Study Guide

Hard Love Quotes

  • Identity

    "And so I became Marisol Guzman, Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." (1.52)

    From the get-go, Marisol knows who she is. Or at least, she claims to. But can she really be summed up with this list of adjectives? For example, later on, she mocks the idea that everyone at her school is "gifted and talented." It looks like her identity isn't as stable as she tries to make it out to be.

    "I'm not gay," I told her, though I really had no strong evidence for saying so. "At least I don't think I am."

    "There are other closets." (2.66)

    It turns out John isn't gay, but he is lying to himself and others about who he is and what he thinks. He barely interacts with anyone except for Marisol, and generally hides inside the world of his writing. He isn't up front with his parents about how he feels about their divorce, or how it makes him feel about love.

    "I need to figure out what it all means by myself. I need to have a world that is not open to my mother. I need to cross barriers by myself, not holding her hand." (4.11)

    We get it: Marisol wants to learn about herself and her desires without her mom breathing down her neck. We can't say we blame her, yet we can't help but wonder whether she's guilty of hiding herself, just like John. If she wants her mom to back off, why doesn't she just tell her?

    But my smile got shaky when Marisol stared at me, her dark eyes snagging mine like a fish hook. "Well, you should," she commanded. "If you don't know who you are, how is anybody else supposed to get to know you?" (4.84)

    When Marisol asks John if he cares who he is, and John claims he doesn't, she gets annoyed. We love how she lays into him for this. Why? Identity is a big deal to her. Marisol spends so much time identifying herself that she can't understand why others wouldn't do the same.

    "I have to leave to find out who I really am inside this person my parents have tried to manufacture. But I don't run from my feelings. Believe it or not, I love my parents. Sometimes it scares me to think about leaving them and going off by myself. What if I can't make it on my own?" (5.68)

    The word that stands out to us the most? Manufacture. It's as though her parents are mass-producing a set of Marisols. Okay, okay, maybe she doesn't mean it like that—but she does mean to take the agency away from herself and give it to them by using that word. She's not in charge of who she is in her life.

    "I know it goes back to being adopted; I know this. I'm a confident person, I have loving parents, I am, for God's sake, 'gifted and talented.' And some days I'm crazy about myself. But somewhere down deep I think people don't really want to be with me. And if I let them see that I like them (as I did with Kelly), they'll run away (as she did, as you did)." (9.53)

    In her letter to her mom, Marisol gets real with her. She accuses her mom of being partly to blame for her own hang-ups and issues, though she also thinks she gets her identity from her mom, even though she hasn't met the woman since she was a baby.

    "Well, give me a clue here. Who am I supposed to be, anyway?"

    "Yourself! Look, I'll tell them right now if you want. 'Marisol is a lesbian. She has no interest in me whatsoever. This whole thing is a farce.' Okay?"

    I could feel anger heating up my face, but who was I mad at? (11.41-43)

    Hmm… it seems like John is more annoyed by the fact that Marisol is gay than the idea that he should tell everyone about it. Perhaps this is because he's not comfortable with her identity. As much as he knows who she is, he wants her to be someone different so they can be together.

    Natural born liar strikes again. I promised myself I'd stop just as soon as I cleared things up with Marisol and could start being myself, my real self, whoever that might be. (14.16)

    We can't help but notice that John promises himself he'll be his real self before saying he's not sure who that is. How can he possibly figure that out without at least trying to be honest? John's been playing around with his identity so much that he doesn't know who he really is anymore.

    "Besides, most of my friends don't like it here."

    "Why not?"

    "The gay thing. It makes them uncomfortable."

    "You don't mind, though." She shook her head. "I like people who aren't afraid of themselves." (15.10-13)

    Diana's open enough to share stuff with John about her identity. She doesn't care if people are gay or straight like some of her friends do; she only cares about people confronting themselves and who they really are. Isn't that what John's been afraid of this whole time?

    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 is self-conscious about his writing and how people perceive it, but now he openly shares his most honest poem with the crowd. He's "less protected" as he says, but he's also more secure in himself.

  • Love

    But to me, the mystery of female body parts is one I'd just as soon not solve. Not that I'm interested in boys either—I'm just not interested in the whole idea of locked lips or proclamations of love. I can't imagine being in love with somebody, letting her touch me and tell me things I wouldn't know whether to believe. (2.11)

    John claims he's not interested in love, but maybe it's just that he hasn't found the right girl yet. We can't help but wonder whether his insistence on not being interested in love just means he's never experienced it.

