’ it would be better to accept some other arrangement before the inevitable intrusion of mortality.
He can go, well, things were good and pretty once, they’re bad and ugly now, and in doing so, perhaps he will be wise.
But there’s another way to spin it.
Perhaps he is, the iris man, just a fluffy nothing. Maybe he lacks the steadfastness to be a rudder; the lightness at the heart of his soul is also a vacuity; the aesthetic dimension of his being is a cover, and a thin one. He looks like a boulder but is cake.
During the relationship-ending argument, which prompted the temporary decamping to LA heretofore discussed, my wife requested that I remain in conversation with her even though I had a Zoom call I didn’t want to cancel—she wanted me to be a pillar and hold firm during the emotional tidal-wave that was crashing all around us. Instead I took the call, during which I successfully sold my professional services to a new client.
At the end of the week in LA, I rented a car to go meet my wife at what was now her residence, to notarize some papers and pick up my stuff. I’d chosen a sensible Civic for the task, but the Enterprise misplaced it, giving me a big red Dodge Challenger in replacement. It filled with the scent of Dior Homme Intense and went vroom vroom.
I drove with the windows down, blaring heavy metal, with a giddy smile on my face, or tears in my eyes, or a look of fixed tight fury, depending on which second you caught me in.
It is always the moment just before death but sometimes it especially feels that way.
The desert house, whose doorframes we’d recently finished together, was tranquil and clean and she was civil and kind and we filled out the necessary papers and went to the notary and we were super super adult about it.
Initially she’d resisted the decision to divorce but she agreed with it upon reflection, in part because of my decisions—what better evidence, after all, could there be of my lack of seriousness?
Here is how the marriage begins.
Her gait, seen across the room, obviously responsive to gravity, but also with a surreal grace and tranquility, indicating access to something beyond the veil. The sound of her footfalls hushed up by murmurs and chuckles from stoned and lazy partygoers.
I hung around performing frivolous actions, picking pans up and putting them down in the adjacent kitchenette, weaving my way slowly into her presence. Our first conversation unmemorable for the words themselves, but highly memorable for their cadence, composing a seeming invitation to an infinite field of play, a new country whose charter we’d just begun drawing up.
One of those rare openings in life, where it is clear, for a moment, that though your condition generally composes one solid surface, flat although variously textured, it does, now and again, split open.
Here is how the marriage ends.
I fled the marital home after the administrative chores were taken care of and started trying to mentally refer to her as my ex-wife.
This was not yet technically correct, and still is not—the divorce will be incomplete for another six months. But that’s kind of irrelevant: the substance of the marriage was a being we created together, a mutually created person, which I, with a few words, had sentenced to exile.
Goodnight to that inconstant, funny man.
I repaired to a hotel room nearby. Before I left town I’d have to file a few more papers to make it official, and the courthouse was already closed for the evening, so I’d need to stay overnight and do it in the morning.
After checking in and taking a shower, I crossed the parking lot in my bare feet, treasuring the warm touch of the asphalt.
I got a bunch of crap from the red car, and went to my room to sort out what to throw away and what to keep.
I elected to discard a few shirts she liked but I never did.
I threw out some exfoliating products, deciding to let the skin care regime get a little lax in the near term.
I threw out some shirts I did like, just to experiment with some mild forms of self-destruction.
Then I put it all back in the car, the junk pile and the keep pile, and did something approximating sleeping.
After I '''slept,''' a clerk named Katie helped me fill out the forms. I’d missed a few details.
I thanked her for helping me correct them. She thanked me for not sobbing. Apparently most people start sobbing when the stamps come down, at the CHUNK-CHUNK sounds which are like a coffin slamming shut, but I did not—at that moment, uncaring seemed like a zesty, fun pastime.
There was no convenient dumpster nearby for my old stuff. I drove to a McDonald’s which had an abundance of garbage cans outside.
Fistful by fistful, I threw out the relics from the fallen temple. Nearby there were a few crows sitting in a shopping cart eating fries.
They looked at me, evaluating my macronutrient content, and/or the macronutrient content of the garbage I was throwing away. It all would’ve made a handsome platter for their consumption.
Then I sprayed on some more Dior Homme Intense and drove back to the city.
The fragrance mingles the aforementioned iris root with a soft pillowy sweetness. It’s reminiscent of pear, to some degree, but a bit abstracted, the kind of dusky sweetness that arrives on the wind unexplained sometimes, the airborne sugar after rain releases certain syrups trapped near minerals, or the condensed felicity of a leaky greenhouse.
It’s a flush that suggests intimacy—not the moment of physical consummation necessarily, but rather just before, that nanosecond when the boundaries between two bodies dissolve.
You’d think this sugar-on-butter concept, the sweetness-on-iris, would feel a little soggy, or, at least, not particularly masculine. But it doesn’t, thanks to the firmness of the structure, a perfect tension in the proportion of ingredients and their potency.
It has tensegrity—gravity attained not by any one material weighing it down, but, instead, by the molecules tugging against each other. It’s cozy but firm, sweetness with shapeliness.
Again, two ways of reading the man who would choose such a sugary cloak.
One is: he is always seeking the brighter side of life, and, in that seeking, brightens what is near, never settling for misery that doesn’t need to be there, chasing ugly and transient clouds from the otherwise clear skies of himself and those around him.
