Last year on Valentine’s Day, I posted this, just as I did the year before in The New Haven Independent. (It’s the same post as the one that follows here, but it has the original ending. If you read the post, which I hope you will, check out the comments.) The post below has some minor edits and a major new ending. Revelations abound!
**** The Tragic Romance of Pickle and Weiner, (NHI March 7 2006)****
For forty-five minutes in sixth grade, my boyfriend was Brian Corasaniti. He was the son of the vice principal at the local high school and we were both of Italian heritage. (This is important because there were so few Italians in Vermont.) His nickname was Pickle because, in fifth grade, he referred to his mother as having a “pickle head” in front of Mr. Pedrin’s whole class. To this day, my friends and I still refer to Brian as “Pickle.” It was one of those nicknames that just stuck. It’s been eighteen years since we were in fifth grade. It was a bad year for nicknames.
My nickname, also garnered in fifth grade, was “Weiner.” This was all due to an advisory teacher with an unfortunate Boston accent who had a loud role-call, and to fifth graders’ proclivity for rhyming. “Gina” in Boston-ese sounds like “Geen-er.” The wiz kids in my advisory, namely Katie LaPier, Audra Way, and Jenny Mindell, took to rhyming my Boston pronunciation with “wiener.” Like Brian, I was referred to throughout all of my school days as a phallic food, either as “Weiner” or “Ween.” Not the most attractive of nicknames, nor the easiest to avoid laughing at. Couple the nickname with braces, glasses, and an unbelievably inconsistent growth pattern during puberty, and you have such a painful picture of a young girl that it’s no wonder I’m so sensitive to my own students’ name calling.
So imagine being twelve years old and boy-crazy and trying to find a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day. Katie LaPier got asked out by Ravi Parikh, Laurie and Andy were “going out”, Kate Edder and Nick were dating. All on Valentine’s Day. I just wanted to fit in. I just wanted a boyfriend and a red carnation and whatever other charm comes along with having a new boyfriend on the most love-filled day of the entire year. Whatever they had, I wanted.
I was in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that sixth grade year—I was Charlie. We had after-school rehearsals and Pickle happened to be staying after, too. Maybe he had Dungeons and Dragons club. I don’t know. But whatever the case, I saw Pickle as the most viable option for a boyfriend.
“Listen,” I told myself. “He comes from a good family. His dad’s the vice principal at the high school. He’s good in math. He wears polo shirts. He seems like a reasonable guy. I think he’ll be my boyfriend.” The more I thought about it, the more I thought we’d make a great couple. He had his sights set on Syracuse University—clearly he was college bound and I liked that. I had been thinking Skidmore because my mom went there, so we’d at least be in the same state. Things were looking pretty good for us in the long run. We might have children that could have Italian names. I’d even be able to keep my initials if we got married. So somewhere in the middle of rehearsing Acts Two and Three of “Charlie,” I popped upstairs to have a talk with Brian.
“So here’s the deal, Pickle,” I said. We were standing in the hallway outside of the library. “Will you go out with me? It’s Valentine’s Day.” He didn’t know I’d had our entire future planned out. And it was looking good, too. And then he gave me an answer I wasn’t prepared for: “I don’t know. I have to ask my dad.”
First, let me back up and say I was breaking my own parents’ rules. I was NOT allowed to have a boyfriend until eighth grade. But my sixth-grade rationale was this: If Pickle and I were going to get married, we would need these early years together to be able to tell that great story of how we met: Middle school sweethearts! We both went against our parents’ orders and secretly dated for two full years before we announced to our parents, in September of eighth grade, that we’d already established a fully-functioning, healthy relationship, built on mutual trust and respect. Gina and Brian: a match made in the after-school hours of Browns River Middle School. It seemed like a fairy-tale, a match made in Heaven. So he threw me for a loop when, in keeping with his Order of the World, he reminded me of Parental Permission.
But I’d had my mind set. “Brian,” I said, using his real name so he’d know I was serious. “Come on. It’s Valentine’s Day. You don’t really need your dad’s permission. You’re in sixth grade. You can make your own decisions.”
“I don’t know,” he hesitated.
For twenty minutes I convinced him that we should be boyfriend and girlfriend.
I think maybe in the end we agreed and shook hands or something. Brian went back to D&D, and I went and told everyone I knew: Tracy Draper and my best friend Kristie. The reaction, across the board, was: “What?!” followed by a peal of laughter. This did nothing for my sense of accomplishment or self-worth.
Weiner and Pickle were a couple.
I could just hear the relish and hotdog jokes that would follow us for the next six years and well into our marriage. I spent the next forty-five minutes in the bathroom with Tracie, trying to figure out what I’d just done and a way to undo it. I sat on the white sink in the yellow and tan tiled room in a state of panic. I had to end it. It would be torture for both of us. Weiner. and Pickle.
The most humane thing I could think of was to do a quick break-up. Make it fast, make it painless. Don’t draw it out. I could write a note and give it to Tracie to give to Pickle. I could also just go up and talk to him. We’d made something like a business agreement before, so we might as well just agree to end it, mutually and friendly. I didn’t like messy break-ups. In the end—literally forty-five minutes later—our relationship was over. I wasn’t proud. And I think Brian was more indifferent than anything. But it was over, and I was back to being a single girl just trying to make it in the world. My rose-colored glasses had been removed. And the world was a hard, harsh place, full of criticism and conformity.
The thing is, I’d wanted what the other people had. I wanted what I thought I should have. That there’s the problem. Seventeen years later, I’ve finally got it figured out: we’re so conditioned to want what other people have, to want the romance and the displays of affection, and the long-term relationship and the fancy ring that we don’t leave room for considering what we, as individuals, want. Whether I knew it or not back then, I had been snared by the idea of what a “normal” relationship should be and my “I’ll have what she having” ideology led to what? To regret and heartache. But ultimately, it led to a lesson learned.
Seventeen years after Pickle, I find myself in a loving, stable, and very long-distance relationship. It is one that causes my friends to shake their heads slowly in disbelief and misunderstanding. “I’m amazed at how you do this, Gina,” they’ll tell me. “How can you and Dennis be happy this way?” The truth is, I have no idea how we do it, but I know that where we find ourselves in this moment, on this day or on any other, is an honest place both with each other and with ourselves. It’s not a very traditional place and it’s been difficult at times separated by thousands of miles and three time zones, but are we both happy? Am I as an individual happy? I can tell you, com certeza, yes.
It would be nice to tell that little sixth grade version of myself that in seventeen years she’d have things figured out a little better. I’d want to walk through the hallway that Valentine’s Day as she made her way toward Pickle’s after school activity room, and before she’d get to the door, I’d like to pull her aside and tuck her brown hair behind her ears, smooth out her worried brow, and give her a hug. I’d tell her she needn’t worry, that years from now she’d be doing things her own way, at her own speed, and she’d be a pretty lucky girl because of that sense of individualism. I’d tell her that she needn’t feel the pressure to have what the other girls had because who knew? Maybe in the end she’d be happier than she could ever imagine.