Study Guide

Hard Love Exploration

By Ellen Wittlinger

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?