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Personal Essays

Carlo Van de Roer, "Orb Three," 2011

Letters to a Pitchikoo

Shoes, cars, T-shirts—it’s easy for people to become attached to favorite objects. But something is horribly wrong when a girl begins writing fan mail to her ring.

When I was seven, my finest possession was a pearl ring named Pitchikoo. I don’t know why I called it Pitchikoo. It could have been called Rick. But in the letters I wrote to it, it was always Pitchikoo.

I didn’t have one of those creepy families where you get the pearl ring at seven and the sports car at eight. This was just a starter ring, a thin gold band with a screwed-on single pearl. Still it cost more than $20, which is the official millionaire tipping point for all seven-year-olds.

In my family, First Communion rings were a test. I knew how this went. You started off with the baby pearl ring, you graduated to the midsize “tasteful” trinket, and then hopefully you ended up like my grandmother, a woman who could wear a rock and always smelled like fresh Oil of Olay.

With the proper care of our First Communion rings, my older sister and I moved a step away from the children we were and toward the responsible young ladies we would become. My older sister kept and wore hers for so long that her ring finger outgrew it and she had to move it to her pinky—early proof of her success as an adult. Her eventual graduation from med school was directly related to how long she was able to keep that damn ring on her finger.

Our rings were gifts from my Filipino grandmother, who mailed mine over direct from the motherland. Jewelry is a big thing in my mother’s family. You’re pulled from your mom and pierced and bedazzled instantly, less anyone see your virgin untouched baby earlobes.

It must be understood that at age seven I was not rich in living, breathing friends.

I remember my mother coming into my room one day with a satin pouch, which is what all jewelry from the Philippines came in. With each piece of precious jewelry my mother gave us, she would announce, “This is the real thing,” lest we think she was unloading some Cracker Jack crap on the fruit of her loins. I was convinced that my mother’s relatives in the Philippines never lost a real thing in their lives. Real things melded to their bodies after year two.

Anyone could put on a ring and just forget about it. But a ring, when you think about it, can be so much more than mere ring. I took the significance of this gift to heart, too. But I would treat this ring in a way that no ring has been treated before and no ring will be treated again. Pitchikoo became my friend.

It must be understood that at age seven I was not rich in living, breathing friends. They required calling and setting dates with, and making sure my mom liked them and their moms liked me, and this seemed entirely too complicated. A few years later, I would make my older sister call up the neighborhood kids on my behalf and invite them out to play with me, while I waited with nervous anticipation. Childhood would have been more smooth with a personal secretary.

My friendship with Pitchikoo was a little one-sided, but at least there was no fear of rejection. Instinctively I knew Pitchikoo was no real substitute for a human friend. More like a doll-friend or a teddy bear-friend. A less-ugly Cabbage Patch Kid.

Playtime with the ring consisted of two activities: singing songs and writing fan letters. There might have been some variations in key or vocal inflection with each performance of the Pitchikoo song. But the lyrics, poignant and true, never changed: “Pitchikoo, Pitchikoo. I see you, I see you.” The song amused my mom and weirded out my older sister.

I don’t know why exactly I started writing to Pitchikoo. I guess I was worried it might be a little lonely. Its fan club was a little on the small side at the moment and had yet to break nationwide. I knew it would be completely stupid to write letters to Pitchikoo on normal-sized stationery that was five times Pitchikoo’s size. My miniature kid’s stationery, on the other hand, was only twice Pitchikoo’s size. I don’t remember verbatim what I wrote to Pitchikoo, just than that it was a variation on every letter written to my grandparents. “Hello, how are you? I am fine. I’m starting third grade/high school/a new job with generous 401(k) matching in the fall. “

I knew it would be completely stupid to write letters to Pitchikoo on normal-sized stationery that was five times Pitchikoo’s size. My miniature kid’s stationery, on the other hand, was only twice Pitchikoo’s size.

All finished fan letters were tucked under Pitchikoo in the evening. It is unclear when it read its fan mail.

Hanging out with Pitchikoo wasn’t all fun and games. It prompted questions that seemed innocent enough on the surface but led to deeper philosophical and religious debates. Like, “Where would Pitchikoo sleep?”

