Blogger's Note: Ah yes, I've infamously missed a blog post again. Well, I just really liked what I was writing and wanted to give myself more time to make sure it's a good story. Now shush and enjoy.
You know what fictional character makes me the most miserable?
Okay, ignoring the recent Joker situation.
The answer, shitty representation clowns aside, is Holden Caulfield.
Nowadays, Holden doesn't stir up the same visceral anger and distress that it used to. Just hearing about him used to frustrate me and light this little, irrational fire in me. I knew it wasn't fair, especially since none of it really was Holden's fault at all. But every memory associated with him hurt and so I wished I could hurt him, too.
Sucks that the object of my redirected rage was a fictional character, huh? But, honestly, it was for the best. You can't actually hurt fake people.
But how did I get here? Well, let's start at the beginning, as all good sob stories do.
The first time I read Catcher in The Rye, I hated Holden Caulfield. I thought he was a whimsical idiot, a kid with grand ideas and no follow through who made all these questionable decisions on impulses instead of good reason. Yet he wasn't dumb, he seemed to have a lot of good going on in his brain, it's just he just couldn't seem to help himself.
I was junior in high school, and discussion days didn't make me all that happy during our month of reading JD Salinger's so-called classic. I hated hearing his name over and over and all the things he did and what those damned things meant. I felt like screaming that they didn't matter, and I didn't know why.
That is, until our last discussion day. Then it all became too real.
I was sitting there at my cheap plastic desk, trying to stare holes into my note-page until everyone stopped talking about Holden. All he was, they said, was either annoying or tragic or a daydreamer or dumb. He was a bundle of opposing dichotomies and so many of them hated him for it; they hated being stuck in his head. I mean, I did, too. But being stuck in a head like Holden's never ended for me.
Y'see, just a few days before this eventful discussion, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder. So many things that had been itching in my bones felt like they suddenly had a place in the world. I had felt so terribly wrong and confused and whimsical and impulsive and sad and dumb for years. Finally, it all had a name. When I first was told, it was a relief.
And then I read the last chapter of Catcher in The Rye for class, and I saw in every dramatic, pretty word why I hated Holden so much.
It was the same reason I hated myself.
I was sick and sad and manic and causing so much damn trouble for everyone around me and all I wanted was too feel alright. And here was this boy in a book with a brain that sounded like mine and I hated him.
But suddenly, while I was trying to manifest a different kind of disorder, more the x-men kind so I could actually burn holes through my desk, my teacher said something that brought my angry, tense, sad thoughts to attention. "So, guys, do you really think Holden was crazy?"
My throat dried up like I'd just left the Sahara and didn't know I was thirsty until someone shoved my face in a bucket of water. I was looking around the room, at all the faces of my classmates, and I was desperate and my head was screaming. Yes, call him crazy. Let's talk about the truth about him and me and accept that something was wrong. Because if we're not sick, the other option is--
And then somebody raised his hand, a boy named Michael, I think. He always talked loud in class and smiled at me like I was the sun when I brought cookies in to class. Sure, he didn't know I only baked when I couldn't sleep and I needed to make something that made people happy to remind myself I was worth breathing. But that wasn't what mattered today; what mattered was the fact I needed him to make me smile by giving me what I needed: affirmation. Affirmation that no one knew I was dying for.
But when his mouth opened, all he said was, "I think Holden's just a teen with a lot of problems. He just doesn't deal with it well."
In that little, crowded room, with everyone nodding like he just said something empathetic, prophetic, I felt like my little desk was trapped on a spire in hell, ready to tip at any moment. Even then, I waited. I wanted someone to tell him he was wrong. But the next person agreed. Then, the next. With each empty goddamn chorus of his decision, I felt like my heart was being strangled under stupid goddamn Holden Caulfield's fingertips and he was reminding me that I probably exaggerated everything and of course, bitch, you're just being dramatic.
After all, why else would it take four years to convince my mom I felt like dying? Why else would my friends be shocked by my diagnosis? Why else would my first therapist refuse to recommend medication or more doctors?
All those sleepless nights, all the real monsters in the corner of my bed, all those hours of crying, it was just me being a weak ass bitch who couldn't handle it. And if I hated Holden's brain because it felt so much like mine, and he was just a troubled teen, what the fuck was I?
After that day, I stuffed that book so deep in drawers that it took years to find it. I couldn't stand to look at it. How could I, when Holden was all my fears? If I wasn't crazy, what was I? Just a violent idiot who couldn't handle her emotions and liked to hurt the people she loved.
No, I had to hate him and I couldn't see him because otherwise I would be back in that room, being told that I wasn't crazy.
Not everybody likes the word crazy, but it became so important to me because it was my truth. I needed everyone else to accept I was "crazy" because the alternative was so much worse. The alternative meant I wanted to be like this. It took years of reclaiming the word and counseling, but I know it's what I am and that is my truth and that's enough for me. It has to be in a world that tries so desperately to make Holden Caulfield "troubled" but not crazy.
Nowadays, I can read Catcher in The Rye without this violent reaction. The boy in the book hasn't changed; he still deludes himself into whimsical dreams where he can save kids from the things that hurts him and is randomly hypersexual and over-embellishes and gets easily irritated and then desperately sad. I see my younger self in every margin, screaming and trying to find a way to feel real when the thing I needed most was to be acknowledged.
The real problem wasn't Holden or me, or even kids in my class. They just were doing what everyone does. The problem is that everyone doesn't want people like me or Holden Caulfield to be crazy, mad, sick, whatever. We aren't movie-style crazy people, who are either wild inspirations or mad monsters. We're just humans, who hide our demons out of fear and want so desperately to be loved and heard that we make bizarre decisions and act on our impulses because at least those do something and feel like something.
People hate calling Holden crazy because they see themselves in his loneliness and angst and they can't stand the thought that a sick person and them could think the same. They ignore his delusions of grandeur and his helpless, thoughtless impulses because it doesn't make sense that someone they could relate with could ever be crazy, too. The mentally ill have been so violently "othered" that anyone that a nuerotypical can relate to has to be secretly healthy or better than the others, right? Because how could they feel the same? That's not how the broken ones are supposed to be, right?
But no. We're all just sick, crazy, and human. And the world needs to shut the fuck up about their own bullshit and be willing to acknowledge that. I got myself out of danger and sickness. Holden was getting help, too. But if society wants so badly to beg us to stay healthy, they need to treat us like the humans we are. Erase us or belittle us and all you do is more damage. And we deserve better than your self-centered abuse.
Because I still sort of hate Holden Caulfield.
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