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Our leading guy and guide to all things zines and divorced parents isn't the world's most open book. In fact, he thinks he doesn't have the capacity to get emotional or fall in love at all. Now we know this theory is eventually proven wrong, but we're interested in what he says all the same. After all, how he sees himself is just as important as how others see him.
In the opening lines of Hard Love, John admits:
I am immune to emotion. I have been ever since I can remember. Which is helpful when people appeal to my sympathy. I don't seem to have any. (1.1)
Hmm… This kind of sounds like John is just making excuses for being a jerk, right? No sympathy when people look for it? Yikes, dude. When we remember how hurt he's been by his parents, though—his dad ditched him and his mom literally hasn't touched him since—it seems more like John's just built a heckofa wall around himself in hopes of never getting hurt again.
And we mean it when we say his parents and their actions are at the root of this emotion-less state. John acknowledges that the letters he writes his parents will majorly sting, but while he claims he couldn't care less, we're inclined to think that he's actually kind of looking forward to this reaction. Why bother, otherwise, right? Yes, he needs to tell them how they've made him feel—but if in doing so they feel a bit of the hurt they've inflicted upon him, well, then maybe they're getting their just deserts. And importantly, they're probably not going to get any closer to him.
Because again, John's jerky behavior is the direct result of a desire to keep people away, all in the name of not getting hurt. Ever. This tough persona is so important to John that he can't stand it when people think he's gone soft—even when it's they're just talking about his zine. When he's reviewed as being "poignant," he flips out. He asks Marisol about it, and she explains: "He means it goes deep. It's touching. It's not an insult, Gio" (8.55), to which John (er, Gio) responds: "I didn't mean for it to be touching" (8.56). Well then, that settles that.
Given John's reaction, you'd think someone trashed his writing, right? But what's happened is actually the opposite—he's been complimented. But since it's regarding his emotions, he'd rather not take the positive review. He wants people to think he's cold and harsh regardless of whether he really is, and he's so afraid of letting people in that he even rejects compliments for work he's really poured himself into. Dude is the definition of standoffish. Not convinced? He doesn't even tell Marisol his real name. You know, despite being super close and spending all his time with her.
Underneath that tough exterior, though, John has a sweet side. But you probably sensed that already—hard shells usually get thrown up to protect soft bellies, if you know what we mean. You also might not be surprised to learn that his sweetness only comes out in his writing. Even though John wants his zine to be hilarious and witty, it turns out that it's touching and meaningful at times. The same thing happens when he writes poetry:
I am lying in a clapboard shack the wind blows through. It has followed me all the way from Boston to this sheltered harbor where I am less protected than I've ever been. Invisible as a fish in the ocean I've tried to listen, to understand the mystery of two people who could almost touch, except they have in common trusting no one. I'm not lying when I say I tried. (15.73)
John's poem talks a lot about lies and truth, but it also tells us who John's become. In the beginning, he was self-conscious about his writing and how people perceived it, but now, he openly shares his most honest poem with the crowd. He's "less protected" as he says, but he's more secure in himself. So you might say he's actually more protected, or at least better protected, than ever before.
In the end, John finally lets Marisol in… and then he gets hurt more than he ever has before. Fortunately, though, while John realizes that sometimes opening yourself up to others gets you hurt, he also finally recognizes that there's also the amazing possibility that you might get to know someone—or yourself—way better. And because of this new understanding, he's willing to take the risk. He tells us:
I'm ready, I think, to join them. Very anxious, more than a little scared, susceptible now to anything that might happen. (17.36)
Before we celebrate, we can't help but notice that "I think." It's clear that John isn't totally sure whether he's ready or not—he wants to be, though, and that's at least half the battle. Authors love to leave us with a big, burning question, and Wittlinger is no different. We're asked here to decide whether John is ready to let someone else in. Is he a changed man, or will he go back to his cynical ways? We'll let you decide, Shmoopers.