Aromatherapy is one of my favorite forms of self-care: You light a scented candle and, in an instant, you’re transported to a nostalgic moment or a tropical paradise or a donut plant. Aromatherapy gets you out of your head long enough to remember that you shouldn’t spend too much time in there. There are tons of scented candles on the market: sandalwood, lavender, vanilla. But none of these really hit home with me. They don’t send me to a soothing island of comfort where my mind can get some fresh air and play volleyball with my ego while my soul works the grill. But here are some candle scents that do resonate with me.
Candle Scent: Not Your Daddy’s Ham
Better than: Sparkling Cinnamon, Balsam, and Cedar
Why I want it: When I was child, we’d have a baked ham for family dinner once a week. After simmering in its own juices, the ham tasted like meat procured from heaven itself. My siblings and I would scream, “Daddy’s ham!” when the day was upon us, as he was in charge of buying the family meats. Until one bitterly cold August night, when our mother informed us that our father did not purchase the ham. Neither did she. We were told never to speak of it again. Years went by, until one particularly warm evening in August, when I woke up at 3am to fill random mailboxes with bird seed, as that was “my thing.”
I crept out the front door ever-so-quietly until I saw a man dressed completely in black. He was in the midst of setting a ham down on our porch. I didn’t say a word. He slowly pulled off his ski-mask and revealed himself: It was controversial tennis player John McEnroe. He said, “I’m not your daddy,” and left on a scooter. I never told my mother, my father, or my siblings. All I know is that, to this day when I smell ham, I think of Wimbledon and family secrets that should go to the grave. And it warms my heart.
Candle scent: That Shirt That Gary Wears
Better than: Red Velvet, Sicilian Lemon
Why I want it: Many moons ago, I worked a temp job assembling steel bookshelves for a German man whose name I forget. Let’s call him “Gary.” Gary was almost 7 feet tall and skinnier than a candy cane. He had perfectly coiffed blonde hair and private-plane-gray eyes.
Every day, I’d go up to Gary and pretend I had “forgotten” how to assemble the shelves. He was kind and patient and would always call me by his nickname for me: “stupid American.” What Gary didn’t know is that I wasn’t trying to get instructions from him. Oh no, I wanted something better than common sense: a whiff of Gary’s shirt, which he didn’t change a single time the week I was there. But its aroma was the most beautiful smell that’s ever tickled my nasal cavities. It was a blend of new baby, silver birch, thyme, inflatable rafts, and relentless patience. The shirt itself was a raggedy Aerosmith “Living On The Edge” official tour tee. Every time I smelled it, my body transcended time and space. I was in a parallel universe, where the only thing that mattered was getting caught up in a hurricane of soul-intoxicating stenches.
On my last day of work, Gary pulled me aside and said he had a gift for me. It was a piece of metal that looked like Mira Sorvino (did I mention I’m a huge fan of hers? I probably should have). I’ll never forget his t-shirt or his parting words: “I’m never using Craigslist again, stupid American.”
Candle scent: Fresh Cherry Pie On The Windowsill For Escaped Convicts
Better than: White Sage, Wedding Day
Why I want it: I love movies! I’m very unusual like that. One of my favorite old-timey movie cliches is when someone finishes baking a pie and leaves it to cool on a windowsill. Before you can say, “The Governor called. Flip the switch,” two oafish convicts in their black-and-white striped prison garb sneak through some clothes drying on the line in the sun and snatch said pie. I love cherry pie! It tastes like God is hugging your taste buds. So it angers me that someone would be derelict in their duty of protecting this sacred, crusty treat. I guess I didn’t need to talk about convicts, but the broader point is that cherry pie is a gift from above and the real people who belong in prison are the ones who don’t guard this scrumptious dessert ’til their dying breath.
Candle scent: Ice Cream Coma
Better than: Line-Dried Cotton, Kitchen Spice
Why I want it: I lost one of my best friends to an ice-cream coma last year, so this isn’t a funny yarn I’m about to weave, but I think it’s an important topic/scent. So here goes: Everyone I know has experienced what is commonly referred to as a “brain freeze” or, sometimes, an “ice cream headache” after inhaling ice cream too fast. Everyone I know also stops inhaling ice cream the moment they think they feel a brain freeze coming on. Everyone except Jasper McDillion, that is.
She was the bravest woman I’ve ever met — as well as a collector of art, a critically acclaimed architect, and a hired assassin. Last May, after selling museum blueprints to the Louvre and killing the top five drug lords in Colombia, she decided to eat ice cream. And she didn’t know when to stop. The coroner told me that after eating 20 pints of Ben and Jerry’s “Red, White, and Blueberry,” Jasper fell into a coma, induced by a literal brain-freezing. I visited her every day in the hospital. She was close to death, but the scent emanating from her body gave me life. Words can’t describe it. Picture a dragon playing a harmonica. Do you see it? That’s what it smelled like. When the doctors thawed her out for the last time, I knew it was time to say goodbye to Jasper forever. But I will always say hello to an ice cream coma.
Candle scent: Moneycake
Better than: Peach Cobbler, Midnight Jasmine
Why I want it: My good friend, Bistro Puttente, is constantly robbing banks. Or as he says, “I’m constantly robbing banks. If you tell anyone, I will slit your throat. Do you want to eat some money?”
I love Bistro! What a great sense of humor! And such generosity! He was the one who introduced me to eating money. I’d eaten money in my youth, a dime here, a two-dollar-bill if I was fortunate enough to come across one, but it was always raw. Bistro taught me that with a little basil, cayenne, and Brussels sprouts, you could turn $10 into a feast for one. Bistro constantly reminds me of two things: “You are what you eat” and “Never use bills covered in blue dye.” And I thought a donut was a rich delicacy! Eventually the recipes got into the $100s and that’s when I got my first whiff of moneycake. I can’t tell you the exact recipe, but it’s basically equal parts chocolate cake mix and money. And the smell! It smells like burning paper surrounded by a forest of chocolate cakes topped with charred paper. The lifelong lesson Bistro taught me is: You can have your moneycake and eat it, too.
Candle scent: Loch Ness Monster Kisses
Better than: Sweet Fig and Pomegranate, Sugared Apple
Why I want it: I don’t believe in Bigfoot. I’ve never seen an alien. But when I visited Scotland during my college years (full disclosure: I didn’t go to college), I got lost trying to find swords lodged in various stones. I walked and walked until I came across the most beautiful lake I’ve ever borne witness to. It shimmered and reflected light, its beauty searing itself into my memories ‘till the end of time. To my surprise, a mighty beast came out of the lake. I wrestled it to the ground and, for one brief moment, our eyes locked. And we both knew: It was time to smooch. It just felt right. To this day, I can still taste the sweet and salty taste on my lips. Friends and family have tried to convince me that it wasn’t the Loch Ness Monster. Most likely, I blacked out from too much Guinness and ended up making out with a turtle. Was it ‘Nessy? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I didn’t kiss anyone else for another 10 years.