Dear Holden Caulfield

First published by great weather for MEDIA

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.

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following the waves of coney island

You fill your bag with clementines, chocolate and an empty bag for the shells you hope to catch. You sit beside a writer who unravels her days as though they are novels. You scrub out all the wax unintentionally collected in both ears so as not to miss a word. You hit traffic lights and listen to the sound of impatient cars outside each window. When you travel down the alphabet of street names, you finally reach ocean.

In New York, it is so easy to see bricks and concrete and potholes and urine stains but a handful of miles away, there is blue and there is salt water and there are sea gulls and there is a boardwalk.

You digest the ocean. Man jogs by, moaning and gasping as he passes by. You giggle because you don’t run, so the only time you make those sounds are during sex. A spandex’d man on his bike stops to remind you how Coney Island used to look. The dilapidated wood used to be sturdy and handsome. Storms have rummaged Coney Island’s insides and outsides. You can feel the sadness of his reminisce.

You get high. Walk over to the sand and sit beside the shells and crushed crab bodies. You share chocolate and stories. You ignore pangs of anger that you do not come here more often. You are here now. You are here now.

At some point, you eat a corn dog and french fries. You ignore the thick whispers of winter edging its voice onto your earlobe. You still have some time and the air is warm enough to remain outside.

Until the sun goes down.

As the hours drip past, you head back toward parked cars and sleeping rollercoasters. You thank Coney Island for still being alive after all these years. For always remaining open, even when closed.

how to be sturdy

A lot can be written about a bag of rocks and shells.

 

The shells arrived from Coney Island, stuffed into brown paper sack, all crumbly like an instrument of papercuts. The day these shells arrived in this bag, I was with my father. Earlier in the day, we drove from Crown Heights to Bensonhurst, where he lived many years ago. We even rang the doorbell to see if we could see inside. An old woman in curlers and question marks opened the door. She spoke only Italian. We smiled and continued walking. My dad and I shared a pastry at a local bakery; he got a grape juice and I got a cup of coffee. Then we headed to Coney Island where he hoped I might find strength within the sound of salt liquefying into oceanic waves.

 

On this day, I felt like a collapsible ladder: screws removed, flimsy and hunched. Another break-up…and I won’t reference a heart broken, because the muscle inside me kept beating. Instead, I will speak on the hazel in my eyes, feeling burnt and long-winded. My blinks were wheezing and weary. My hips were bloodied and my appetite had been carved out, replaced by nothingness.

 

As we entered the beach, I took off my shoes and socks and reveled at the feeling of scratchy sand between my toes. My dad took his shoes off, but remained in his black socks with gold toes. This made me smile. He treated the beach like a giant, bendable magical carpet.

 

I picked up shells that felt whole to me. They needed to be unabridged and intact. I could not bear to see any cracks; I was cracked enough. I held each chosen one to my nose and inhaled the stench of seaweed and the Atlantic. Then, I put them into the brown bag, along with some sand and sea glass.

 

Two months later, I grab many of these shells and some rocks purchased at a garden store on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. They were of various colors and curvature; all were extremely smooth and treated. I mixed them all together in a see-through zip lock bag and brought them to school with me. Today, my students were taking a test that they had worked all semester preparing for. I wanted to give them something sturdy. Strong. I wanted them to rock this test.

 

Each student chose their rock or shell and I tried to explain to them that these came from the earth, like them. And their resilience is a sign that even through the toughest of times, these natural elements remained. Sometimes (oftentimes) their shape changed, but so did these students. Their minds and thoughts and perspectives like rocks and shells, altering texture and configuration.

 

Many times in my life, I have been given rocks that have saved me like hardened life rafts. I keep them on my alter or in my pocket or by my desk where I mix up poems like linguistic tinctures.

 

One student rubbed his chosen rock between his palms and said: this rock will get me through this. I wanted to tell him how right he was. I also wanted to let him know that he is the rock. I guess I am too.