    John claims he's not interested in love, but maybe it's just that he hasn't found the right girl yet. We can't help but wonder whether his insistence on not being interested in love just means he's never experienced it.

    "Well, I don't. And you better not say it around me either. It's not just a swear word; it's a hateful word. It's a violent word. It's not about sex or love or anything like that. It's ugly. It just means I want to hurt you." (4.57)

    When Birdie drops an f-bomb, Marisol flips out. She can't stand that word, and while she's not usually touchy about these things, Marisol is more annoyed at the idea that someone misuses love, just the way Kelly did to her.

    So I took all the sadness of the divorce, and all the love I'd once had for both of you, and all the fear I had of being alone, and turned it into a stone wall to hide behind. To protect myself. I'm so protected now, dear Mother, sometimes I feel like I'm barely alive. (10.59)

    In his letter to his mom, John talks about his hate for his mom and the pain he's felt since the divorce. Notice how he focuses on love. It's not about being hurt over his parents splitting up; it's about the fact that he expects his parents to love him and is hurt when they don't.

    "I needed your affection. I didn't think it would affect me. You are asking me to change without a word." (11.20)

    In her poem, "You're Not Listening," Marisol explains her feelings to John in not-so explicit terms. She does love him, it's just that she doesn't love him in the way that he loves her.

    She took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. "No, not… love. Some kind of deep… connection…" She put her hand over her heart. "Which is confusing. And that's why it has to be over now." (12.103)

    Perhaps Marisol has a hard time explaining her feelings to John because love can't be explained; it's not something that you can create an algorithm for or define. It's about feelings that are messy and complicated.

    But I did feel; that much was undeniable. Even though my stomach was twisted in a pretzel, and I hated myself for acting like such a blubbering fool, there was something else going on too. I also felt awake and alive and, in a funny way, almost lighthearted. It sounds dumb, but I felt like I'd been watching people run past me for years while I was tied up on the sidelines pretending I hated running anyway. And now I was finally untied, free to jump in and join the race whenever I wanted to. (13.27)

    Love might be complex, but it also makes John and Marisol feel things they've never felt before—it makes them want to experience life. Before, they were guarded and jaded; now they are open to possibilities and willing to do new stuff.

    "I'm not lying next to you and I never will. There was a night we needed more than affection, though neither would admit it. To tell the truth it couldn't matter less who wears the pants or the dress, but only who becomes visible to whom. You saw me truly, and I saw all you let me; I'm not lying now, and I hope I never will." (15.74)

    Isn't that what love is? It's not all grand gestures and red roses. Sometimes, it's just about opening up a part of yourself that no one else gets to see. For John, that's more than he can say about anyone else in his life, which is what makes Marisol so special.

    "Love is never wasted, even when it's hard love. Yes it's hard love, but it's love all the same, not the stuff of fantasy but more than just a game. And the only kind of miracle that's worthy of the name, for the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love." (16.44)

    The song Diana sings is for John, and it's also the title of the book, so we know it's important. Check out the first line: "Love is never wasted." We might think John will swear off love given all he's been through, but here, we see that it's still worth it, even when it breaks your heart.

    The love that heals our lives. While everybody was applauding Diana and whooping and yelling for another song, that one line kept circling back through my head. I didn't feel healed—I felt destroyed—and still I knew it was true. I slipped away from the group quietly, without a plan, but as soon as I realized I was headed for the office, I knew what I was going to do. (16.46)

    As John lets the words of the song sink in, he realizes that despite how he's feeling in the moment (destroyed), he's been healed by love. He's no longer afraid of letting people in, or scared about what might happen if he does. He's finally willing to have friends and love.

    She turned around though, halfway up and gave me one last gift. "Hey, I love you too, Gio," she said. "As much as I can." (17.33)

    Marisol's goodbye to John is heartbreaking, and not just for him. We're lost when she says this to him, mainly because we wish there was more she could say. We get it, though: Sometimes, love just isn't enough. For these two, theirs is the wrong kind of love.

