The Catcher in the Rye
Copyright 2020 by Maureen Moynihan
2020 Biographical Contest Winner
Photo of Buster by Maureen.
breast cancer treatment stripped me of my identity, my rescue lab
enabled me to reconstruct my sense of pride and dignity. I wrote
"Catcher" to give a voice to creatures that inspire us to
move through the mud and reclaim our humanity.
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 really
like to be.” -Holden Caufield
the mornings when
I worked from home, I was awoken by the repugnant smell of his
breath. It was a thick, steamy stench like the smell of a rotten
potato that had been abandoned in the dark corners of a kitchen
cupboard. He would drag his rough tongue across my face, thick with
spit, ambition and intention: he wanted me awake. It did not matter
to him if it was Christmas morning or if I just polished off a bottle
of wine. What mattered was that it was 5:30am and it was time for us
shared a love for running. I was born into a lineage of athletes and
started jogging at the age 14 to condition for sports. Like all
habits, what began as a discipline evolved into a regiment that
melted into me. I ran through college, through the city of Prague,
around the outskirts of Alaska and along the Charles River in Boston.
Wherever I landed, I would lace up my sneakers and go. I didn’t
run to prepare for a race or to lose weight; I ran because I had
is a Labrador/Great Pyrenees mix meaning he is smart, protective and
sheds quicker than I can vacuum. His face encompasses the all
enduring features of a Lab while his blonde coat provides a color
that is rather unique. We met at the Exit 2 Park and Ride off I-89 in
Concord, NH where an oversized, unmarked van opened its doors to
reveal rows of puppies stacked in crates. The Southern rescue dogs
had endured a long, dark journey North and proclaimed their arrival
with a cacophony of yelping when the morning light cut gloriously
into the van. Except for Buster. While the other puppies were burning
their energy with aimless abandon, this scraggly little dog was
steadfast in his efforts to chew through the bars of his cage. He was
busting out and had a plan. Immediately, I recognized my own
feelings. For if I was trapped in a cage, I too could only focus on
reclaiming my freedom. This is how I knew Buster was the dog for me.
Despite our physical and intellectual variances, we shared a sameness
of spirit. And it is a nice feeling to have another creature in this
world who appreciates what you value. Even if they lack opposable
Buster and I would run through the hiking trails near my home.
Southern New Hampshire is host to an intricate web of trails that
provide endless hours of enjoyment for those who appreciate the great
outdoors. Lake Massabesic is perched middle, majestically reflecting
sunshine and collecting rainwater. She provides drinking water for
the bordering city of Manchester so swimming, jet skiing and
motorboats are not allowed on the lake. As a result, the trails are
peaceful and secluded from the rush and noise of the industrialized
world. Although the area is renowned for its safety, the isolated
nature of the trails present sketchy circumstances for a woman to run
alone. But a woman with the right dog is certainly safe.
takes his role of protector very seriously. While other dogs stop to
sniff a fisherman and his catch or chase a chipmunk scurrying back to
his chamber, Buster runs dutifully by my side, his ears and my
ponytail flapping in the wind. Occasionally, someone will try to pat
Buster despite my explicit instructions: “Don’t pat the
dog." When their good intentions were met with deep, barbaric
growl and a pearly flash of fangs they would bark, “Ya Dawgs a
Frickin' Killa!” inadvertently confirming my suspicion:
Masshole. Tourist living semi permanently in NH are usually from
Massachusetts and readily disclose their authentic heritage as soon
as they open their mouths. They are famous for dropping their Rs when
speaking and all consideration when driving and thus have earned the
derogatory title of “Massholes.” Yielding in traffic or
in life is not in their bones. Whateva. Use Ya Blinkah.
Massholes have figured out that Southern New Hampshire is the best
place on earth to raise a family. Geographically, it is sandwiched
between the White Mountains of NH and Boston MAproducing coordinates
that land in the middle of nowhere and hour from everywhere. Beaches,
lakes, ski resorts, Fenway Park, and Logan International airport are
all within a reasonable drive. As is Boston’s financial
district, where the gladiators of the daily commute willingly battle
traffic on 93 South so they can earn a top notch salary while
benefiting from NH’s affordable housing market. Wicked Smaht.
for many NH natives, leaving the perimeter of the Granite State is
perceived as unnecessary and most likely unsafe. Especially when
everything you need can be found at the local truck stop: milk,
bread, beer, live bait and a lottery ticket. Anything below the 495
belt might as well be below the Mason-Dixon line, even if it is home
to the most prestigious medical facilities in the world.
subscribe to this belief. The moment my breast cancer diagnosis was
delivered, I packed up my medical case and moved it down to Boston.
