new emotions

That Feeling When a Minor Problem Seems Like the End of the World

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

This week, the Cut is exploring a scientific theory that suggests we have infinite emotions, so long as we can name them — and so we did, asking writers to identify new ways to feel.

Miniastrophic: A feeling of apocalyptic dread at what is in fact a small incident.

When, in November 2018, my son and his wife announced their plans to relocate from Atlanta to Denver, it soon emerged that they planned to take their 2-year-old son with them.The happy curly-haired boy, my first grandchild, was my special friend and sidekick. We had projects galore. On his street, at the edge of a creek, he gingerly picked up fallen sugarberry leaves and carried them tenderly one by one to an old bin left at the curb. At my house, while listening to the Moana soundtrack, he focused on the removal of all highlighter pens from one plastic pouch and their reinsertion into an identical pouch. Or he colored the pictures of stop signs I drew for him (he loves stop signs). We shared a sense of humor, too, like when one of the dogs sneezed, it was so funny.

At the news of the little boy’s imminent departure, I flew past moderation and straight into apocalypse. “The lamps are going out all over Europe,” I thought, recalling the words of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey at the start of the First World War. I knew just which lights I meant by this, and they were not Europe’s. My light was a kind of sparkling haze that seemed to envelope the 11-minute route from my house to my grandson’s. When I came out from under the overpass of DeKalb Avenue, the haze brightened. It glittered brighter still as I drove past the dog park, the dollar store, and the storefront church and through the village of Oakhurst as if strands of ornamental fairy lights dangled from the trees. Just the presence of this small boy on the east side of Atlanta lit the whole place up.

“I know this isn’t a tragedy,” I told my husband. We’ve known tragedy. This wasn’t it. But my feelings thought it was a tragedy. Convinced my grandson would forget me instantly, I resolved to take the highlighter pens and their matching cases with me on every visit. I’d play Moana on my phone. And I’d always wear the peach lotion that I’d worn since he was born. It would take him back to his first weeks of life when I rocked him on our back porch and sang to him while Kiss My Face Peaches & Crème Lotion wafted around us. In the future, if a dimly remembered woman with a suitcase, redolent of Peaches & Crème, knocked at his Denver door, wouldn’t he instantly recall me as a figure from his early childhood in Georgia?

And that’s when my miniastrophic feelings really began. Because there was only a quarter-inch of Kiss My Face Peaches & Crème Lotion left in the tall pump dispenser in my bathroom and I soon discovered it was perhaps the last ounce of the stuff remaining in North America. Kiss My Face had discontinued Peaches & Crème! I tracked down the last new bottle in the continental U.S. to a natural foods market in Brooklyn. I phoned these people, prepared to pay almost any sum since my grandson’s memory of me was at stake. Oh no, they said, sorry, sold out.

In its place, every seller offered Kiss My Face Olive & Aloe Lotion. But a Georgia grandmother cannot show up in Denver, hoping to prompt her grandson’s southern backyard memories, smelling like olives! I then channeled my apocalyptic overreaction into a search for a replacement peach lotion. For a brief period of insanity, nothing mattered so much as this. I spent my days studying peach lotions online. Some of their names made me skeptical, like  the manufacturers didn’t know where peaches came from: for example, Vineyard Peach Body Lotion. Some brands found peaches inadequate and mashed them up with other fruits or flowers, producing Peaches & Pear Body Lotion or Apricot & Peach Body Butter or White Peach & Peony. Peach & Honey Almond Shea Butter sounded like an ice-cream flavor. Others sounded like lunch. Georgia Peach Sweet Tea Lotion, Peach and Avocado Moisturizer, and Mango Peach Salsa Body Butter. (Can we get bread with that?)  When I encountered Fresh Peach Olive Oil, I thought, What fresh hell is this?

By this time I had moved from World War I rhetoric to World War II: Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” now thundered in my mind. “We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” Yes. That is how grimly I strove to replace the ineffable Peaches & Crème lotion of my grandson’s early childhood. Churchill’s speech has come down through history as the “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech. My mission rhymed with it: “I Shall Track Down Those Peaches.”

In time, a few new peach lotions arrived by mail. Goat Milk Peach Delight. Fresh Peaches Body Butter. Silky Peach Face Lotion. They’re all lovely. None of them smelled like the sweet and airy Kiss My Face Peaches & Crème. I nevertheless stuffed one of them in my purse for my first trip to Denver after the kids’ move. I quickly smoothed it on before running up the stairs to find my grandson in his new house. The instant he saw me, he squeaked and did a somersault of delight across the playroom carpet. And then another somersault. And then he righted himself, grabbed a highlighter pen and ran over to hand it to me. And he hadn’t even smelled me yet.

Melissa Fay Greene, author of The Underdogs, is the Kirk Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Agnes Scott College.

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That Feeling When a Minor Problem Seems Apocalyptic