I worked on this piece in a Creative Writing course a few semester’s ago and I have decided to go ahead and let it out into the world.
For your reading pleasure. . .
For 19 of her 22 years of life, her only constant was the shade of a mango tree on the side of her abuela’s home in South Florida. In a place where residential developments were plastering over seas of green grass and gravel roads were becoming four lane highways, the shade from that tree provided her with more than relief from a sun that poured rays of blinding light and suffocating heat.
The shade from the mango tree was her everything. She would lie on the plush green bed of grass and stare up at the long leaves that masked the sun and the mangoes that would fall to the ground when they were oto ripe to han on to the tree any longer and escape.
It was her temporary protection from the bullets of Spanish that came her way the first time she was scolded by her abuela; she would never try to steal tortillas from the counter before dinner again. She sailed through the air and past the screened back door and turned the corner of the house to reach the tree. Once behind the tree she couldn’t help but throw her head back towards the sky and laugh, not out of excitement but out of apprehension of what was to come when she went back into the house for dinner.
It was her place of solitude when she didn’t know what to make of situations, like the first time she was ever slapped by someone who told her he loved her. Or, the time she was slapped for rolling her eyes at her mother for not letting her go out that same boy, before he slapped her, of course. And, when she yelled at the top of her lungs that she was broken and needed help from her parents, but they took it as a phase caused by hanging out with the wrong crowd. Even the times that she ran the cold metal across her smooth flesh, she still didn’t know what to make of that aside from sedated relief it gave her.
It was her source of strength when she felt weaker than the branch that broke off that tree during a tropical storm. Like, when her brother told her that he wished she was a boy so that he could have a little brother. Or, the time that she slipped and scraped her knee when playing hide-and-seek with her cousin, but as soon as she reached base the shade of that tree, she felt untouchable.
It was her treasure box of memories that she wanted to forge into diamonds and tuck away in her jewelry box. There were times that she would have to write down memories from the fall or spring and wait until summer arrive to visit the shade of that mango tree to retrace every breath, blink, and sound that she never wanted to alter. Like the time she fell in love and she knew it, but was too scared to admit that when he called her “nina” she felt butterflies in her stomach, which tried to escape through her lips every time and probably made her sound naive. Or, the time that he finally admitted it and all of her silent prayers finally reached God’s ears and didn’t get lost in the clouds the way she thought they would.
It was her catalyst of changes when she knew that self inflicted pain and shame needed to end. Like the time she cried and cried and cried and felt reassured only when water poured from the sky even though the sun was shining; it was like God giving her permission to hate herself one more time before realizing it was all over if she wanted.
And, it gave her the sweetest taste of pure ecstasy that ever graced her tongue. She would climb up the trunk of the tree for a deep red piece of fruit with sunburst yellow and orange and drop to the ground washing it under the hose and peeling it was a knife she would snatch from the kitchen before stepping outside. That taste was her first taste of nectar that left her forgetting every thought, good and bad, but didn’t leave her with a headache the next day.