The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
This is perhaps the most honest, the most genuine book I’ve ever read. When I started reading it, I immediately thought about how I’d missed my chance, how I should have read it earlier, in my mid to late teens, not in my early twenties. The age difference isn’t that great, but the mind framework is. But, then I realised that, like so many readers before me (and, doubtless, like so many in the future), I’d fallen into Holden’s trap. Everything he’d said resonated deeply inside of me and it was so vivid, so strong and so clear that it almost scared me. I guess it wouldn’t have scared me so much had I read it earlier, but, here I am – a twenty-two-year old, reading The Catcher in the Rye and understanding it so deeply it almost hurt. I should have developed a more mature attitude by now. I should be able to read a novel like this, smile condescendingly at it and scoff something like “Kids…”, but instead it feels like I’ve written every single sentence in the book.
There are very few books out there that I’ve read and that have left me feeling so confused and scared for my own life and my own future. Holden is intrigued by the world of the adults, he is frightened by it, he resists it. He has built a wall of cynicism around himself and the only thing capable of drawing him out of his fortress is a sense of harrowing loneliness he carries within. His notions of childhood and adulthood may be overly simplified, but at least he acknowledges the difference between the two, the gaping pit that is never easy to cross. The way he talks, the way he thinks, the way he dresses, everything is designed to shape him as a non-conforming individual, one that has seen through the ‘phoniness’ of the world and has successfully managed to avoid it. But, it is a lie, a form of self-delusion, one that very few people remain innocent of.
For Holden, it is his red hunting hat that he uses to stand out. For me, it is talking to myself in public on purpose, or wearing socks that don’t match or staring at the sky too long or walking as slowly as I can in the pouring rain, while everyone around me is rushing to get away from it. I’m starting to think that this book couldn’t have come in a better time for me. I’m afraid of the world, I’m afraid of growing up and fighting for my future. I’m afraid of carving out a future and then realising that it is not as extraordinary or magical as I had imagined it to be. This quarter life crisis I’m having is never far from my mind, my decisions and my actions. I feel like there is a straight line between my legs, a line separating adulthood from childhood, and I have one leg on either side of it. To put it simply, as Ben Braddock would say: “I guess I’m a little worried about my future. I want it to be – different.”
I almost fell out of my chair just now, after realising a few things that are too precise to be categorised as coincidences. The irony keeps striking. Where am I? I am not at home. I am writing this in my mother’s cabin in the woods, far up in the mountains, with no neighbours around for kilometres and kilometres. Instead of being home, studying, working, going to college and hanging out with friends, I’ve come up here alone, in the middle of November, to a cold house where, no matter how many logs I shove into the fireplace, the house can never be too warm and cosy and I’m wearing double pants, double shirts, three pairs of socks (that don’t match) and two sweaters. Talk about isolation. Holden Caulfield isolated himself emotionally and, in some cases, even physically, but for me, even that wasn’t enough. No, I had completely adopted these youthful fatalistic ideas and taken them to the next level. I could get snowed in. I could run out of firewood. I could become a victim of some malevolent passerby. I’ve isolated myself completely, no phone, no internet, no neighbours, with only dormice to keep me company in a cold cabin in the woods and all for what? Believe me or not, even I hadn’t realised why before reading this novel. But, now, it seems like the answer is jumping out from the pages in fluorescent colours. I. Don’t. Want. To. Grow. Up. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m afraid of growing up. So, instead of being in my warm flat with my family and friends, going on dates and parties and attending college, I’ve run up to the mountains and isolated myself. The irony is so strong I feel like I’m about to cry.
Never before has any realisation struck me so strongly. I suppose that Holden’s decision to stay where he is signifies some sort of a breakthrough. He has progressed from a selfish little bastard we all love to someone who is capable of putting somebody else’s needs before his own. That’s growing up, right? I don’t know. What does it even mean, being an adult? There are so many rites of passage nowadays, with new ones being invented every day by shrinks. Most of us dream of achieving some sort of a goal, one that will, inevitably, require growing up, sooner or later. I feel like I’m always digging my heels into the ground beneath me, trying to, if not stop, then at least slow down the passing of time, desperately clinging onto the ideals of childhood. Not a pretty quality in a twenty-two-year old, I know, but it is what it is.
I can still vividly remember something a friend of mine has said to me more than three years ago. It was the last time I’ve seen her in person since. The next day, she moved away to another country. We were sitting by the river, talking about life and things in general and, among other things, about growing up and moving on. I’ve always felt like a late bloomer, trying to postpone the inevitable, holding on to childhood, mostly though juvenile behaviour. I foolishly thought that if I didn’t acknowledge or say out loud that my friend was leaving, then it wouldn’t be true. As if. She could see that I was having a hard time and that her moving away was, in a way, tougher on me than it was on her. So she told me that she thought that being ‘a successful grown-up’ meant keeping as much of our childhood in us as possible. That as long as you’re able to laugh in dire situations and admire the beauty of trivialities, you’ve got nothing to worry about. And, I guess I agree with her definition. I’ve always felt like I was missing on something or being late for something, because one of my legs always remained on the other side of that imaginary line, the one separating childhood from adulthood. But, now, after reading this book and delving into some serious thinking, I think that I kind of like it that way. I like being stuck, with one leg on each side of the line. I’m slowly beginning to realise that this is one bridge I don’t have to cross. I don’t know what the future holds for Holden, or thousands of other Holdens out there, but I like being here, with that line between my feet, taking the best of both worlds.