  • Literature and Writing

    That's what I love about writing. Once you get the words down on paper, in print, they start to make sense. It's like you don't know what you think until it dribbles from your brain down your arm and into your hand and out through your fingers and shows up on the computer screen, and you read it and realize: That's really true; I believe that. (1.42)

    Notice how John loves the reality that comes with writing something—it's almost as though the act of writing something corroborates it, regardless of if it's actually true. He realizes it's more about what people believe than what actually happens; that's why people write.

    Every time I read that over, I feel like I'm looking down through layer after layer of her, until I'm looking more deeply inside this person I don't even know than I've ever looked inside myself. I want to write like that too. Maybe I even want to be like that. And I sure as hell want to meet her. (1.53)

    Marisol's writing reveals pieces of her identity that she usually keeps hidden, so John feels like he knows her before he even meets her. It's curious that he claims he wants to write like that, too, because when he does pen a story, he shies away from getting too personal with it.

    "So why bother then, if it's just some half-assed way to waste your time? If you're not committed to having people read what you've written? What have we been talking about all morning?" (2.39)

    When he claims his writing isn't going to change the world, Marisol asks him what's the point. She thinks writing is valuable and meaningful. Sure, not everything will change the world, but why try if that's not what you're aiming for?

    Somehow writing this was getting me down. I couldn't wait until it was time to go see Marisol, but there was a good half hour before she'd be there, so I picked up the Berryman book and turned to the poems Marisol had quoted from last week. Most of the poems went right past me; I felt like I couldn't get a starting point with them, though the language was so strange I kind of liked being inside their world. (4.21)

    Writing and literature transports John to a different world, one where he can be someone other than the guy whose parents divorced and ditched him. John doesn't have to live through the depressing nature of his parents' problems; instead he can float away to a fictional world.

    I'd never read anything written like that before, all piled together, and it was sort of fun to figure it out. But this Diana was a tad odd. Maybe she'd been on earth before? What was that, Buddhist or something? New Age or just old hippie? (4.26)

    Question: You know how you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Well, should you judge a writer by their writing?

    "Write it down, Gio. After dinner go to your room and write down what happened and how you feel about it. Your writing is good—it really is. Just don't run away from the feelings." (5.64)

    As John attempts to process his feelings about his parents, Marisol encourages him to write it down. He won't be able to run away from his feelings when he puts pen to paper. It's too bad, because some of his feelings are dark, but he still has to confront them.

    "When I read something, I like to feel I've gotten to know the writer a little bit," she continued. "For me, page after page of this kind of sarcasm gets annoying." She put her hand up. "Don't get me wrong. You write very well. Very well. It's funny and it's strong, and actually, I'm pretty impressed. If I wasn't, I'd just shut up about it." (6.48)

    Look at Marisol's advice to John: It's about his writing, sure, but it's also about how he should use his writing to connect to others. More importantly, he needs to learn to connect with his own feelings, which he normally runs away from.

    My mom's a therapist, so, you know, she believes in them. She got me started with Claire around the time I came out, although what we usually end up talking about is being adopted. Anyway, writing the letters has helped me figure out who my mother is. Or, at least, who she isn't. (9.30)

    Even Marisol uses writing as a tool. She might not ever meet her birth mother, but that doesn't stop her from working out issues with her on the page. The letters she writes to her mom are heartfelt and brutally honest—she does not sugar coat her true feelings.

    "You asked me why I don't let things get me down. I think it's because I've always tried to find my own magic words ever since I was young. That's really what writing is, isn't it? Searching for the magic words. So I guess I'd have to say, this is what keeps me going, figuring out what I have to say and putting it down on paper, word by word." (10.24)

    Diana's outlook on life is so refreshingly positive after John's down in the dumps nature. One thing they share? A love for writing, and a desire for the right words to express themselves—or, as they put it, magic words. These are special to them because they have the ability to convey meaning in a way they can't in speaking to one another.

    "Hey, don't knock letters. Sometimes people say more to each other in letters than they'd ever get around to saying in person." (15.61)

    We can't help but notice just how important letters are to John. Somehow, he's able to express himself so much clearer through writing than in person. Maybe it's because there is less pressure to say something in the moment.

