The Cilantro-Eater

[Originally, sort of.]

They’d have mentioned it on the menu if it came with it. They’d have included it on the list. This is the sort of place that falls all over itself to list ingredients, so there was no need to ask. Nothing about this flavor profile calls for it, and they’re show-offy, but they’re not that show-offy, so it’s not going to come with it, so there’s no need to call attention to myself by asking about it. If they had listed it, I could have said something, maybe – but then I already asked if there was any shrimp in it – I’m sure it doesn’t come with any.

It’s really not at all unusual not to include cilantro on the menu without mentioning it these days. I’m not the only one, of course, and someone’s always talking about the soap thing, how it’s really not like other kinds of pickiness, it really is genetic and can’t be helped. Maybe that’s worse. Maybe it’s better to simply say, I’m picky about this. I don’t like it. I can’t be pleased; this can’t possibly please me, my mind is quite made up than I am in thrall to my chromosomes – I can’t even decide what I want cilantro to taste like – my tongue is broken and full of soap. And I hate the people who put my chromosomes together — clumsy, monstrous puzzlers, the both of them, the whole unbroken line of agony ancestors folding their useless, self-destructing enzymes into one another until they made me and my stumbling tongue.

Is that it? That’s it, isn’t it? God, it’s absolutely riddled with those little green stems, bristling with agony — they’ve put a forest on it — I’m going to have to send it back – no, I’m going to have to pick it all off, carefully blowing lost little pieces out to the tip of my tongue and working them out of my mouth with my hands, I’m going to have to swallow it – no it isn’t, no it isn’t, use your brain for once you idiot, it’s parsley, no one puts cilantro on gnocchi. It’s just parsley, and that’s not even what you ordered.

It’s just that it’s already in some of the foods I like the most, the most fragrant and vivid foods, it’s in everything Thai and Mexican and half the world’s best dishes besides, and to have to scrunch up your face and ask, “Does this come with —? Do you mind if I ask —?” is degrading to the palate and dispiriting to every dining companion, who know it’s not your fault because of your soap-genes, but can’t help but hold it against you regardless. I must have done something to deserve it. Something unadventurous and unwelcoming, something foreboding and oafish is knit into my DNA, and my tongue bears the truth. The tongue is the mirror of the soul, and I can taste Hell.

I’ve already given up so much. Please, just don’t let there be any this time. If there’s not any this time, I’ll be so careful from now on, I promise. Every time, I’ll ask. Every time, I’ll find a way just to quickly and casually ask, or not even ask, just let them know, “I can’t eat cilantro,” and I’ll only apologize once, not compulsively, and the rest of the dinner will roll on into the evening like a lovely, broad stream, with everyone wading into it together.

This is the last time I’ll think about it. Please, please don’t let it come with any. I can’t send it back and start eating ten minutes behind everyone else. Maybe — maybe it won’t taste like soap this time. I made myself like olives, didn’t I? That was real. I didn’t like olives, and then I kept eating them, just a little bit at a time, and now I could make practically a whole meal of them. Now every time I go to the store I head practically first straight to the olive bar and start spooning up the glossiest, fattest, blackest olives into those little tupperwares you can take home with you. I eat them with everything now.

But olives don’t count, not when it comes to this, and no one’s going to care or even believe you — it’s not the same for them, it just tastes like something green and floral, and I’d love to taste something green and floral, I’d give anything to taste it the way they can taste it. I want to love it better than anyone else has ever loved it in the world. You’re so safe, sitting over there, smug in the certainty of your order, knowing that chives are going to taste like chives and lovage is going to taste like lovage, but I don’t know if I’m going to have to work out a hundred tiny shards of sharp-but-cloying green poison out of my teeth while pretending everything’s fine, and it’s not the same.

And they say it doesn’t matter anymore, to be picky about food, but I don’t want to be picky, I want to be cosmopolitan and ready for anything, I want the entire world to pass through my mouth in the course of a single evening and to rate nothing, evaluate nothing, set aside my powers of discrimination and experience nothing more complicated than the feeling of being overwhelmed by sensation, but nothing can arrest motion like the vile little spit-surprise of cilantro —

I must stop this. I must stop — maybe there won’t be any at all, or just a little bit, and if it’s just a little bit I can roll the flecks away with the furthest tine of my fork, and perhaps no one will notice. I’m sure there won’t be any tonight. I’m absolutely sure of it, and anyway, it’s probably parsley.