Submitted by Rachel Urbonas, Landmark School Senior, writing to the late J.D. Salinger after having read The Catcher in the Rye
Dear Mr. Salinger,
When I was first assigned your novel, The Catcher in the Rye, I was expecting another bland piece of literature said to be a ‘classic must read’ that I would have to force myself to interpret. However, I had no idea that this book (written before I was born) could paint such an accurate picture of my life. I felt an immediate connection towards Holden Caulfield, a mirror image of myself. Holden, struggling to feel like he belongs in the world, connected with me on a deep level. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, which made me feel like I was different – an outcast. I no longer felt like an equal to my friends and classmates. In my eyes, I was a lesser person and I didn't belong.
Holden tells his history teacher, he's trapped on “the other side” of life – a world which he feels he does not belong in. When I was younger, I struggled in school, I struggled with friendships and acceptance: always searching for a social group where I wouldn't be called stupid or retarded. The burden of needing to belong was always in the back of my mind. Years after being diagnosed, I was told I would be transferring into a new school for dyslexic children. I was terrified. I lost countless nights of sleep stressing over how I would not make friends and that I was still going to be an outcast. My whole life was about to change.
Similarly to Holden's character, I hated change. It was as if everything I knew was being ripped away from my grasp and I could do nothing except watch. For self protection, I isolated myself from others – a similar tactic Holden used. Going into a new school as an eighth-grader was difficult. Everyone had known each other for years and I was just entering their world, alone. I spent countless days crying and beating myself up for things I couldn't change. I was mad at myself for being this way. I hid, staying clear of new people, pitying my own impairment.
I needed to grow up, to realize that feeling sorry for myself wasn't going to change anything. Holden faced the same fears. Holden envisions his superficiality of adulthood, believing that the world is filled with “phonies” or “shallow” people. Before I changed schools, I put myself into the same mindset just because I was angry. I thought it was other people's fault for being the way I was; therefore, giving me an excuse to isolate myself. Holden held on to his childish thoughts about sex and relationships as I held on to my childish thoughts that everyone should feel bad for me and let me slide through life just because of my dyslexia. I soon came to realize that my insecurities about my disability were what set me apart from others. All the self doubt and criticism pushed me to prove myself wrong. I found passion in writing. Even sending this letter to you contradicts something people said I could never do: write.
No one knows the outcome of Holden's decision at the end of the book; to stay and face his problems or run away. I was facing a similar dilemma; to let my disability defeat me or attack it head on. Now I see that my dyslexia is what makes me unique. I no longer think that I have to “belong” in a group or be categorized by my abilities and weaknesses. I no longer isolate myself from situations in which I feel uncomfortable, but attack them head on, ready for any curve ball thrown my way. I am able to say that I have experienced difficulties first-hand that most kids can never fathom. I now understand that being different is what makes people special. I will take this lesson with me, holding off judgments and keeping an open mind.
Thank you Mr. Salinger for helping me see that.
Sincerely, Rachel Urbonas