  • Truth

    That's what I love about writing. Once you get the words down on paper, in print, they start to make sense. It's like you don't know what you think until it dribbles from your brain down your arm and into your hand and out through your fingers and shows up on the computer screen, and you read it and realize: That's really true; I believe that. (1.42)

    John loves the fact that things become true when he writes them, almost as though he is searching for more truth in his life.

    The only thing I still needed to do was put my name on the cover and I'd be finished with my zine. But who was I? Marisol might not be her real name. Maybe she just liked that stuff about the "bitter sun." Like I said, you can be "true" without always telling the truth. (1.54)

    Hmm… is that accurate? Can something be true without telling the truth? We're not sure about that one. After all, lying about his name gets John (or should we say, Gio) in a lot of trouble with Marisol. It makes her wonder whether he's trustworthy at all.

    "It's a lie, you know, to pretend that nothing is important to you. It's hiding. Believe me, I know, because I hid for a long time. But now I won't do it anymore. The truth is bioluminescent. I don't lie, and I don't waste time on people who do." (2.61)

    For Marisol, truth matters so much because she was once in the closet. It's not about being gay or straight, though—to her, it's about lying or telling the truth. She yearns for the truth now in everything because she can't stand what lies do to her.

    "Well, I can't say I never lie. I mean I don't always tell my parents the whole truth, but nobody does that. I don't lie to my friends." As I said it I was actually picturing this large group of people to whom I am forever honest and loyal, instead of lonely old Brian, to whom I'll say almost anything. Even my imagination lies. (2.64)

    Even John's promise not to lie contains a lie. He knows he has a problem with lying, which is why it's a match made in heaven when he meets Marisol: She makes it so he can no longer hide behind the half-truths and silence that he uses with his parents all the time. Now, he has to confront the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    "Do you know what 'coming out' really means?" she asked, looking me square in the face again. "It means you stop lying. You tell the truth even if it's painful, especially if it's painful. To everybody, your parents included." (2.65)

    Marisol's observation that coming out is about being truthful hits John hard. He's not truthful with his parents about what he thinks of them or how their divorce makes him feel. As it turns out, he needs to come out himself.

    I kept thinking, how could anybody know so much about themselves? And about their parents! (4.13)

    When he reads Escape Velocity, John is shocked by Marisol's self-confidence and self-awareness. He's never met someone so sure of themselves, and it's all the more powerful because of how open and honest Marisol is about who she is in her zine. She doesn't just know herself—she shares.

    "No, Gio. Don't try to make it funny. Write the truth of it. It might turn out to be funny or it might not. Don't worry about that part. Just write it the way you're feeling it." (5.59)

    The whole time John's trying to manipulate his writing to be one way or another, he's forgetting about the truth. His writing—and he, himself—is at its best when it's honest and doesn't pretend to be something it's not.

    "Yeah, I liked it, but the part that makes the rest of it work, for me, anyway, is the line about not wanting anything else to change. It just rings true. And because the rest of the piece is so guarded, it feels like it just slipped out, which makes it seem even more true." (6.49)

    Right away, Marisol zeroes in on the truth and repeats it. She's not interested in what John wants people to take away from the story; she's only spending time on what she believes the truth is. And guess what? She's right—John doesn't want his home life to change.

    "It was honest, Marisol. I told them the truth for the first time. Isn't that what I was supposed to do?"

    "There are different ways to tell the truth, Gio. If you care about people…" (14.46-47)

    Here's the thing: John might be telling the truth, but does that make it okay to hurt someone? He knows how the letter will destroy his mom or tick off his dad, but he delivers them anyway. There's a difference between truth and cruelty.

    "To tell the truth it couldn't matter less who wears the pants or the dress, but only who becomes visible to whom. You saw me truly, and I saw all you let me; I'm not lying now, and I hope I never will." (15.74)

    Lying—or the promise of telling the truth—has been a big part of Marisol and John's relationship, so it's fitting that it would play a role in his poem to her. John doesn't want to lie about his feelings, and here, we can see that he vows not to anymore.

  • Abandonment

    She'd go out of her way to avoid it, or she'd wait me out, or she'd just plain ask me to get out of her way. I couldn't bring myself to say anything about it, so I'd just move. What were you supposed to say anyway? Hey, Mom, am I disgusting? Am I diseased? How come all of a sudden you can't stand to touch me? (3.14)

    John's dad might be the one who left, but his mom abandons him all the time by refusing to touch him. To John, this is a big deal because it makes him feel diseased and gross. It's pretty terrible.

