Author J.D. Salinger died last week at the age of 91. An iconic American author best-known for his mid-century coming-of-age novel Catcher in the Rye, he seems from numerous reports to have been a troubled, unhappy soul. I have never systematically read his work, although I read the novella Franny and Zooey once for a college course, dipped into Catcher and also encountered a short story or two.
However, I once had a professor give a talk about . . . well, I forget exactly what it was about other than that during the lecture she spoke with tears in her eyes about her mother, who had recently died of cancer, and toward the end quoted the following passage from “Seymour, An Introduction,” from the collection Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter. The narrative voice in the passage is Seymour Glass, a recurring character in a number of Salinger short stories who ends up committing suicide.
If or when I do start going to an analyst, I hope to God he has the foresight to let a dermatologist sit in on the consultation. A hand specialist. I have scars on my hands from touching certain people. Once, in the park, when Franny was still in the carriage, I put my hand on the downy pate of her head and left it there too long. Another time, at Loew’s Seventy-Second Street, with Zooey during a spooky movie. He was about six or seven, and he went under the seat to avoid watching a scary scene. I put my hand on his head. Certain heads, certain colors and textures of human hair leave permanent marks on me. Other things, too. Charlotte once ran away from me, outside the studio, and I grabbed her dress to stop her, to keep her near me. A yellow cotton dress which I loved because it was too long for her. I still have a lemon-yellow mark on the palm of my right hand. Oh, God, if I’m anything by a clinical name, I’m kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy (88).
It is a passage that is so powerful to me in its use of physical senses and the material world to convey the deep intangible “scars” (good and bad) that connections to other human beings inevitably leave on our souls, and I have never been able to forget it.
I really don’t have anything further to say, other than that I struggle with the complicated reality that someone who was deeply damaged (and damaged many people) could also write something so heart-stoppingly painful, life-affirming, and true. I hope in death Salinger finds whatever peace he hoped for after life.
*image credit: Holding your scarred heart in my hand by Angela Mary Butler @ Flickr.com.