My son has been expelled from his school! That was startling news that came to me one morning. I didn't know what emotion to show. I couldn't be angry. How could I be angry? I knew what it was like to be on the other side of the fence, I Goddamn knew, I was once there myselfâ€¦A lost and nervous child of sixteen, who had a total negative perception of the entire world. It also reminded me of when I was kicked out of Pencey prep. That goddamn school really was for phonies.
In those days I had a crush on my neighbor, Jane Gallagher. I spent an entire blissful summer with her. But although I was half in love with her I didn't do anything to take the relationship forward. I mean she had her own set of problems you know, a crazy stepfather and all. I now understand that I did subconsciously not want to be burdened by her disturbed childhood and so I pretended I didn't care when that Stradlater took her out for a date. I numbed myself to all kinds of feelings.
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I now realize that I was traumatized by the untimely death of my brother Allie. Allieâ€¦. My younger brother who died of leukemia was always following me around and I enjoyed it because he was that kind of guy, you know. Just once I remember not allowing him to join Bobby and me. We both had planned to go biking and I felt he was too young to join us. But after his death many a times I caught myself saying aloud to Allie, "get your bike and meet me outside Bobby Falcon's house" as if at that time it would bring him back. (Sigh) but at the time it helped me get over my goddamn depression. Even the act of DB my elder brother leaving to settle in Hollywood, disturbed me. He seemed like a traitor, a prostitute who had been sold out. His deserting us led me to hate movies. All that crap phony stuff they show. I could not accept that my brother whom I idolized actually wanted to write all that crap.
Adults make such a hue and cry about honesty and truth, but at sixteen I was a compulsive but harmless liar. I had a bad habit of saying a lot of lies. There was an instance that I recall, about that boy's mother, Ernie I think. I met her on that goddamn train to New York. I didn't want to make her feel bad that is why I had to say good things about Ernie. I told her that everyone wanted him to be president but he was too modest to let us nominate him. Once I started lying it became hard for me to stop. I even lied to her about the tumor I had on my brain. It gave me a big kick to represent myself as a tragic hero. I would at times slip into this imaginary scenario where somebody had pumped goddamn bullets into my gut and I would clutch my stomach tight in order to prevent the blood from spilling. I now know that these imaginary scenes came to my mind whenever I felt too low or yellow and could not deal with the situation.
I vividly remember the first night in New York. I stayed at a cheap hotel surrounded by morons. The elevator guy offered to send me a girl and some perverse streak in me made me say yes. I wanted to grow up and lose my virginity but was also too scared, at the same time and too yellow to admit I was scared. When the girl came I started off all suave and lying through my teeth but could not bring myself to do the act. I paid her the amount that was decided earlier. But the elevator guy returned with her and demanded some more money. I could easily have afforded to give it but by that time I was fed up of being a coward and so refused and in the process got all beaten up. I hated that kind of stuff.
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Marked to Standard
I now realize how lost and confused I was but at the time each and everything depressed me. I had no direction in life and refused to accept reality. My father was a corporate lawyer and could afford a certain standard of living. In my unrealistic world, I wanted everybody to have it. People who could not afford a decent breakfast or good skates or decent suitcases depressed me. Perverts who wrote 'fuck you' on school walls angered me. I wanted to remain secure in the sanctity of my childhood and was very angry inside my heart with life forcing me to grow up and face harsh realities like the suicide of my friend. It killed me. It hurt so much I could not face it.
I swear I was a madman in those days. I remember the next morning I called this girl Sally whom I thought to be the biggest phony of all. But was she good looking! After spending a couple of hours marveling at her phoniness, I suddenly got this vision of eloping with her and spending the rest of my life with her in this far away cabin. I mean how do I justify that sudden burst of madness? Thank God that she wasn't going through a nervous breakdown like I obviously was, she refused.
Instead of driving myself crazy trying to pass the time till Wednesday (that was the day I was supposed to come home for the holidays) I could easily have gone home and spoken to my parents about me being sacked from school. But I just didn't have the guts. In retrospect that would have been the most sensible thing to do but my disturbed youth and good common sense were far apart. Otherwise I wouldn't have been in such a mess in the first place. It's not that I was too scared of my parents, they were good decent people but like every other child, I believed that they wouldn't be able to understand me. I wanted to shield them from the hurt and disappointment of my rustication. My mother was already a nervous wreck trying to cope with Allie's death. I didn't want to burden them anymore. Oh! The fallacy of youth.
The only ray of sunshine in my troubled life was my baby sister Phoebe. She understood me. She listened and mostly cared. I realize now that at the time she represented untainted innocent childhood to me. She was at the place in life where I wanted to be forever. That's why when she asked me in that intuitive, all knowing tone of hers, what I would like to be? A lawyer or a doctor or something, my mind went a blank as nothing and nobody really inspired me. I was depressed with life, disillusioned at such a young age. And then when I finally did answer it came straight from the heart although it was an answer that reeked of escapism. I wanted to be the 'Catcher in the Rye", the Saviour of innocent childhood.
I hope today I can also become a child and give my innocent and unconditional support to my son. I hope I do not burden him with the experience of age and that I share my experiences instead. I hope I am able to give him my unending support when he makes his own mistakes and help to give his life the right direction. I learnt from my mistakes, he too shall learn from his. If you learn from your mistake, it doesn't remain a mistake, it becomes an enriching experience.
P.S. I hope my son doesn't take too long to come home as I want to ask him something. Maybe he knows where the ducks in Central Park go in winter?