I don’t know how much it cost her. It doesn’t really matter, if you want to know the truth. But it could’ve been a helluva lot more.
We dated the previous year for about three months. She was a twenty-year old pre-law student, while I was a seasoned high school English teacher, nine years into my career. I’d come to find out some months after breaking up with Holly that her friends had always called me “30.” At the time, I wasn’t thrilled with the label. It wasn’t so much that I felt guilty dating someone so young (she did turn twenty-one shortly into our non-exclusive tenure), but it was that they’d mocked me behind my back. I knew I was fully capable at my advanced age of taking a ribbing from some college kids, so long as they were upfront about it.
Anyway, I broke it off with her because I thought we wouldn’t be a great couple, just really good friends. Heck, the first time we looked at each other was highlighted by an eye roll from me after she’d drunkenly shouted that Britney Spears was a fantastic artist or something. I was into Radiohead, Interpol, The Smiths, stuff like that. She was a diehard Phillies fan, which killed me because they were the reigning World Series Champions and I rooted for the Mets. And she always had an answer for everything, forcing me to throw my hands up at the end of every debate we had and reach into the “You fucking lawyer!” well time and time again.
But we always had fun.
By the time my next birthday was in sight, I had a new girlfriend and old Holly was crushing on a classmate. We constantly conversed, mostly via text or instant message, about these goings on and others and it became apparent, to both of us, that I had indeed spoken the truth when I told her “I think we should be friends.” So, like a good friend, she put deep thought into her gift to me and planned ahead, purchasing off EBay a First Edition Print of The Catcher in the Rye just after New Year’s. It was hands-down my favorite book to teach (of course one of my favorite books ever as well) and it had to be shipped in time for arrival on January 27, 2010 – my thirty-first birthday and the unforeseen date of J.D. Salinger’s death.
I celebrated with my family on my birthday, but planned to hang out with Holly soon thereafter to receive this gift she kept raving about. “This is going to be like the BEST birthday present OF ALL TIME!” she kept texting, utilizing Caps Lock. I shrugged it off, thinking about the graduated number of birthdays I’d already experienced, like 30% more of them than she had.
When we had dinner, I bypassed the birthday card to get to this highly touted symbol of our friendship. With a calculatedly insensitive announcement of “It’s a book!” after deducing as much upon seeing the squared wrapping paper, I tore it off to the beat of Holly’s shaking head, revealing the old and browned hardcover. I saw on the binding “Salinger The Catcher in the Rye Grosset & Dunlap,” and simply said, “Wow! I love Catcher!” All Holly did was smirk and say, “First Edition.”
She was a college kid with no job and J.D. Salinger had just died days before.
“How did you get this? When did you get this?” I asked, completely exasperated and concerned that a girl I’d dated and broken up with had sold a kidney in Chinatown for me to have a Catcher dated “1951.”
“Relax,” she said. “I bought it like a month ago. It was a lot, but, sheesh, it could’ve been a lot more, huh?”
I repeated my thanks to my good friend over and over, hugging her soundly.
I finally went for the card. Holly had it all filled out, writing: “To me, you will always be ‘30!’” I laughed heartily at that, appreciating the time-defiant nickname, as I still do at thirty-three whenever I’m with Holly and her gang.
That’s all I’m going to tell about.
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