Oh, Holden.  The blows I’ve taken on your behalf.  Not that I mind.  See I’m just so grateful for your company all these years, more than forty, when I clean the house and I hear you nattering on about the goddamn dust-bunnies and all.  I know I’m not unique, nor even rare, in taking you so to heart.  But it’s just this feeling I have of remembering so well when we first met.  I think I was in 8th grade.  Maybe 9th.  My parents unwisely went away for a couple of weeks (to England, no less) at the beginning of school and I was in the care of my sister, and I came down with cramps and just kind of holed up in bed with you and a bottle of Pepto Bismal.  I’d never had cramps like that, the double-you-over kind that grown ladies told us we’d outgrow when we had babies.  Something about stretching out the uterus.  Which wasn’t a lot of use at the time, but it was some comfort, that when that old uterus had done its job it would settle down and behave.

Not that you’d know anything about that, dear soul.  You had your own sources of worry about women and their crazy bodies.  It’s amusing to recall how your anxiety about all that put me off.  I wasn’t where you were with sex and you worried me.  You had your issues with the guy who knocked girls off with clubs and played them like a violin and so you hired Sunny.  And here I was, bleeding and sorrowing and in pain, real pain, all alone, and meeting you for the first time, and wondering if anyone would ever understand my body seeing as how I was mystified by it myself.  It was all so confusing.  I just thought you’d like to know that as you were somewhat baffled by girls and their needs and mysteries, so were we girls.

And on and on you talked.  There was so much I couldn’t understand and a lot I’d been taught already to disapprove.  That bad Stradlater.  How dare he.  I could feel my parents’ disapproval wafting off of them like heat from the body on a cold day, and them not even on the same continent.  Oh, if they’d known.  There was something deliciously illicit about you, as distant from your parents in your way as I was from mine, wandering aimlessly around New York, getting drunker and drunker and sicker and sicker, while I skipped school and sucked my Pepto in my virginal bed in upstate NY.

I’ve taught you dozens of times now.  Sometimes my students, older than I was when I met you and older than you are yourself, look down on you.  They call you a whiner.  They say you’re the phony and you should lay off the booze and girls and apply yourself.  I recall so clearly how you and I didn’t get along at first, but how I came to understand your ambivalence, your vulgarity and nobility vying for preeminence, your aching love for Phoebe and your ardent desire that things would go well for her.  I want to show them how you really are, as I came in time to know you.

But the part I want to tell you about today is the gasoline rainbow in the puddle.  Oh, Holden.  I remember going to NY with my parents when I was very little and being dazzled by the sparkly sidewalks.  They made them out of something with quartz in it, that, in the nighttime, sparkled under the streetlamps.  Pure magic to a little girl.  Stepping along in my white anklets with the lace tops turned down over the patent leather of my MaryJanes, seeing the quartz glitter like diamonds, I believed in the world the grownups had made.  If they could make the very sidewalks shimmer like diamonds, what other glories might the world contain?  And we, in our upstate industrial town, Flour City, had a museum, too.  And it had Indians, that you crept up to the window and looked in to the firelit scene, and there was the mother, grinding corn, and the papoose hanging on the post, and father, flint-napping, and here they’d just heard you and turned to look and you knew you were dead, they were going to come and get you, so you tried to be quiet, but it was no use because they were looking right at you through the window, but you knew they weren’t real, but still.  (True thanks to the teacher-soul who designed and created that diorama, and all the heart thrills it kindled).

Rochester Museum and Science Center:  I spent hours here.

Rochester Museum and Science Center: I spent hours here.

But the point is that you and your museum, that never changed, where the Indians, with Miss Aigletiner, aligned so perfectly with my life, my museum, and my gasoline rainbows.  How could you know?  I’d seen them!  I knew it.  I knew what you meant and knew the visceral thrill, the mystical beauty caused by adults’ pollution.  To see that in a book: clarity and connection strike the heart.  Out of time.  My young, somewhat troubled girlhood, Holden’s slightly older confusion, Salinger’s mature talent and transmuted memories:  converged.  One of us now dead, another late middle age, and Holden eternally what he ever was.

So now, Holden, you are the museum.  I go to you and there you are, always the same, wandering, drinking, silently weeping in Phoebe’s dark bedroom.  I’ve changed each time.  I see new things, I’m a few years older, and there, coming around the corner or singing a full voiced hymn while balance-walking on the curb, is the old me making a cameo appearance, all the old selves who have read you, in all their stereoscopic, time-lapse unity-in-diversity.  But you:  you remain ever true to your anxiety and sorrow, your hope.

Doesn’t it feel as though you can never properly thank the people who deserve it?  Those who suffered and anguished to learn something or create something, that they must feel sure nobody knew or cared about, must live their lives all unaware of the pleasure and wisdom they inspire.  Like old Keats:  “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

You just end up missing them.