At the grocery store the other day I caught a whiff of some mangoes. These weren't the regular mangoes that we always get here in the frozen Tundra that is Southern Ontario in the middle of August, sterile, artificial-looking, shriveled little things manufactured in a plant in China right next to counterfeit iFones. These new mangoes were instead sterile, artificial-looking, shriveled little things that smelled really good, like the genuine deal you'd find in exotic places like the more upscale grocery store uptown that I never go to. When I caught the scent of these mangoes I had to stop for a moment because something happened then that hasn't happened to me in a very long time. I actually felt something. Somewhere deep inside the pit of emotional despair I've grown accustomed and numb to, there was something new. It was mine being stabbed in a brand new place you didn't know could hurt. The feeling was nostalgia.
There was a mango tree in my backyard when I was growing up in El Salvador. It was very tall and I was very short, a condition I eventually grew out of. The existence of this tree is what led to what would become the most traumatic experience of my life. It wasn't exactly the trees fault, but I feel it is at least partially to blame for my poor, and still rapidly deteriorating, mental health. As far as I know, it has never expressed remorse over its involvement in the events.
So when you have a mango tree in your backyard, the general idea is that you'd usually like to eat the mangoes. The mangoes do fall by themselves, I think, but sitting around waiting for a mango to fall can be a trying ordeal, especially when you are hungry as is often the case in a war-torn third world country. Yes, there was a civil war or something going on in El Salvador at this time. Anyway, since the mangoes take too long to fall on their own, the game was to use projectiles to gently encourage them to come down. These weren't projectiles like those that used to fill the night sky when there was fighting in the streets, as my family lied huddled together in the middle of the house in the hopes of avoiding a stray bullet. No, our projectiles were actually simple rocks. They were a lot cheaper than bullets.
For years, I was too small and weak to hit even the lowest mangoes in the tree. I had, and I suppose I still do, an uncle who used to come over. My mother's family was, and I guess still is, big. My mother was the second oldest. My uncle the youngest. Because of this, we weren't too far apart in age. Nevertheless, he was much bigger and stronger, and I guess still is, than I was, and am.
So, when we weren't being bombed or something, my uncle, when he wasn't running away from guerrillas trying to "recruit" him or something, and I would go out in the backyard and we would try to knock mangoes down from the big mango tree. He would succeed, usually. I would not. My throws were, unbeknownst to me at the time, representative of literally every single thing I would ever try for the rest of my life: weak, futile attempts that would fall shy off the mark and arc down back to earth to bounce once or twice in an unexpectedly endearing little dance of mockery.
It went on that way for years. The war too, I suppose, but we were still able to go out into the backyard even during the many times we were under martial law. My tally of failed throws continued to climb, as did the body count and the total collective amount of blood I would see on the streets in the morning. It was incredibly depressing, not being able to get a mango down while my uncle was able to do so with such ease, even under martial law. I imagine my mental health problems have a lot to do with the psychological damage I endured during this mangoless time. It is somewhat ironic then that the event that pushed me completely over the edge was the moment when I actually succeeded.
It was early afternoon, I believe, because I could still see despite the lack of electricity. It had been maybe a week since we had been caught in the middle of a gun fight while coming back from San Salvador, the country's capital city, so it was a fine day for rock throwing. I had, not entirely unexpectedly, grown over the years, despite probable malnourishment. I can't exactly remember the throw itself but I imagine it must have been magnificent. It should have been the peak of my existence, and I suppose it probably felt like it was as I watched the rock trace a gorgeous path straight toward a beautiful, fat mango, like a homemade explosive device aimed at a beautiful, fat government building. The rock hit the target and I watched the mango float dreamily down to the ground where I could finally get my hands on it and tear its delicious flesh with my teeth, like machetes used to tear through human flesh when drunks decided to settle their disputes on the street in front of my house.
The most beautiful mango ever in all of creation hit the ground and I raced toward it. Though I had developed a little more strength and size I had not, apparently, developed speed, for I was beaten to the mango by my uncle. He seized it in his greedy hands. I stood in horror, somehow aware that this was my life's defining moment. It was the single event that finally broke something inside of me. I could feel the last of my innocence crumble in on itself like the body of an innocent civilian shot in the middle of a dispute he doesn't understand. I had never experienced anything so awful and inhuman before, and my poor, childish mind was not ready for it. It was the trauma of that day, of that moment when he took the first bite of my mango, that made me grow up, and gave me the scars that I carry with me to this day.