A Coming of Age Story
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d like to be.”
- Holden Caulfield, J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
What started as a silly book I had to read junior year of high school became a silly book I consistently think about in my “adult” life, especially the above segment. How can I identify so clearly with the narrator, Holden Caulfield, and the kids who get too close to the crazy cliff? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I have to pay taxes and go to work but in many I still feel like I know nothing; like a child on the edge of a cliff. I’ve fallen off a lot of crazy cliffs and I’ve been the catcher in the rye for myself a few times, too.
I wouldn’t say that growing up feels necessarily as perilous as falling off a cliff, but growing up is not without fear. Even just the phrase, growing up, suggests arriving somewhere or otherwise becoming, something different. Somewhere or something that is so unknown that it might feel like it lies at the bottom of a cliff. But at one point, everything was unknown. Walking, at one point, was foreign concept to Usain Bolt. Even our closest friends were people we had never met before once. Plants don’t know what’s above them, but they stretch toward the sky regardless.
Growing up also physically hurts. Which is a big bummer. It manifests in the middle of the night with shooting leg pains, it manifests in cramps, freshly tightened braces, heartbreak, confusion, and loneliness. Coupled with the sheer fear of not knowing what’s coming next, growing up is by definition, painful and frightening. But it is not only frightening, and most people grow up.
But not everybody. Holden and his Peter Pan-like need to stay set in his ways, for instance, was the thesis many of my classmates chose to build their papers around. Mine is neither here nor there, but I can tell you I didn’t write about that. I was eager to grow up, to decorate my own room, to have a job, and to drive a car. Pause: isn’t it cute that that’s what I thought being a grown-up lady would be like? Anyway, at 15 people who didn’t want to grow up bored me. I couldn’t wait to travel and wear pantsuits. I still haven’t done much of either, but I can’t wait to keep growing my pantsuit collection and adding stamps to my passports—but as I get older, the scarier growing up seems, probably because of the impending doom of navigating the finances United States on top of figuring out a viable and fulfilling career path, among other things.
At once growing up is jumping off a cliff and playing catcher in the rye. It’s about doing the career dance, pursuing love and friendship, traveling, occasionally that involves cliff jumping. A Psychology Today article details 5 aspects to the fear of growing up: symbolic separation from parents and other individuals, fantasy as a defense mechanism over reality, the threat of being alone, the heavier responsibility load, and most morbidly, the fear of death. Holden Caulfield is mainly the second one; caught in the past and therefore stuck in childhood due to his extreme grief, hence why he wants to protect others from feeling similar trauma.
The heavier responsibility load thing is a no-brainer, and that’s where I am on my personal journey off the cliff. That, paired with missing my family and obviously the aching wish to be a child again (taxes, anyone?). Sometimes growing up makes sense. Sometimes it’s really fucking messy. Kind of like cocktails during a night out - some days it’s a brilliantly crafted vodka martini, crisp and straightforward on a mahogany bar, but others it’s a sloppy Long Island on a couch that smells like cigarettes! But that’s the thing. Both are okay, it is okay to be a mess, and it’s okay to know exactly what you want. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I have grown up, it’s that everyone is on their own journeys and they’re all okay.
Navigating these journeys is made so much easier when we help each other and when we allow ourselves to be helped. Whether it’s therapy, regular exercise, social outings, or talks with family members—things that serve us and people we love help! Sometimes saying yes to you means saying no to others.