For normal seven-year-old girls, that question was easy. Keep your ring in your jewelry box, stupid. No young girl is allowed to turn seven without receiving one of those musical jewelry boxes where the little ballerina spins and the song is the same one they use to torture prisoners of war. But I would never put anything I truly valued in this jewelry box—it was for abandoned friendship pins and busted jelly bracelets. I didn’t want Pitchikoo mingling with any of that riffraff. So I bought Pitchikoo its own bed: a pink plastic pillbox. On the cover, a Hello Kitty-like bunny rabbit peeked out from her bucolic pastel paradise. That this bunny was a budget ripoff of Hello Kitty’s rabbit colleague My Melody only slightly diminished the extravagance of Pitchikoo’s lodgings.

At the time, I had assembled a phenomenal-looking mini altar that took up a whole half of my second bookshelf. Months were spent arranging and rearranging the laminated fact cards about the saints and plastic glow-in-the-dark saint statues into a premiere childhood shrine to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Would it be sacrilegious to put Pitchikoo’s pink pillbox over there? Although I was only 7, the concept of sacrilege is something they hit you with early in Catholic school. Pitchikoo’s box was regularly moved closer and further from the altar, depending on changes in my levels of Catholic guilt.

Then there was the question of putting Pitchikoo to bed, period. If I put Pitchikoo in the pillbox and closed the lid, was I suffocating my ring to death every night?

After the letter writing and the singing, once I had convinced myself it was OK to put Pitchikoo to bed, I had to admit Pitchikoo and I were running out of activities to do together. Even stuffed animals have arms. Shrinky Dinks shrink. Living, breathing friends, you can have two-sided conversations with. Pitchikoo, I had to admit, didn’t really do anything. My imagination was taxed.

It was a moot point, because Pitchikoo was not long for this world. Much like a favorite teddy bear whose button eye falls off from “just too much love,” my pearl ring bought it early. Around the time I brushed its tooth.

“You don’t tell people that story, do you Corina?” my father asked me a few years ago. “It’s weird.”

I had decided that Pitchikoo’s pearl was starting to look a little dusty. And a pearl looks kind of like a tooth? Busting out a free airline toothpaste set, I proceeded to administer the thorough brushing my back molars can only dream of.

Pitchikoo didn’t take kindly to this new playtime experience. The crappy glue that bonded the pearl to the ring gave. Its little pearl head popped off. I stood over the sink in horror, my decapitated First Communion ring growing cold in my hands. I would not be tiptoeing toward adulthood with my caretaking skills, not that day. Eventually I tossed Pitchikoo in the ballerina jewelry box, to rest in peace with the crappy jewelry.

Now that I’m grown and have living, breathing friends, I’m not sure why I was so obsessed with Pitchikoo. Part of it was for the attention it got me from my family; part of it was that I was lonely. Part of it was that I was just another one of those children that psychologists optimistically refer to as “creative.” “Creative” means your kid will either be a famous artist or a psychotic beekeeper, the kind of sweet maladjust who feeds his blow-up dolls chocolate pudding after midnight.

To this day, my family doesn’t quite get it. ”You don’t tell people that story, do you Corina?” my father asked me a few years ago. “It’s weird.” “You were really insane about that ring, Corina,” my older sister added recently. I still find her to be annoyingly confident in the sanity of her relationships with her (unnamed) jewelry.

My mother has forgotten the many times I added joy to her existence with the Pitchikoo song. But the topic did come up last Christmas.

She was cleaning out the old house, and had taken to wrapping up our old childhood belongings to masquerade as new Christmas gifts from her. With the family gathered around the tree, I unwrapped two small jewelry boxes, lifting up the lid to find broken bracelets, orphaned earrings, and beads that once belonged to something more ambitious.

“Pitchikoo?” I asked, opening each box. Maybe I could find its single pearl head, or its ring body with a screw leading to nowhere. Or better yet, the mini fan letters—the ones in which I ask Pitchikoo how it’s going. Once addressed to a pearl ring, now missives from myself then to myself today. A reminder on the world’s smallest stationery: Viva la freak, freak. Stay the course.