How “Mom Brain” made me forget I left a stinky fish in my car

There’s an old adage that a fish stinks from the head down, meaning that when things go wrong in businesses, governments and what have you, they start at the top. I cannot verify which part of the fish that I left in my car’s backseat last month started to smell first. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say – all of it?

What I do know is that responsibility for the stinkiness in my poor, defenseless Prius lies solely with me. Also on me: the slight “I Love Lucy”-like ordeal that resulted from it, including having to drive my kid to pre-school with the windows down and then having to tell my editor I’d be in late because I had to hustle to the car wash right now.

This was such a colossal fail in basic attention skills that even my son Brooks, the usual culprit behind popular household capers as “Where Are Your Pants?” and “Why Is There Old Mac and Cheese On My Pillow?” wouldn’t even take the rap for it.

“I not do this!” he said, gleefully. “Mommy, you did this!”

I would like to blame this sitcom-worthy goof and others, like the time I bought what I thought was a cute purse that turned out to be a jaunty dog carrier, on what is known as Mom Brain, a sort of waking fog where you’re temporarily unable to locate the keys you’re still holding in your hands, that you just opened the front door with.

But I wasn’t all that good at finding basic stuff even before Brooksie came along, and that fish, an entire salted Pompano in a Ziplock bag leftover from a friend’s event and given to me as a culinary challenge, wasn’t even the first dumb thing I ever forgot. That list includes my purse and laptop, bananas zipped into lunch bags, and now-melted Popsicles that have to be refrozen and are too misshapen and sad-looking to eat.

Most of the time, you leave stuff in the car because you didn’t have any more space in your hands and honestly meant to go back and get it before getting sidetracked by ringing phones and the like. It’s often stuff that is so commonplace that you just overlook it. But it is less commonplace to have a plastic-wrapped fish, its dead accusatory eye staring at you from within a cocoon of white sea salt flakes, in your car.

You would think your brain, at some point would say “Hey! There’s a fish in my car, sitting right there! I should probably remember that!” But I didn’t, probably because I’d picked up the fish from my friend on the way home from shopping for a big party I was having the next day, and stuck it in a car already packed with supplies from three different stores. So it wasn’t until that same friend called a few days later to ask which Pinterest recipe I’d chosen to prepare this special bounty that I thought “Oh, the fish!”

But instead of checking the refrigerator to make sure it was there, I went back to whatever episode of “Law and Order” I was watching, or just eating leftover party potato salad, which is delicious. So it was not until two days later that I opened the back passenger door looking for my son’s sippy cup that I found that cold accusatory eye staring up at my like “I met my final reward not dipped in cornmeal and hot oil, but in a bag next to an old ‘Entertainment Weekly’ you never read. J’accuse.”

I quickly threw it out, and initially thought I’d dodged the stinky bullet when it didn’t smell that day. I credit my friend and her salting and old-school food preservation skills for it not getting really, really Medieval up in there.

But the next day, it was more noticeable. Not nausea noticeable, but fishier than a car should smell. Thus the windows-down car trip and the toddler mocking, and then having to call in sick, except it was more like calling in dead fish. Even the guys at the car wash down the street, who have no doubt hallowed out many a stinky vehicle, stuck their heads in and stuck their eyebrows up like “Oh, come on, lady.”

It’s all very embarrassing and I’m sure that the next time I go to that car wash that the guys are going to be calling me Fish Lady behind my back. But two good things came out of DeadFishGate. One was a very clean car, cleaner than it’s been since we bought it, that I’m now paranoid about leaving even an empty envelope in because clutter is the slippery slope to dead fish.

The other benefit? A very funny story to tell, that has now become this column, because I know now that if you ever see me in the parking lot of the supermarket, or at the mall, that you might say, “Hey Leslie! Did you check your back seat?” And it’s going to be slightly embarrassing. But it will be worth it.


TELL ME the craziest things you’ve ever forgotten or left in your car in the comments section below!

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