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The Universal Archetype of Human Rebellion
All aboard! Tim hollers from the shower. As he slowly slips into his own world, the story tape that perpetually plays in his head, I know he’ll be in there for a while. It’s this way every morning. I set him up to take a shower—lather up his hair with shampoo and everything. The only responsibility he has is to soap his body and rinse off. “Tim, start with your feet and work your way up.” He never listens. He starts rubbing his stomach in a circle like the motion of a locomotive, and once the room starts to fill up with steam, he must be reminded of a train story he tells himself on and off every day. Fifteen minutes later, I’ll come back and he’s still soaping his stomach, yelling, All aboard! and describing air brakes.
“Tim, are you ever going to get out of the shower? Come on! You’ve been in there all morning!”
My mom tells me to be patient with him, but of course I get irritated. I mean, how could you not, doing what I do? Every morning, I should be peacefully sleeping before casually waking to a delicious bowl of Strawberry Chex. That’s how it is for most of my peers. And then they sit on their goddam couches, sipping coffee and watching Channel Four News, before they yawn and casually stroll to school. But here I am, telling my naked 19 year-old autistic brother to step out of his head and stop soaping his stomach. Then I’ll go and drag myself through another mundane day at school. The funny thing is, sometimes I wish I could zone out and retell the same story in my head over and over like Tim, just so I could make it through the day. Can you imagine?
I’ve been taking care of my brother for a year now, ever since my dad had a heart attack and died. It was then, at the funeral when my mom squeezed my hand tightly and whispered in my ear, “Now that daddy’s gone, you’re the man of the house.” Her tears drenched my shoulder, and my goddam throat was so knotted up, I couldn’t muster a word.
Anyway, this is how it’s been since my dad died. My mom doesn’t want an outsider in the house helping Tim, even though we have the money, and she’s always busy with work. So I do everything to take care of my brother—I help him take showers, I pack his lunch, I even tie his shoes. And while all this is happening, Tim’s chatting away with himself, repeating the train story. Why a train? It’s part of his disability. He has higher functioning autism, which means he isn’t exactly banging his head, but he can’t really survive on own, either. He knows he has problems, and a lot of the time he gets jealous of me, just because I’m normal. He’ll express his jealousy in the dumbest ways. Just the other day, I brought home a new painting from art class.
“Hey Tim, what do you think?” I asked.
“It’s not a good painting,” he declared. “The colors don’t match.” (He’s always very direct.)
I didn’t take him too seriously. I mean, what the hell does he know about colors? But it still irritated me a little. Just a little.
I don’t know why I always worry about being late to school. I don’t like school. Everything is taught in a formulaic manner, especially since my high school absolutely bombed these standardized assessment tests. Class work is now all geared towards improving test scores. The only class I can truly tolerate is Studio Art. And also English II. At least I like the literature we read.
My favorite book we’ve read is The Catcher In The Rye. I first read it when I was 15. I’m 16 now, and I’ve read it twice more since then. Although my life isn’t exactly the same as Holden’s, I identify more with his alienation than you might think. My peers live for structure and schedule, and everything they do is geared towards the future. They go to school, go to sports practice, go to SAT prep classes, do community service that will look good on a college application, and then go home and study. Their focus is on getting into top notch colleges and then getting high paying jobs. I spend most days after school sitting in the woods. I draw. I stare at the sky. All the while I keep track of my brother, of course.
All aboard! Dammit, he’s still in the shower.
“Tim, hurry the hell up!”
Hurry the hell up... God, that’s exactly what I feel like everyone is telling me. Hurry up, hurry up. Make up your mind. Plot out your life. I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do with my future. In that sense, I’m lost, just like Holden.
A few weeks ago in class, we were discussing The Catcher In The Rye, and I remember one girl who was called on—she’s the one the teacher thinks is “wonderful” and has a bright future—the one who wears those perfect stylish dresses—the one who has perfect SATs. You know, that girl. A phony if I ever saw one. I was expecting her to spout off some wannabe book critic garbage like, Holden exemplifies the universal archetype of teenage rebellion, a crucial element that blooms with the development of every modern culture. God. I mean, I agree with that statement, but I hate it when pretentious people make things seem more complicated than they really are.
But instead, she said, “I had a hard time having sympathy for Holden as a protagonist. He’s incredibly wealthy and has a nice family, although he takes his economic status for granted and abuses the boons bestowed upon him by his parents.” My teacher cocked her head at an angle, and slowly nodded her head with her mouth and eyes wide open. It really knocked me on my ass.
Maybe Tim and I have more in common than I think. We both live in our own worlds—it’s just that mine is functional, and Tim’s is labeled as dysfunctional.
But anyway, I’m getting sidetracked from my main point here. Other kids in my class called Holden a “whiny loser,” a “spoiled brat,” and an “underachiever.” An “underachiever?” If anything, Holden tried to achieve the impossible—to figure out who he was at 16. And I seriously doubt that any of my classmates ever tried to do that. I haven’t done it either—maybe someday my life can tie itself up in just a few pages like in The Catcher In The Rye, hopefully minus the nervous breakdown. But until that day comes, I’m lost. I’ll just keep chugging along, I guess...
All clear to go!
Tim’s still in the shower.
It isn’t that he’s withdrawn from society like Holden, he never developed the social and communicative skills to join in the first place.
“I’m coming, Jackson. Almost done. Almost done.”
He eventually finishes, and I help him dry off. Then I get in the shower. I feel the warm water drip down every inch of my body, and I turn up the heat. Steam fills up the bathroom, and I close my eyes, isolated from everything that doesn’t seem to make sense in my life. Then it gets cold.
“Dammit Tim!” I yell. “We ran out of hot water again!”
He doesn’t answer. I dry off my shivering frame, throw some clothes on, and race downstairs. I glance at the clock.
“Ah, man, Tim! School starts in 20 minutes!”
But I hesitate. A new plan.
“Tim... Wanna skip school today?”
“What?” he says.
“Mom won’t be home from work until tonight. I’ll call us in sick. Don’t tell her, okay?”
I practice my feminine professional voice until I sound exactly like Mom. I make the call—“Hello, this is Elizabeth Paulson, mother of Tim and Jackson. We have some family business we must attend to today, so both of them will be absent...”
I smile as I hang up the phone. No crowded halls today. No standardized test practice. No résumé builders. Just me. And my brother. Maybe I’ll start a new painting. But wait—
“Hey Tim. I’ve got an idea.”
“What? What is it?”
“I want to read this book to you. I think you’ll like it.”
And soon enough, we’re sitting on the couch. Salinger’s words flow gently off my tongue. It’s my favorite introduction to any novel—“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap...”
For a few moments, the lives of me, Tim, and Holden Caulfield are intertwined.