Dispatches at The Prospect are brief reflections from our writers that focus on their experiences during the summer break. This piece is part of the Dispatch summer 2022 series.
There’s something about the hand soap in Midtown Manhattan.
It may not be quite that rare, but there are only two places I have lathered my hands in that pink cleansing goop: my mom’s office and my own. Scent is said to be the strongest sense when it comes to emotions, and the soap’s light, floral fragrance calls happy memories to the front of my mind.
When I was a kid, my mom would spend long days and nights at her office on 35th Street. Whether she was giving her all to a trial, or finishing up billing towards the end of the month, weekends at the firm were a regular ordeal. But true to her nature as a working mother, she would often drag me along — she isn’t one to waste time with her family, even if it would add an extra hour or two of kiddie distraction.
Those nights were cast with the magic of a dimmed and vacant office. My sister and I would start out playing hide-and-seek in conference rooms and supply closets. Takeout and a sweet treat were also a must; the food is always bomb in Midtown, but there was a Thai place on the corner that had the most incredible noodles I have ever tasted, piquing my love of international cuisine. We would shift to coloring with crayons or playing make-believe with the action figures my mom had stashed in her desk drawers. At the end of the night we’d crash in sleeping bags on the carpeted floor, while my mom worked away. And I absolutely loved the scent of that pink bathroom soap.
A lot has changed since those nights. I’ve grown, my mom’s grown, and our relationship has grown more complicated, as mother-daughter relationships often do. My parents changed jobs and moved out of NYC, just as my semi-independent life at Princeton began. And this summer, I found myself interning at a nonprofit just a few blocks over from her old workplace — where things were simpler.
Now, I spend my lunch breaks exploring the Garment District alone, without my mom there to hold my hand (or pay for my coffee). Outside of the hours of 9-to-5, the day’s schedule is up to me. But these past few weeks, I have also gotten a preview of adult life’s calm mundanity. I’m now the one typing for hours at my computer, instead of abusing every color in a jumbo crayon set. And despite the career opportunities and newfound freedom, it’s hard to let go of childhood. Youth isn’t over for me yet, but this is a reminder: the end is in sight.
I may not have journeyed far from home this summer (54 minutes by the Long Island Railroad, to be exact). But in a neighborhood so familiar, I’m experiencing something new. I can’t fight the end of childhood, the way I waged wars with plastic dragons and princesses. But whenever it becomes too much, I can step into the restroom. I can rinse my hands, close my eyes, and breathe in the floral scent of that Midtown office soap. Sure, it may look foolish to outside eyes, but it will bring me right back to those nights we had, a few blocks away and a decade ago.
For now, I have three more years of college to tackle first. Maybe I’ll take some soap for the road.
Gia Musselwhite is a Features contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com or @gia.musselwhite on Instagram.