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Intimacy, Sex, and Love
"How long have you been dating her?" I asked.
"Nine months. We never got along. I mean, I didn't even briefly like her…with Sara, there's never a honeymoon period. God, how could she think I was a rat? I know, I know: Why don't we break up? […] I guess I stay with her because she stays with me. And that's not an easy thing to do. I'm a bad boyfriend. She's a bad girlfriend. We deserve each other." (122before.35-36)
The Colonel on dating Sara, ladies and gents. How much of their relationship continuing happens just because they are used to each other? How does theirs differ from other relationships in the story? How much do you think the Colonel is influenced by his parents's relationship?
I opened my mouth again but this time not to speak, and she reached up and put a finger to my lips and said, "Shh. Shh. Don't ruin it." (52before.14)
Miles wants to say three little words to Alaska, but she shoves him away. "Don't ruin it." What is there to ruin? What would happen if Miles busted out the L word with her?
"All I remember is that she had a lot of sex."
"I know. She's my hero," Alaska said without a trace of irony. (49before.7-8)
The "she" here is Edna St. Vincent Millay, who did actually have a lot of sex. But she also wrote some pretty great poems and was an active feminist… sort of like Alaska. You may find it useful to read up on Millay if she's Alaska's hero.
We didn't have sex. We never got naked. I never touched her bare breast, and her hands never got lower than my hips. It didn't matter. As she slept, I whispered, "I love you, Alaska Young." (thelastday.77)
Focus on the sentence, "It didn't matter." What didn't matter? Why is the sexual experience with Lara unfulfilling but simply kissing with Alaska is beyond Miles's wildest dreams? And what's the significance of him saying the three words he couldn't say before? And the fact that he doesn't say them when she's awake?
We were kissing. Zero layers between us. Our tongues dancing back and forth in each other's mouth until there was no her mouth and my mouth but only our mouths intertwined. (thelastday.72)
Check out the language here. "Dancing" and "intertwined" are much more poetic and passionate than the language Miles uses about Lara. And the writing is much more fluid and less choppy, too. Kissing is different with Alaska than with Lara. Why?
I spent that afternoon with Lara. We were very cutesy, even though we didn't know the first thing about each other and barely talked. But we made out. She grabbed my butt at one point, and I sort of jumped. (thelastday.12)
Miles isn't very comfortable with Lara; he focuses on how they don't really talk, but she's really cute. Think back to Miles's thoughts when he and Lara made out in the barn—he thought he was the greatest kisser, but she thought he was slobbering on her nose. What does this say about people's perspectives of intimacy?
Afterward, I was embarrassed and nervous, and so, clearly, was Lara, who finally broke the silence by asking, "So, want to do some homework?" (thelastday.42)
This happens right after Miles's first sexual experience with a girl. Note the words "embarrassed" and "nervous," and also the fact that the two characters still don't know how to talk to one another. Keep this in mind when reading the next quote.
And I said, "Oh God, Alaska, I love you. I love you," and the Colonel whispered, "I'm so sorry, Pudge. I know you did," and I said, "No. Not past tense." She wasn't even a person anymore, just flesh rotting, but I loved her present tense. (6after.11)
Ah, yes—this is a good time to think about what love is to Miles. He says he loves Alaska, he pursues her throughout his time at the Creek, but the question arises: does he really love her, or does he love parts of her, or does he love an Alaska who doesn't exist?
"You don't even care about her!" he shouted. "All that matters is you and your precious f***ing fantasy that you and Alaska had this goddamned secret love affair and she was going to leave Jake for you and you'd live happily ever after. But she kissed a lot of guys, Pudge. And if she were here, we both know that she would still be Jake's girlfriend and that there'd be nothing but drama between the two of you—not love, not sex, just you pining after her and her like, 'You're cute, Pudge, but I love Jake.' "(20after.15)
(Reminder: Pudge equals Miles.) These harsh truths are from the mouth of the Colonel, of course. Maybe Miles needs other people to tell him truths he could never admit to himself. And we have to say, we're inclined to trust the Colonel's analysis here… How about you?
I still did not know her as I wanted to, but I never could. She made it impossible for me. (118after.1)
Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Miles is starting to have some pretty important realizations about his relationship with Alaska, the intimacy he thought he had with her, and his acceptance of her death. As the Old Man said, 'Everything that comes together falls apart.' How does this relate to what Miles is thinking?
I would never know her well enough to know her thoughts in those last minutes, would never know if she left us on purpose. But the not-knowing would not keep me from caring, and I would always love Alaska Young, my crooked neighbor, with all my crooked heart. (136after.10)
And yet Miles finds the strength to realize that the mystery of Alaska and her death don't stop him from loving her. We have to think about how Miles's perception of love and his view of intimacy have changed throughout the novel.
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