Study Guide

Hard Love Truth

By Ellen Wittlinger

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.