My fickle pickiness about not eating foods that are messy doesn’t come without exceptions. The messiest thing that I absolutely love to eat is mango. Fresh, ripe mango is a wonderful momentary escape to sweet tropical sunsets and the sound of the ocean outside your window—just without the issue of sand everywhere and having to dodge seagull shit. I will break my rule of not allowing liquids other than water between my fingers for mangos. And I will ravage the pit of a ripe mango on the premise that I do so over the kitchen sink. The juice can go from my hands to the sink and right afterwards I can lather my hands in warm soapy water.
I must have been about ten when I first saw a mango. My dad, who was a full-blown McDougal vegan by then, bought one from Safeway and brought it home. I remember him saying, “it’s a mango,” answering the question I asked implicitly with my eyes. I watched him hold it and smell it and he told me, “it’s like an apple, but you can’t eat the peel.” I didn’t know that he didn’t know what a mango was like and I lost interest in it after that. Later on when my dad decided to eat it, I watched him fumble around with a too-dull knife trying to peel a too-hard mango. Mangos when they are not ripe have this strong perfume-y, headache-y smell, especially just under the peel. A smell that makes your mouth water: not in the way a juicy burger would, but in a way that you start to salivate from behind your molars and the saliva you produce feels slightly colder than the temperature of your mouth. This is called mouth sweat and it also happens right before you vomit.
I saw an almost whole uneaten mango in the garbage after dinner so I just assumed mangos were terrible. If my dad, who would eat crazy gross shit like unsalted vegan seven-bean Seitan surprise (surprise! it tasted horrible!), couldn’t eat a mango, it must have been pretty bad. That was the last I saw of mangos for a long time. I remember getting dried mango as a snack somewhere and I immediately thought to myself, “this mango jerky is as bad as fruit leather.”
It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood when I started eating mangos; and it started because I had a sample of one at a market and it was divine. How could my dad not have liked this? Did his obsessive veganism alter his tastebuds? That was valid reasoning given some of the non-meat meat-like things he subjected himself to. One time when he was much older he had “chorizo” made from soy and recycled phone books. During dinner I kept watching him eat and the “casing” was suspiciously clear and wasn’t behaving like a foodstuff, but he was eating it.
“Dad, I’m not sure you’re supposed to eat the casing.”
“Yes you are,” he huffed back.
I fished the package out of the garbage and read that the casing was indeed plastic and the idea was to squeeze the “fauxrizo” out before enjoying. Enjoyment might be a stretch, but nonetheless I showed my dad the package and said, “see, I was right, I told you that it was plastic.” He looked at me and said, “No. No, you’re supposed to eat it, see?” And he held up a forkful of fauxrizo with a jaggedly cut piece of clear plastic casing poking out and defiantly shoved it in his mouth. The bit of plastic he ate that night did little damage compared to the fifth of plastic-bottle vodka he drank daily.
The most memorable mango I’ve had was when we were living in the Canary Islands. I do not know why this one stands out—besides its being delicious—because I have had many good mangos. But this one was special. Maybe because it was just that much better than the other great mangos I’ve eaten. Maybe because I ate the pit while I was especially hungry over an immaculately clean sink. Maybe it is simply because that one was meant to be remembered. Either way, the one minute I spent leaning over the sink gnawing on that mango pit was a great moment in my life and I compare all great mangos to that one. Indulging in a mango pit feast or remembering the one from the Canary Islands is a simple pleasure I do when life’s complexities start to overwhelm. I breathe in the round aromas. I savor the tender flesh bursting with sweet nectar and resign myself to the almost sinful sensation of sticky syrup dripping down my fingers. Having such a strict rule about keeping my hands clean makes it exhilarating when I do break it (I’m quite the rebel, I know). And in this moment of sweet abandon I forgive the rude lady who cut in front of me at the self checkout. I get to forget about having watched my dad pickle himself until he ceased to be. I get a momentary reprieve from stubborn toddler pouting and impossible toddler logic and fielding his new favorite question, “¿por qué?” 12 times a minute. I exhale.
Things are better after I exhale, too. Reserves of patience are tapped, smiles find their way back to my face. I remember that we’re all human and that he’s only two and doesn’t know the answer to the question, “why would you do that?” even if I ask it a thousand times. Most importantly I remember that living in the moment requires being mindful in that moment. The clarity with which I remember that Canary Island mango is a template for how I want to live more moments in my current life. Especially now that I see how fast my little boy is growing up, I want to to able to look back in ten, twenty, thirty years and remember how things were today. Even when he starts to cry that his toy car is on the floor right after he throws it off the table.
Deep breath. Remember the mango. And exhale.