Dear Holden Caulfield,
I lived inside your manic mind briefly, though long enough to feel hung-over and raw. There are good things, which come out of having terrible long-term memory. I forget endings of books, beginnings too. You won’t find me quoting movies or historical dates. I have gaps in my memory that I’ve simply grown accustomed to. Sometimes it’s better to forget; then, everything feels like an unexpected surprise.
So when I recently reread The Catcher in the Rye for the tenth+ time, I smiled and reacted to Salinger’s words as though I hadn’t digested them before. Of course, this is just like winter, right? Our bodies have to readjust to plummeting temperatures as though we’ve never felt negative degree Fahrenheit before. Snow—at least the first fall—is like an enchanted repainting of our landscape. We bury ourselves in it and slide down its slick ice. We create three-piece men with carrot noses out of its ingredients.
Everything that has existed can still have elements of surprise and newness.
I convinced myself my fractured memory was a fault, something to be embarrassed about. However, it allows me to find thrills in reruns. Forgetfulness has become like a cure for ennui.
There is simplicity in The Catcher in the Rye. There are no explosions or surprises. It’s kind of like a Frank O’Hara poem. We’re brought into the head of someone referencing people we don’t know, yet suddenly want to care about. Walking around New York City during hours I usually sleep through listening to jazz, drinking too much and searching for ways to feel alive.
I spent most of December too afraid of my blank imagination to write. Instead, I listened. I cried. I ate too much. I searched for meaning in the frigid air at Coney Island. Actually, Holden Caulfield came with me that day. It was Christmas. I was alone by choice and felt completely emptied of any tangible, creative thoughts. My mind was terribly, terribly dark. So I went toward the water because that is where the answers are. I could barely look up because the wind was so fierce and cold, but I listened to the music of the Atlantic, inhaling the salty air merged with Holden Caulfield’s alcoholic exhales. I collected shells and bought some stale donuts. I realized that sometimes what we write doesn’t always come out at the time we need it to, or in the way we want it. Each word is a shallot. A tiny onion with so many layers, that you sometimes need to keep peeling before its quite right.
When I finished the last page of Salinger’s book, I felt sad to leave Holden. I liked being in his head. Although it was in those last words that I became closer to finding my own. To being ready to try again. To write.
Aimee Herman is the author of meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA, 2014).