Another is: in his desire for pleasantness, he turns away from the darkness that has to be faced in the creation of anything good and true.
There is no standard here, of course, this is pure subjectivity. Dior Homme Intense is regarded as a classic, but some deride it as insubstantial, powdery, unmanly.
If you want to know why we got divorced—well, that’s easy, Jack, it says it right there on this paper.
Irreconcilable differences. That’s the standard Californian legalese.
And I guess I swore legally that I agree to those terms. But, well, surely not, right? Surely there is some possible reality in which the differences of the moment, between us, could’ve been corrected.
If God said hey I’m going to redo the Holodomor if you don’t figure this shit out right now, plus you won’t love anyone else ever again, I think we probably would’ve come to a few agreements, settled on at least some begrudging peace, enough to survive under one roof in whatever state of middling happiness.
In the end I was just making a call. I decided that we would probably be happier separated, based on an assessment of the future which, given its nature, and given my nature, was impossible to perform anywhere near perfectly or completely.
The oxytocin felt awfully overdrawn. It felt like we were just hurting each other without wanting to, that this had become the hard-to-reverse baked-in structure of our interactions. This maybe, I reckoned, wasn’t the kind of thing one should introduce a baby to.
I believe this. But I would like to note that I cannot swear upon its reality. Maybe our turbulence was normal stuff that I wasn’t tough enough for.
We just do hurt each other. And by ‘we,’ I mean, any one of us two scared naked primates left alone together.
It’s perhaps impossible to have a long-term relationship where there isn’t some kind of hurt.
Even with the best intentions, we, with our petty wants, our insecurities, our little rages, make demands of each other that, even if individually reasonable, in aggregate, constrain the other, deform their wishes, manipulate them in a way that might, okay, fair enough, actually be healthy in some ways, given the healthfulness of sacrifice and service, but, equally, or more so, simultaneously, could shrink them, to an extent large or small, into a stunted version of who they once were, some thinner more fragile lacquer impression of their former selfhood, a shadow of the original being which, ironically, is who we fell in love with, or so we thought, before we started to change them, simply by virtue of ongoing mutual proximity.
That is, to some degree, as far as I can tell, what you should expect, a lot or a little, to happen in gross or subtle ways.
So you hurt each other but you remain optimistic so you patch each other up and continue. Sometimes that happens continuously, at a rate where the hurt never builds up significantly or impedes a basic feeling of togetherness and security, which is, I think, what’s known as a healthy relationship.
Or you decide that the rate of hurt exceeds the possible rate of the patching so you let the hurt be the last chapter of the story. You say, perhaps there is a finer pasture but more looking will require some more patience and I am very tired.
If that's what you choose, it’s then your subsequent choice—which takes the rest of your life to make—whether your divorce will be an educational experience allowing you to love better in the future, or whether maybe you'll become one of those guys who just gets divorced a lot.
I am optimistic but I was also optimistic four years ago?
Ultimately my frailty was the issue at hand.
In the days following my drive back from the desert, my speech was halting and awkward, not just because of my emotional state.
I couldn’t help but noticing, in real time, how many of my idioms were lifted from her, how many of mine had become hers.
She was lodged so completely in me that I couldn’t order lunch without one of her mannerisms falling out of my mouth.
I spoke in a rhythm that was distinctly hers as I told the server at the airport hotel, on the morning I flew back to Toronto, that I would like a muffin along with my corn flakes.
I wondered how durable that state of affairs would be, wondering whether I would be tortured by my speech apparatus indefinitely.
Turns out it took a month or so for that part of the pain to work itself out. The idiosyncrasies of the relationship seem like your deepest fluency while you’re in it, but they evaporate rapidly, like any other unspoken language.
During our marriage I kept a little website documenting a bunch of the cute things she said. I’m 50-50 on what I should do with it.
I am now a documentarian of a different kind, in the evenings I spend alone, going over all of my recollections, and back, and over again, shuffling and reshuffling. Some of the shuffles come out with me looking good, some not.
Every act of remembrance is an editorial decision. I distort the mass of soggy pictures with every touch.
There’s a lot I’ve already forgotten. Some of this is survival. Some things I’ll keep and I hope I keep them well, as they deserve to be kept and honored. My memory was never amazing in the first place.
When I left the country I was almost out of DHI. Briefly I was worried that this would be my last bottle.
Eventually, all perfumes go off the market—some in a season, some in decades—and some are reformulated, for reasons of cost or due to the changing availability of some necessary material, appearing in the same bottle but smelling quite different.
But the duty free store at LAX had another 100ml container, and it still smells great in this year's formulation, so that’s one thing I’ve got going for me.
When I love again I will have to stop myself from expecting the same things, at the same stages. The way I am looked at will be different, as will be the way I, myself, cast my gaze.
It will be unrecognizable, except for certain smells I will introduce into the atmosphere, some the property of my personal biome, some designed by Francois Demachy.
In the end, Dior Homme Intense winds down beautifully—while it’s quite large and stately in the opening stages, it falls, after a period of hours, like an elegant melancholic onto a therapist’s sofa, into a prettily crumpled little package.
It curls into a new resolution, a small cloudy pearl, its giant mass seemingly collected inwards, as in the formation of a quiet star.
That’s what I hope the better memories of these years will do—fold and gather, losing all of their heat but not all of their light.
Some of them will, some of them won’t.