“Mom, how is love like a pickle?”
I had run myself up against one of those writer-walls, where you want to make an impossible metaphor and don’t know how. My mother’s answer proved both hilarious and illuminating.
“Love is like a pickle,” she said. “Because it lasts a long time. It is sometimes sweet and sometimes salty.” She went on to explain that love is created by a long process, soaked in the vinegary adversities of life. And like love, once you’re a pickle you can never un-pickle yourself. Love, like pickles, is green: Its jealousy admits no other lovers. She finished: “Pickles are usually stored close by with other pickles, and usually there’s a stork on the outside of the jar.”
I live at home, and thus get to have these conversations with my mother. I live at home, and thus have to be in a long-distance romantic relationship. Long distance has been the first dose of vinegary adversity for Jonathan and me. I have heard that long-distance relationships are like the groaning before childbirth. A graphic, painful, and biblical description. But so far, the pickle metaphor has more accuracy.
Our long-distance relationship features all the usual conveniences that double as aggravations. Technology, for instance. In our parents’ generation, couples separated by distance got a monthly phone call.
Not so with us. My mother started calling Jonathan the Avon Lady because every time he texted, my phone made a doorbell sound. “Would you get him a manlier ringtone?” she asked.
I switched it to a guitar sound. Then a bottle-cap-being-opened sound. Then a whistling sound. Whichever sound annoyed my family less.
During the summer, we averaged 200 whistle sounds a day. This evening I choked on my water, and promptly heard the whistling sound. My mother said, “He’s asking if you’re OK.”
We supplement with Skype. I sit on my bedroom floor assembling a collage. He sits in his dorm room reading assigned poetry. We talk. We mishear each other.
“My mother says love is eternal,” I say.
“I’m sorry, I misheard that. Love is a turtle?”
Soon the signal dwindles. His face becomes a mass of moving paint chips and my voice comes to him chopped like vegetables on a hibachi grill.
We remember that just a couple months ago, we sat together at a hibachi grill in Pennsylvania, watching the noodles and rice turn brown in the soy sauce. No sound of a doorbell, no pixilated faces.
The vinegary nature of separation, in my opinion, is also its chief beauty. Separation tests your wants. Do you want to drive six hours to see each other? Do you want to see your weekends evaporate? Do you want to sit patiently as the Skype screen fragments, and type lengthy emails detailing your theological views? The answer is more than yes: You feel elated that you get to do any of those things. And that, as my mother said, is proof that you cannot un-pickle yourselves.