Massachusetts General Hospital provides cutting edge research,
technology and medical procedures that are not offered at NH
hospitals. For example, MGH provides immediate breast reconstruction
during the same operation as the mastectomy, thus reducing the number
of surgeries and increasing optimal cosmetic results. It’s the
convenience of Super Walmart coupled with the efficiency of Jiffy
Buster stopped waking me up to run after surgery. Instead, he sat at
the top of the 2nd floor stairs waiting to shadow me around the
house. This drove me crazy. He hovered behind me as I loaded the
washing machine or unloaded the dishwasher. He pushed the bathroom
door open when I needed privacy. So I locked it. Undeterred, he
scratched at the door then barked until I let him in. I’ll
never understand how Buster learned that I acquired a potentially
fatal disease as I never emailed him. But undoubtedly, he
month after my cancer treatment was complete, Buster woke me with his
foul, stinky breath. It was time to run again. But things were
different for me; months of injecting and ingesting powerful
chemicals had left me with a weak, floppy frame. A series of
surgeries had reconfigured my body, replacing my soft, tender breasts
with hard silicone implants that made my chest feel like a pinball
machine. My bouncy ponytail was gone, replaced by butch haircut that
sparked questions about my sexual orientation.
what was left of me?
gambled away anatomical parts for the hope of a longer life, an
exchange that was not guaranteed. I stripped my body of all fast
growing cells then bombarded it with radioactive waves. How could I
possibly run again with such a forgein, fragile foundation? Was I
still an athlete, despite the torture that I inflicted on my body?
What if running was yet another love I had to sacrifice to the cancer
would not stand for any of my apathy or self deprecation. He would
relentlessly nudge me out of bed and whimper until my feet hit the
floor. If I did not get up, he would sit on me. Once I was standing,
he'd bark incessantly until I grabbed his harness and leash. This
went on. And on. And on. Until ultimately, I started running again so
Buster would shut up and leave me alone.
we first returned to the trails, I had to shamefully surrender to
walking. Walking, when on a run, is for the weak or maimed. Having
earned a membership to both clubs, I believed I was entitled to walk.
After all, walking is good for you...right? Maybe from now on, I
could be a walker. I’d be an excellent walker. Nothing wrong
with that. Buster had zero tolerance for this change of pace. When I
walked, he adamantly pulled on his harness, uncoiling his powerful
hind legs as if I was a stagnant, heavy sled that needed to be
it up and I will ship your lily white ass right
back to Alabama.” I shouted at him. I pulled hard on the leash
but my efforts were in vain; he was stronger and had four legs while
I had only two. We engaged in a futile tug of war until I realized
that it was easier to just run than to fight him. Ants passed me, but
I was still moving.
was ugly. First of all, I couldn’t catch my breath. Like, from
the start. I’ve been winded before but it was AFTER a race. Or
a game. Or a marathon. But this was different...I couldn’t even
breathe from the START. It was as if I was drowning in air. No wonder
so many people hate running. It can really suck. Then there were
casualties. My balance was off so I would frequently trip over random
objects. Like a tree branch. Or my sneaker. Or my own feet. Each step
was a painful reminder that I was a fraction of the person that I
used to be.
Buster didn’t seem to notice or care about my
suffering. I began to resent his perseverance and craved some sort of
validation. At least I was trying to get back in the game. At least I
was not home, curled up on the couch feeling sorry for myself. But he
was not impressed. We were running, something we had always done and
something we would always need to do.
after one nasty spill, I lost it. We were headed downhill and I
leaped over a thick, black tree root. Then it moved as it was
actually a snake. Startled, I hit a tree and was catapulted into the
air like a human tick tack. I was bruised and bloody before I even
hit the ground. Buster sauntered over to me to assess the damage. He
sniffed my head and nudged me with his nose. Once he was completely
satisfied with his investigation, he got down on all fours, wagged
his tail and barked at me. Buster was ready to move on.
off!” I shouted at him.
unfolded from the ground and wiped off the blood that was oozing from
my knee. Buster misinterpreted my movement as an invitation to run.
He exploded with unbridled enthusiasm circling me while barking and
pouncing in the air.
I told him, shaking a finger at him. “I can’t do this
anymore.” He jumped on me with the leash in his mouth. “Stop
it!!!” I screamed, pushing him away “Just stop it!!”
I let my frustration get the best of me and impulsively kicked him in
the butt. Buster yelped and stared at me in disbelief. I melted back
to the ground, immediately enveloped in shame and regret.
my God Buster. I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry. “
I reached out and wrapped my arms around his thick, muscular neck.
“I’m sorry...I’m just not me.” I told him
through my tears. “I’m not me.”
just not me.
curled up along my side and offered his head as a tissue. I dumped my
face into the soft fur between his ears and cried. He licked my tears
as they streamed down my face until I laughed. Once I was calm, I got
up, picked up the leash and obediently followed Buster down the
one day, I caught my breath. The agony of training transitioned to
euphoria. My legs felt powerful, cutting the wind with purpose and
promise. I was a warrior, gliding effortlessly through the brush, my
feet pounding the rocks that once scraped my knees. I was part of the
world again instead just fighting to survive in it. I looked over at
Buster and knew that he felt it too:
girl who loves to run was with me the whole time. She was buried deep
beneath 18 weeks of chemotherapy, 30 sessions of radiation, and 5
surgeries, just waiting for something strong and determined to pull
her out. I missed her so much. Buster glanced over at me as his ears
flapped victoriously in the wind. His tongue hung out the side of his
mouth that held a wide smile of satisfaction.
said his expression. I told you so.
* From The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. Published by Little, Brown and Company, 1951.
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