Recently someone close to me said when she turned 50 she suddenly realized she was comfortable with herself. She knew who she was, and she felt good about that. That’s very interesting, I thought. But what about me for crying out loud? Who am I? Certainly I am not someone who should be allowed to go around saying, “I’m fifty!” A person like that should be taller. She shouldn’t be eating cookies for breakfast, or singing her own made-up songs to her dog, and she should have at least learned how to sew. She should be able to put on a dress and lipstick and look more like a lady than a chimpanzee. At the very least, she shouldn’t pee in her pants every time her husband says something funny, and yet…
Maybe I’m on to something. Maybe fifty is the new five. Maybe it’s okay that I never pay attention to people when they’re talking or that all I care about is watching TV and eating cupcakes. And so what if my favorite color is still pink? All shades.
It’s quite possible that growing up is not for everyone and that it’s time for those of us who run for cover whenever we’re expected to act like adults to come forward and just admit we don’t understand what anyone is talking about half the time. I’m sure I’m not the only one who prefers her pajamas over all of her other clothing. And surely there’s someone else out there in my age bracket who wouldn’t mind a bath toy or two. And forgive me, but if eating Frosted Flakes is wrong, who in their right mind would want to be right? I just want to have fun and write books with spelling mistakes in them. Every year my daughter reminds me, “Hopefully this will be the year you’ll be able to read ‘A Catcher in the Rye’ without crying.” But that year never comes.
I have this vision of myself riding the subway alone, (I’m actually too scared to do that, but the vision keeps coming) casually pretending to be reading the Wall Street Journal when I feel someone staring at me from across the aisle. I turn my head and there’s Holden, carrying his unread books, wearing a very grown up flannel overcoat and a red hunting hat.
“Oh my God, no way! Holden?”
“Yes, it’s me,” he says.
“I can’t believe this!” I say.
“What? What can’t you believe?” he asks me, looking around.
“I can’t believe you found me. I’ve been looking for you everywhere, for my whole entire life. We need to talk. There’s something terribly wrong with me and I think it’s the same thing that was wrong with you.”
“You’re having a nervous breakdown and suffering from depression?”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that. I’m actually a little too happy. It’s just that I keep getting older but nothing inside me develops or changes. I still feel like a child. I think like a child and I have children of my own who have outgrown me. I think perhaps you’re the only character I’ve ever been able to relate to. And you’re a seventeen year old boy. I have a son your age. What I’m saying Holden is that there’s a possibility that there may very well have been a catcher in the rye. And he caught me. I can’t relate to anyone my own age, and I just keep getting older.”
“There was no catcher. I made all that up. If you go back and reread the book, you’ll see it was just a wish. It was something I wanted to be. You may, while reading that passage, also recall that I was out of my mind.”
“I never thought you were out of your mind. I thought…”
“What? You thought I was right? That’s pretty funny if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“At times, I admit, I did. I still do. So go ahead and laugh all you want.”
“Excuse me for being rude, Miss, I mean Ma’am, but I was just saying all that stuff because I was going through a very tough time in my life. I refused to accept the inevitable, and I didn’t want to do my homework.”
“But you saw through everything before it was too late. You knew!”
“Again, I was headed for a mental institution.”
“Tell me, Holden, what do you see when you look right through me? Tell me the truth. I want to know what I look like, inside. To you.”
“Why should that matter? Are you in love with me or something? Because that would really be something. You being in love with me.”
“I never said I was in love with you. I said I could relate to you, which troubles me at this point in my life. I should be over you. I should be over everything. And yet, I’m not. And I believe it’s because I was caught. I’m perpetually teetering on the verge of adolescence, despite my jowls. It’s a curse this never growing up thing. It’s also a little embarrassing at cocktail parties. I always think people can tell I’m faking. I don’t even like wine. And I despise conversation. Small talk embarrasses me and yet adults seem to really enjoy it. They have such a flair for reveling in the obvious.”
“You give adults too much credit. They don’t ‘revel’ in anything. They’re incapable of real emotion. They’re just a bunch of phonies.”
“Oh Holden, that’s just the kind of thing I always imagined you’d say. But the truth is I wish I were one of them by now. It’s time.”
“Well, here’s something. You asked me what I see when I look at you and I see a middle aged lady. I see someone I can’t trust.”
“Really? That’s awesome!”
“Is it? Is it really awesome?”
“Yes, it is! All this time you were holding me back, I felt some kind of strange loyalty. You did this to me. It wasn’t the catcher. It was you. You made me like this because I believed you. You made me afraid of what I’d become. You made me afraid to grow up. Even though you were just a kid. Just a messed up kid.”
“If by messed up you mean barely functioning for most of my life then you are correct. That is exactly what I was.”
“Just a messed up kid who couldn’t relate to anyone his own age,” I mumble.
“Exactly! And guess what else I was.”
“I don’t believe that, Holden. I believe you are only saying that to me now because you think I’m an adult and therefore you want to hurt my feelings by trying to make me think everything I believe is a lie.”
“Look Ma’am, I don’t know you from a hole in the wall. Therefore I have no interest in hurting your feelings. I’m telling you the truth. I made it all up. I don’t even like to talk about that book. It ruined my life.”
“What about your brother? Did he really write a story about a little kid who didn’t want anyone to look at his goldfish? If that’s not true than I’ll just get off this subway and never talk to you again.”
“That part was true.”
“Cross my heart.”
“Well, that’s good. I really liked that story. I mean I liked the idea of it. Mostly I liked that your brother wrote it and how much you loved it. My sister and I are the same way. We both love anything the other one makes. Take her Brussels sprouts for example. I love them.”
“I miss Phoebe when you say that.”
“I know you do and I’m sorry.”
“I miss her because she’s unencumbered. They didn’t get to her yet.”
“I know. And one day she’ll be fifty.”
“And then what?”
“And then this,” I say, pointing to myself. “She’ll be the same as she was that day you slipped into your own house in the middle of the night, and she was all spread out in that great big bed of hers. She’ll be a little girl trapped in a woman’s body. Because of you. Because she believed you.”
“I’ll always love her for that.”
“I know. And it’s terribly unfair.”
“I can’t help myself.”
“Neither can I.”
“So now what?”
“I think you can go.”
“Do you want to see me again?” Holden asks.
“Yes and no.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I want to, but there’s no point. You’re a dead end.”
“Not if you believe that time is a continuum. Run away with me, Ma’am! We can live like this forever.”
“I’m already living like this forever! And I can’t run away with you. I have a wonderful husband, and two extremely interesting and intelligent children whom I love and adore. And I have a dog who needs to be walked. And I have more books to write. And I have a million and one errands!”
“Oh, brother. I guess that’s it then, for us.”
“For now anyway. I’ll probably see you again next year.”