    How long would it take my parents to notice if I escaped? It's possible they never would. Mom would be happy I'm staying in my room, periodically calling up the stairs to tell me she'd left a few bananas in the kitchen for me, some cheese. (4.20)

    It's sad to think about, but John feels neglected by both of his parents. He doesn't think they'd notice if he up and left one day, but when he does flit off to the convention without informing anyone, they practically call out a search party. Maybe his feelings of abandonment aren't reality, but instead just in his head.

    "I know you can. You can do without me, too." I got up and smacked the chair into the table. "By the way, I don't care what your excuse is. I'll never be old enough to forget what it felt like when you walked out and left us." (6.37)

    John's dad tries to explain his position, but as far as John's concerned, nothing can make it okay that his dad left when John was ten years old. We get it: He was abandoned and wants to hurt his dad back. Still, though, his dad picks him up every weekend, so maybe he's not trying to leave after all.

    But humans are not as reliable as nature, as trees. I wonder if you'll come back; I trust only that you'll leave. (6.73)

    The poem John writes talks about being reliable and steadfast. Hmm… we wonder if that has anything to do with his dad. It's no coincidence that John's obsessed with ideas of loyalty and reliability when his dad ditched him.

    "Probably that's not fair either— how can I possibly know what the circumstances were when you were pregnant with an unwanted child? I suppose I should thank you for not having an abortion. Okay. I will. Thank you. But I don't thank you for this: that it's almost impossible for me to really trust anyone." (9.52)

    Marisol's letter to her mom is complicated. She's grateful her mom didn't have an abortion, but she also blames her mom for her lack of trust. Since her mom abandoned her as a baby, Marisol is worried everyone will do the same to her for the rest of her life.

    At least I still had you—(I thought)—you hadn't run away from me. It didn't take long to realize how wrong I was. You were gone too. Sealed up inside yourself where I couldn't get in, never mind that we still lived in the same house. (10.58)

    In his letter to his mom, John confronts her about her treatment of him over the past few years. Even though she hasn't literally run away from him, she has figuratively, by shutting him out and refusing to touch him.

    What would I do if she didn't come? The humiliation of it, and the money already spent, were nothing compared to the pitiful ache I could feel already, in my throat and in my chest, just imagining I might not be with her after all. But then I shook myself out of it. What was wrong with me? Did I expect something momentous to occur at a high school prom? If Marisol backed out, I'd live. (11.5)

    Marisol's not the only one who worries about being ditched, and here John thinks about how humiliating it will be if she doesn't turn up for prom. Luckily, she does show. Unluckily for him (and her), though, it doesn't go as well as he planned.

    I watched her walk away, first thinking: good riddance—who needs this abuse? And then after a minute thinking: She never really understood me anyway. Which rapidly changed to: I never understood her at all. And before long I was watching her small back disappear and thinking: There goes the only person who ever gave a damn about me. (12.91)

    As Marisol leaves, John questions everything he ever thought about her. He's hurt, confused, and frustrated at both her and himself. It's interesting how the pattern of abandonment seems to repeat for both John and Marisol. They are both left by parents, and then leave each other, too.

    I didn't sing. How could I sing? All I could do was stare across the campfire at Marisol, who was deserting me. She was sitting between the pillars of Sarah and June, and I couldn't help feeling they were guarding her. Keeping away the insensitive beasts: men. (16.38)

    Even though Marisol's departure has more to do with her own self-discovery than John's admission of love, he still feels like she's purposely running away from him. Check out that word deserting as though this is a personal attack against John.

    But I wasn't fooling myself either. I was up early because I didn't want Marisol to escape without at least saying good-bye. For all I knew, she'd never come back to Boston, or wouldn't tell me when she did. (17.2)

    John doesn't want to miss the opportunity to say goodbye to Marisol, just like he doesn't really want to admit that she's leaving. Marisol might be trying to find herself, but it's not cool that she wants to disappear without saying goodbye either.

  • Friendship

    Brian looked squashed, which, I have to admit, was the look I was after. I'm really a pretty crappy friend. (1.14)

    Messing with your friend for no reason? Yeah, John treats Brian like dirt—on purpose—and then gets surprised when he doesn't have any friends. It's clear that John just doesn't get how to treat people right (which—surprise—most people expect in a friend).

