Study Guide

Hard Love Abandonment

By Ellen Wittlinger

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.