I read this book early this year. I read it on a whim, but found myself deeply moved by it. I was asked to write a review of this book for another book blog. I struggled with writing the review, as I often do with books that affect me. As the review came to life, it underwent a whole lot of re-writing. In the process, I found myself writing a letter to the two main characters—Aristotle and Dante.
It is those letters that I share today. I hope you enjoy this unusual take on reviewing a book.
You are I and I am you. If we were to draw our souls, they would be identical to the very last curve. We saw life as what it was—a rock, so hard we could only toughen ourselves to face it. Yet, in the world of children, hardness was unwelcomed. We were too dark, too tough for fun. Because isolation was inevitable, we made it a choice. We sealed who we were deep within our soul, so hidden that we live our lives with so much of ourselves as unknowable. Who would understand our hardness? Who would understand the heart that forced itself to numbness? As we draw answers in our mind, we knew that no one could see who we were? No one could see the heart so much capable of love, but so used to being angry. Angry was easy. Anger was everything.
They say opposite attracts, and maybe it’s inevitable for people like us to seek people who knew what it meant to be gentle. For what can we not like about a hand that knows how to soothe us with their mere presence? When you met Dante that summer by the pool, my heart rejoiced for you. I recognize that feeling, that effort to drop that wall of isolation. I remember how it felt—pure joy and pure fear mixing into a feeling of insecurity over a friendship that may or may not work.
When you feared he might hate you for being hard, I wanted to shout out to you, tell you not to worry. When you couldn’t understand how you felt when Dante went to Chicago for a year, I wanted to reprimand you for staying distant and dishonest. But I knew, I knew how that felt. This is what we knew, we knew how to protect our hearts.
When people started to fuss over you when you were in the hospital, you despised it. You didn’t want to make a big deal of something you did without thinking. You didn’t understand why people wore that grateful face. You didn’t know, because no one ever fussed over you, not in that way. We don’t recognize these things because we were so used to being hard. We think of these things as pity, as an affirmation that we were weak and we didn’t like to be weak. We didn’t like all those warm emotions. They were too warm that they revealed too much of who were. Yet, deep down you knew that was all you wanted and you were capable of that. Isn’t it strange how hardness can be capable of so much love?
As you grew in your friendship with Dante, I saw all the signs, how much he was the irreplaceable part of your life. He was light in the darkness. He was beauty in the ugly. He was the softness in this hard world. I watched with recognition of how your heart expands as he becomes more and more part of your life. He made you aware of a world so different from yours, that it made you consider the possibility of life other than what you knew.
I love you. How could I not? The moment you made friends with Ari at the pool, I knew I’d love you. You saw Ari as no one else would. The façade didn’t scare you. The walls he had up didn’t intimidate you. Such a person deserves all the love from me. Ari was right to say you were beautiful. The world was pure light, you walked through it. Your heart so open. People may call you too sensitive or naive, but I wouldn’t think so. You understood the secrets of the universe. You see the softness and beauty that Ari needed. You showed him what it meant to care, to care for nature, for poetry, for words and for art.
I saw parts of myself in you. How you stood tall for things you believed in, how you did what your heart believed was right and how you were honest. All of that made you beautiful. People like you didn’t fit molds and don’t deserve molds. You were who you were. How I wished the world would stop fitting people into boxes so that people like you didn’t have to be anything but truly just themselves. Not intellectual. Not Mexican. Not Gay. Just Human.
I love you for writing persistently to Ari throughout that year when you were in Chicago. How you insisted in keeping that friendship and how you shared each process in your self-discovery. I’m glad you cleared the air, that you told Ari what it took to have you as a friend now you knew that you liked kissing boys. I love how fearless you were about this, how you didn’t run when those boys in the alley hurt you. I wished it didn’t happen. It changed you, it might have put a little bit of darkness in you. But how you swelled with love still.
People like you make me believe in a world that is good. People like you who fill it with love, but when the world hurts someone like you Dante, my heart breaks into pieces. It makes me believe that this world does not deserve someone as beautiful as you.
When you almost got hit by the car, I knew I would have jumped to save you. When those boys hit you and broke you, I was angry. You didn’t deserve that. You were far more human than any of them. Dante, I wish I knew someone like you who could truly cross the borders of the hardness and make the tough & hard believe in the possibility of gentleness and vulnerability.