    I had to laugh, which probably wasn't the response Brian was expecting. But I don't mind him zinging me back. It's the only reason we're friends at all. We recognized each other the first day we met—two hollow souls trying to pass for normal. Together we still add up to zero, but at least our hopelessness has a twin. It works well enough. I don't mind hanging around with a kindly fool, and Brian doesn't mind hanging around with a witty misanthrope. And it appears to the world as if we each have at least one friend. (1.18)

    Poor John even admits he doesn't have any other friends, and that he's only friends with Brian in the first place because they can rag on each other. It doesn't seem like much of a friendship to us. Over time, John figures out there's more to being a friend than just mocking someone.

    "It's so weird that we're, sort of, friends," she said. "But I guess stranger things have happened." (5.76)

    Marisol and John are certainly an unlikely coupling since neither of them trusts anyone or lets outsiders in. We couldn't have said this better ourselves. They realize it's weird for them to become friends, but little do they know how weird things are about to get.

    "I can't believe I ever thought we were friends," she said. "You really fooled me, Gio." I thought there might have been tears in her eyes, but she turned quickly and walked away while I was still testing my jaw for breakage. (6.90)

    When John hurts Marisol, she states her surprise at their friendship. Here's the million-dollar question for you: Is John a good friend to Marisol? Sure, she's in a heated moment, but how does John show Marisol that he's a worthy friend?

    It made me feel like things weren't so hopeless, like I wasn't the biggest fool on earth, like summer was coming and proms weren't important and Marisol was all the friend I needed. (8.86)

    Marisol's friendship changes John. No longer is he so down-in-the-dumps and locked in his room all the time—now he actually wants to get out and do stuff, to be in the world and see new things. It's clear she has a good effect on him.

    "We have fun together, and sometimes I almost trust him. Since the tickets are free, he'll probably go, but maybe not. It means spending an entire day with me, which is probably a lot more than he bargained for. He likes to talk to me about writing, but he didn't sign up to be my best friend. Nobody ever does, which might be my own damn fault, but, Mother dear, today I feel like blaming you." (9.54)

    In her letter to her mom, Marisol confides that she's not sure if John even wants to be her bestie or not. Luckily for her, though, not only is he totally interested, he wants to start the job right away. Phew.

    I guess I couldn't blame him for not knowing, since I usually act like I'm doing him a big favor hanging out with him. There must be some secret formula for how much to tell people about that kind of stuff. Not too little, but not too much either. Obviously, it was a secret nobody told me. "Who else would be my best friend?" I said. "You and Marisol. You're my only friends." (13.17)

    When Brian asks if he is John's best friend, John can't blame him for questioning—after all, John isn't the warmest guy around. Plus, he goes out of his way to push Brian out and make fun of him. We'd like to point out that his epiphany here only takes place after John's been spending time with Marisol, though, learning how to let people in.

    Her hand felt like the part of me I was missing. "The problem is," I said, "it's hard for me to be your best friend now that—" (16.30)

    … he's in love with her. Yep, that tends to make things a little awkward. Marisol doesn't know how to act around John now that he wants to be more than friends. She feels hurt that he would even try something, considering he's supposed to be her closest confidante.

    "Your friend Brian was here most of the morning. He and his girlfriend were poring over this map of Cape Cod like it was going to tell them where you were. He was ready to organize a search party, get out the bloodhounds. That's a good friend you've got there, John." (16.61)

    Al fills John in about what's been happening since he left for the convention. It turns out John's real friend was there all along. So while Marisol leaves as fast as she can say escape velocity, Brian sticks it out to be with his buddy, especially in his time of need.

    She poked her finger at me. "Not because I wanted to start dating you—are you listening to me?" She glared at me, and I worked to disguise my sudden glee. "Just because I felt so comfortable with you. I almost never feel very comfortable with anybody. I liked being with you. It made being close to someone feel like it might be… safe." (17.26)

    It's bittersweet for John to hear this from Marisol, but it's also what he needs to understand. Even though they can't be romantic, there's a love and connection between the two of them that is undeniable. Their friendship is strong and based on that connection, so let's just hope it can withstand her move to the Big Apple.

