The Catcher in the Rye was published 63 years ago today—July 16, 1951. Congratulations to the late, great Salinger for crafting one hell of a story. Holden’s journey is and will always be relevant—to me at least. It’s the novel that has changed my life in ways I’m still figuring out. Here’s my essay on its impact:
Some people view child sexual abuse as a single event in a lifetime of many events, but they don’t understand the extent of how it can and does affect our life. It doesn’t just go away with repressed memory—or maybe it does. Maybe I don’t realize it because I’m not yet strong enough to process being sexually abused when I was in 5th grade. I didn’t deal with my yearlong molestation fully until adulthood. If my memory serves me well, I can recall every illicit detail of those encounters. I was forced into sexual activities and forbidden to tell otherwise I would burn in Hell for my sins. This alone was the primary reason why I had issues with religion and whether a loving God would allow such a thing. I have experienced depression, disgust, and self-hate.
Depression took me down a road that would eventually lead to plans of suicide. Had it not been for J.K. Rowling and the escape into the Harry Potter series, I would not have been strong enough to survive the crushing blows of depression during my teenage years. However, it was during college when my strength gave out. I planned to crash my car and burn to death in a fiery blaze. It felt appropriate—my life had been painful and what would death be without pain?
I don’t know if I believe in fate, but I never made it to my car. A friend took me for ice cream. A friend listened to the nervous glitch in my voice as I spoke. A friend listened to my confessions. A friend witnessed my coming out of the closet. A friend accepted me. A friend saved my life. My Callie—my sweet Callie. She saved me from drowning.
It took hitting rock bottom for me to realize and truly understand the magnitude of what my life has amounted to and will amount to in years to come. I still remember what darkness felt like; it serves as a reminder that I am strong. I grew stronger, and I’m still growing stronger with each passing day. Acknowledging the bad has helped me to heal, and I had to exorcise my demons. I wrote my first novel, DROWNING, to explore the darkness and to understand it completely. It was cathartic to do so, and I knew what must happen next—I had to deal with being sexually abused.
It was scary to acknowledge the existence of sexual abuse, but I was able to finally understand it. Not only did I gain perspective but I also wrote another book during this journey into my past. My unpublished second novel deals with the issues and ramifications I’ve dealt with as an aftermath of the trauma.
I’ve came to an understanding of the magnitude of sexual abuse. I have realized it isn’t a story of who you are or what happened but rather a story of who you will be and what you will do. I remind myself of this daily. It took a lot of hard work to get to the place I am today. Granted, I am by no means a therapist, but I have learned so many wonderful things about myself and my ability to cope.
Would I take it back? Would I change my past? Strange to say, I would not. I love myself for the person I am today. That occurrence in my youth shaped me and broke me and damaged me and ripped my soul and killed my innocence and murdered my childhood. But it took time for me to pick up the pieces and realize I cannot put something broken back together again. I had to make something brand new. And in doing so I answered the question: Would a loving God allow a child to be a victim? Yes. He would. I say this because I am something bigger than I would have been otherwise. Every life is worth living. My destiny was bestowed upon me at age eleven. My mission is to help others find strength. I strive to protect innocence. I am Holden Caulfield. I am the catcher in the rye.
"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 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."
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye