February 09, 2016
It all started when I was about 8 years old. My mom had bought these individual, frozen French bread pizzas. They had a nice Alfredo sauce with chicken and cheese on top - and I LOVED them. One day I had heated one up for myself (as a caring, independent child is wont to do) and noticed a fleck of green towards the end of my pizza.
"What is this?" I asked suspiciously, scrupulously eyeing this blight of vegetation that lay upon the virgin ground of cheese, garlic and chicken. "It's probably just rosemary or sage," my mom said, not looking up from the bills she was paying, "It's good."
My first mistake was that I believed her.
Instead of picking off this offensive green flake as I should have done, I ate my pizza in peace (it was very delicious.) When at last I neared the end, I resisted the instinctive urge to remove the alien leaf and bravely took a bite.
At first, I didn't notice much. In fact, it didn't seem to have much taste at all. I shrugged, pleasantly surprised that my mom had (yet again) not been trying to murder me via food, when all of a sudden....
This BITTER, PUNGENT DEATH ODOR crept up the back of my throat and I started coughing. In retrospect, it tasted how I imagine a cigarette filled with beetle legs and wrapped in kudzu leaves would taste.
"What's wrong?" My mom asked, dropping her pen and peering at me in alarm, "Are you choking?" "It's.... not.... rosemary...." I sputtered, gasping for air and reaching for my drink. "Well, what was it?" She asked, which I found to be a fairly ridiculous question. "I don't know!" I cried, "But I think it's going to kill me!"
And I wasn't kidding. I honestly thought that there had been something rotten hiding in the cheese that was going to give me a deadly, communicable disease of some sort... a disease that would surely render me limb from limb, leaving me to die a stricken paraplegic, or I would at least be devoured from the inside out by some evil intestinal parasite.
When none of these things happened and my strength at last returned, I headed out to the freezer to check the box of pizzas. Surely, SURELY, I told myself, the culprit must be listed somewhere in the ingredients. Cheese, garlic, chicken, alfredo sauce.... on and on the list continued, listing various preservatives and normal ingredients I recognized, until at last, I saw it.
The name of my enemy.
The murderous fiend had a name at last! It was one I had heard before, and I knew it to be a small leafy green, but I had never really seen it nor eaten it before.
To this day, I'll never forget that first taste of cilantro, that first encounter with an herb that fought the whole way down, even as I chewed it. Even now, almost 20 years later, I can detect just a single life in a gallon of salsa, and my innards shudder in remembrance of that awful, awful day.