  • Fear

    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)

    What's John so afraid of? Emotion, for one thing. He can't stand the idea of getting hurt so he puts shields up so people can't hurt him. As much as he likes to think that he's immune to emotion, we know he's not. How else could Marisol hurt him in the end? Besides, hiding from emotion is a kind of emotional thing to do when you think about it.

    I was so surprised. "Of course you'll make it. If you can't, nobody can."

    "That's what I'm afraid of. That nobody can. Not really." (5.70-71)

    At least Marisol's honest. She's scared that she might be forced to keep living the path her parents have laid out for her, whether she wants to or not. Her desire to make it on her own is more important than the relationships in her life, but she's scared of this, too.

    I didn't want to hear anymore. All of a sudden I was scared, scared of the feelings she'd had, and I'd never had, and scared of what would happen next. (6.63)

    After Marisol's story about Kelly, John feels down. He expected that Marisol got hurt, but nothing could prepare him for how hurt she'd been. He doesn't want people to have that power over him because he's afraid of getting hurt just like his friend did.

    "I'm afraid to have another girlfriend—I don't even look for one, because I wouldn't trust her anyway. I spend my time with Birdie and Gio now, but sometimes I'm even afraid with them." (9.53)

    Poor Marisol—once bitten, twice shy. She's scared to open herself up again, because with it comes the potential for more pain. Eventually she gets over this fear, though, allowing herself to escape from its clutches.

    "So I took all the sadness of the divorce, and all the love I'd once had for both of you, and all the fear I had of being alone, and turned it into a stone wall to hide behind. To protect myself. I'm so protected now, dear Mother, sometimes I feel like I'm barely alive. I am immune to emotion. And I hate you for it." (10.59)

    John's letter to his mom shows how scared he is of what can happen to him in life, especially when he's so sheltered. Sure, his parents give him a place to live and food, but he doesn't feel like that actually gets him anywhere. What happens when all that goes away? What does he do then?

    I didn't read it right away; I had to calm down first. I was a frigging mess just imagining getting through this whole prom event. In fact, my nerves had been shot ever since I wrote those letters to my parents. Marisol hadn't mentioned that side effect. It was like my skin had all of a sudden been turned nerve-side-out. The letters were hidden under a pile of socks and boxers in a drawer, but I'd have to move them somewhere else or give up changing my under-wear. Every time I opened that drawer a cold wind shook me like some kind of supernatural force. (11.16)

    A letter from Marisol has the potential to cause major harm to John, which is why it makes him freak out so much. He's not just scared of having friends—he's also scared of what happens when he's vulnerable with them.

    You could hear a couple of canine killers scratching and moaning at nearby doors, hoping for a chance to get free and dismember us, but it didn't scare me nearly as much as thinking Marisol would never say she loved me. Finally she grabbed my arm firmly with both her hands, which, for some reason, hurt almost as much as the slaps across the face. (12.108)

    When John finally comes clean with Marisol about his feelings for her, he's scared about what she'll feel… even more scared than getting beat up or bullied. For him, admitting he's not as immune to emotion as he wants to believe he is is frightening.

    "Of course I love Al, but sometimes I get a little… afraid." She drew imaginary circles with her finger on her skirt. "You don't think he'd do what your father did, do you?" (14.23)

    John's mom is just as scared of getting hurt again as he is, only she's actually able to admit it. Sometimes John seems to want his mom to figure this stuff out by herself. He gets that she's scared of change, but he shouldn't be the one to help his mom through that.

    "I liked the poem, Gio."

    "You did? You liked it?"

    She nodded. "It scared me a little, but that's all right. It was true." She laughed lightly. "How did this happen?" (16.27)

    When John reads his poem out loud, everyone cheers for him… everyone except Marisol. She's more scared than excited by what he shares in his poem, and even though they know each very well, Marisol still doesn't know John well enough to anticipate just how scary his thoughts can be.

    I'm ready, I think, to join them. Very anxious, more than a little scared, susceptible now to anything that might happen. (17.36)

    In the end, John changes to let people in more. Sure, he's still scared about what might happen, but he's willing to at least try to open up now. He knows he might get hurt, but he's not as freaked out anymore.

