In the morning there was a shadow of crap smeared across the carpet. Any number of culprits came to mind—from boot bottoms to the bottoms themselves. The boys were ruled out as an extension of courtesy. They had better things to do than crap on the carpet.
Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.
Their arrangement is in the running across it. Theirs is in the wrestling upon it. Carpet is the grass beneath their feet and outside their fence it grows all the greener. Carpet means nothing to children except in its absence.
“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? I’d like—”
“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”
“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”
She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.
“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,’” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
When I heard him on the stairs he was just a bump in the night, one of the many that come and go, forgotten even before their echoes fade. I met him as he came through the darkness. His eyes were closed and his path had been mapped across the parchment of his memory. I caught him at the edge of waking and his head fit perfectly in the space between my neck and shoulder. It was poetry.
When I really worry about something, I don’t just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don’t go. I’m too worried to go. I don’t want to interrupt my worrying to go.
When he really sleeps he is lost in dreams and the doings of the day and what wonders will come. He is blind to his needs even as his feet fall upon the forgettable carpet and make their way slowly to where I sit, waiting without even knowing it.
I carried him into the bathroom and held him as he stood where he always stands and faced the only way that polite options allow. We stood there together in the night, him fast asleep and me afraid to interrupt him.
After a moment of mutual silence it became clear that he had been here before and the floor was still wet with goodbye. I stood barefoot in a puddle of pee and slowly dried my son and all that shone around him.
I put him in clean, warm clothes and tucked him back into his cluttered, warm bed before making myself a highball and returning to the glow of the fireplace and the presence of my wife. I told her everything.
D.B. asked me what I thought about all this stuff I just finished telling you about. I didn’t know what the hell to say. If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it. I’m sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.
And every moment you had along the way. I miss them even before their echoes fade. I hang around waiting for the next to be made.
What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.
Goodnight, sweet boy.
Goodbye, Mr. Salinger.
We’re all leaving somewhere.
Quotes taken from the novel Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger who died today at the age of ninety-one.
Originally published on WhitHonea