I have a confession to make.
I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye – well scratch that – I just finished reading it. It has always seemed that this is one of those books that “everyone” has read and if you’re a certain type of person, you have probably read it a million times and named an animal or your child after it and probably at some point in time basically wanted to BE Holden Caulfield. For me, it was a book that I avoided for a long time. For one, my favorite books to read growing up (and still now) are psychological type books (Serial Killers, Personality Disorders, Abuse. etc. )and horror type books. So reading classics – even classics that were banned from schools and junk, was never something that interested me. However, the main reason I avoided it was how I acquired the book currently in my possession.
In 9th grade, I started out my year with one English teacher. I liked her and I received good grades in her class. Unfortunately, half-way through the year they decided to split up the kids who were taking honors classes from the kids who were taking regular classes. I didn’t want to be in honors classes, as I felt it did nothing beneficial for me, so I stayed in the standard English class. My teacher, however, was going to become an honors teacher and I had to move from her class to another English class at the same time of day. The new teacher was horrible. She wasn’t my least favorite teacher ever (That award goes to my third grade teacher) but she was definitely the second.
It’s funny the things you remember, which also feels funny saying that after just finishing The Catcher in the Rye. I remember when I started in her class they were halfway through Romeo and Juliet. This is probably just as terrible to say as saying I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye but I also am not a Shakespeare fan and Romeo and Juliet is the worst. After we finished that up, we had to take some stupid required writing test and we spent a ton of time on these tests so your grades were pretty much – did you do it or not and if you did it you basically got an A. Yet, she basically gave me zeroes even though I never missed a day and always did the work. She used to give me detention because she had this stupid rule that you were considered late if you weren’t sitting in your chair when the late bell rang. Who cared if you’d been in the room and maybe were just up sharpening a pencil or something – nope you needed to be in your chair. Of course, I was an asshole and I’d purposely stand behind my chair just to get detention and then not go to detention to the point where she stopped giving me detention and I continued to stand behind my chair just to continue being an asshole. I hated the woman. To be honest, I remember Romeo and Juliet, writing tests, the house on Mango Street, to Kill a Mockingbird and writing a composition about my hero (I used Walt Disney). I don’t really remember her teaching me anything… just reading those books and writing a few things. She wasn’t really significant in my life as a good teacher.
Anyhow – one day she handed me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and told me that she really thought I should read it because she said that I reminded her of the main character. I remember thinking that the only thing I knew about the book was that the main character was known as a rebel of sorts – someone that many people related – and that the main character was a guy. Being my severe dislike of the teacher, I took the book but never had intention of reading it. I can’t remember exactly but I think it was a “gift” from her at the end of the year. I also believe she left the school that year and went to a different school.
I never wanted to read it after that because I just thought about this teacher and how she’d given it to me and wasn’t really interested in seeing what she meant by giving it to me and suggesting I relate to the main character. Even though I never wanted to read it, I kept the book all these years. It’s always sat on my bookshelf among other books I’ve read and kept. I’m not sure why but the other day I decided to pick it up and read it – I guess 16 years of curiosity got the best of me.
Now that I’ve read it, I’m not sure what to think. At first, in the beginning I thought that maybe she just thought I was some discontent teenager. After all, I was the “goth kid” with black hair and fishnets and Marilyn Manson running through my veins. Then I wondered if she thought that maybe I was troubled and I thought, she didn’t know me so her judgement were, like everyone else, based simply on my looks. I admit, I didn’t really enjoy the book much either at first. It wasn’t until Holden caught up with Old Phoebe, his little sister, and had that first conversation with her in their older brothers bedroom. Particularly, the part when Phoebe asked Holden what he liked and he really couldn’t think of anything. So many people over the years have thought that I was a pessimist and in many ways I am. It’s easier to talk about the things you don’t like than the things you like and sometimes it might seem like I dislike a lot more than I like so I could imagine me being Holden being asked by just about anyone to name one thing that I really like… but I know that I could come up with at least one thing. So I thought, maybe my teacher just thought I was a pessimist… and again, judging. I think that’s what always kind of ticked me off about her giving me the book and knowing what I knew without actually reading the book. She just judged me.
As I read the book I kept thinking “why did she say I reminded her of the main character” and not really being totally sure how I related in her mind. Finally, I wondered if, since Holden has so many interactions with teachers who basically seem to think he wasn’t applying himself that maybe that’s what she was getting at – she didn’t think I applied myself. She really didn’t know me and never could have really gotten to know me due to my discontent of her but I know that I was told by a few teachers that I didn’t apply myself. Most of the time I was just bored and uninterested. I just did the minimum that I had to do to get by…. and truth I never really thought much about the future. It was just school – it wasn’t your whole life.
To be honest, I don’t know that I see what she wanted me to see and I doubt I would have seen it even if I had read this 16 years ago when she gave it to me. I’d almost be curious to contact her and ask her… apparently I was a pretty memorable kid. In any case – I’ve finally The Catcher in the Rye and can now feel like I’m little more of a cool hipster who might have a little bit of Holden Caulfield inside. I guess I should feel special that I was given a book – stamped with my school’s English Department – that is on one of the most banned books in schools list. I guess, I should probably reflect a little on it. I guess – I can see a little bit here and there though I’m not sure which bit she wanted me to see and again, I don’t think it would have changed much. I doubt it’ll change me now. But Mrs. Wilson, whereever you are, thanks I guess.