  • Exploration

    No way was I going to put "by John F. Galardi Jr." John Galardi sounded like some dull stiff, some nerd extraordinaire who couldn't get out of his own way. And that Jr. thing I never used. What's that about, anyway? It's like telling your kid, "You're just a smaller version of me, Son. You're not really worth a name of your own." (1.54)

    John's zine is his exploration into the world, as well as his way of figuring out who he is without his parents hanging over his head. John has to explore what's out there before he can figure out how he wants to behave in his family, and in the larger world.

    "Escape velocity: the speed at which a body must travel to escape the gravitational pull of another body." I loved thinking about it— that moment when you got free, when you were going so fast you left them all behind. (1.75)

    We'd like to point out that the title of Marisol's zine deals with exploration. She dreams about being at the escape velocity point where she can pull away from others. We're not sure what else she needs to explore, though, since she seems completely aware of who she is and fine with whatever people think about her either way.

    "And now I have to run too. To escape from them, of course, as all children have to do, to escape from their understanding, their always tolerant love. I have to test myself against the world without the buffer, and I have to give them a break from dealing with their outlandish lesbian daughter." (4.5)

    Marisol is always talking about escaping from her family and figuring stuff out. Do you think separating from them will help her accomplish this? What do you think she needs to explore? How will that be helped by straying from her parents?

    "I barely know what it means to be homosexual myself, and she's racing ahead of me, reading all the literature, consulting experts, wanting to 'explore my feelings.' I don't want to explore lesbianism with my mother, at least not now." (4.10)

    It's great that Marisol's mom is supportive and loving about her daughter's homosexuality, but she's almost too supportive about it. Reading up on lesbianism, joining a club about it… enough already. Marisol wants to do this stuff by herself and without her mom explaining away her feelings. In short, she needs room to explore.

    How long would it take my parents to notice if I escaped? It's possible they never would. Mom would be happy I'm staying in my room, periodically calling up the stairs to tell me she'd left a few bananas in the kitchen for me, some cheese. (4.20)

    John, on the other hand, has too much freedom from his parents. Neither of them pays much attention to what he does, so it's no surprise when he admits to us that he thinks he could escape without them noticing. Yet with all his freedom, he doesn't explore much, but instead keeps running back to them. Maybe he's not ready for the world yet after all.

    I was almost glad I had an excuse to hang up. Marisol was getting on a wrong track here. Sure, she wrote some serious pieces, but I did humor, not this soul-searching stuff. (5.63)

    Right. We hate to be the ones to break it to him, but John writes some deep and meaningful stuff—he just doesn't want to admit it. John uses his writing as a way to explore his feelings, whether he realizes it or not.

    As I picked up my pack where I'd dropped it in the den doorway, I heard ABBA belting out some song about how you couldn't escape even if you wanted to. Hah! That's what they think. (7.64)

    John thinks he's outsmarted everyone by figuring out how to manipulate his parents enough to get them off his back about his life. The only problem? He doesn't gain anything from doing so. Sure, he's testing his limits, but most of the time, he really just pushes his parents away.

    "Why is it that people don't know what to say when something bad has happened to someone they know? Maybe because they think there are some magic words that will make everything all right again, only they don't know what the words are. They ought to understand that there isn't anything right to say. Mostly they need to just sit there and listen." (7.71)

    This sage advice comes in the form of John's letter to Diana. He wants to discover the right words and reactions to stuff, but he knows that mostly, it's about being a good listener. After all, sometimes people are too quick to answer when he's still working things out for himself.

    She grabbed the jar by the top so she could place it in my hand and escape unscathed. But I was ready. My large hand, as large as my father's probably, sprang to life and seized the honey and her long fingers all together, one handful, skin to skin. (13.77)

    Here John explores his mom's reaction to him with the honey jar. She's constantly trying to escape from him—or touching him more specifically. What she doesn't realize is, though, is that she's actually running away from her feelings toward his dad and not allowing John to explore his own feelings. Ugh.

    "Because I have the opportunity now. I like these women, and they invited me to stay with them for a while. Maybe I'll only stay a few weeks. Maybe more. I don't know. I have to do this, Gio. I have to see who I am without my parents hovering over me. Or you." (16.21)

    Leaving for New York, Marisol confides in John one last time. We get that she has a cool opportunity in front of her and that she's at "escape velocity," but does that excuse her running away from her parents and friends?