Through all of youth I was looking for you without knowing what I was looking for.
Ari tells us very early on in the novel that he is looking for the secrets in the universe. He continues searching throughout the book. When he first suspects that he might have feelings for Dante, he suppresses them and is in a constant state of denial. When he finally admits to his feelings, he realizes that he should never have been ashamed of loving Dante because in this love he has found the "secrets of the universe" that he was searching for. This quote sums up his feelings; he didn't know that he was looking for Dante, but now that he has found him, his questions are answered and his search is over.
And somehow it felt like it was Dante who saved my life, not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being, apart from my mother, who had ever made me want to talk about the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things yet I didn't have the words. So I stupidly repeated myself. "Dante's my friend."
This is an enormously illuminating quote that sheds light on most of the issues that Ari is struggling with. He has just saved Dante's life by putting his own in danger, yet he seems to feel uncomfortable with the praise and gratitude he is receiving for doing so, because he still feels that Dante has done so much more for him than he has done for Dante. Meeting Dante feels like the most pivotal thing that ever happened in his life.
It also tells us that Ari is just like his family and has been conditioned by those around him to keep his thoughts to himself and not to share or express them.
Finally, it shows that Ari cannot find the words to interpret for himself the way that Dante makes him feel. How can he explain his feelings to his family when he cannot really explain them to himself? He knows that his life feels completely different now that Dante is in it, but he doesn't understand why this is so, and merely says that Dante is his friend, because he is unable to process what all of the other thoughts mean.
I had a rule that it was better to be bored by yourself than to be bored with someone else. I pretty much lived by that rule. Maybe that's why I didn't have any friends.
Ari is definitely a boy given to introspection. He is often bored and thinks if you are going to be bored then you should be bored on your own. He doesn't realize that a great many teen boys are bored, and that being bored together with someone else can often lead to something interesting. He is a bit of a loner, because he has not really learned how to connect—a trait that has its roots in his upbringing and his family's difficulty in discussing feelings. He is also now able to analyze his own behavior and situations and is beginning to realize that he has isolated himself from his peers and prevented friendships from forming by obeying his general rule all his life.
I was harder than Dante. I think I'd tried to hide that hardness from him because I'd wanted him to like me. But now he knew. That I was hard. And maybe that was okay. Maybe he could like the fact that I was hard just as I liked the fact that he wasn't hard.
Ari, despite claiming to be hard, is actually quite insecure about himself in relation to Dante. Dante, for him, is someone who is mysterious and otherworldly without being cynical, a kind of light to Ari's (perceived) darkness. The reality is that Ari is harsher than Dante, and at first, he tries to hide it, thinking that it makes him somehow unlikeable in Dante's eyes. But the encounter with the boys and the sparrow allows him to consider that maybe the same thing that draws him to Dante—the fact that Dante has such a different and unique worldview—could also, in turn, draw Dante to him. This is one of the first instances in the text where we see Ari learning how to be kind to himself, and to begin to process his love for other people in the context of their love for him, and vice versa.
My father was still there, sitting on my rocking chair.
We studied each other for a moment as I lay in bed.
"You were looking for me," he said.
I looked at him.
"In your dream. You were looking for me."
"I'm always looking for you," I whispered.
Ari's dreams often represent repressed feelings and thoughts in this book. So when confronted about looking for his father in his dreams, Ari confesses that he is always looking for his father. Instead of always looking for him in terms of trying to figure out his exact location, Ari's search for his father is an emotional one. Affected by the Vietnam War, Ari's father closes himself off from Ari, so Ari feels lost. But even then, in this moment of extreme intimacy, we can see how much Ari's father loves him. Earlier in the chapter, it's revealed that Ari's father held him tenderly in his lap during much of his fever. In fact, Ari's persistence is largely influenced by the fact that he knows his dad loves him, and so seeks to be closer to him.
"Swimming and you, Ari. Those are the things I love the most."
"You shouldn't say that," I said.
"I didn't say it wasn't true. I just said you shouldn't say it."
"Dante, I don't—"
"You don't have to say anything. I know we're different. We're not the same."
"No, we're not the same."
This is Dante's first confession, given in typical Dante style: off-the-cuff, but straightforward. Ari's response is interesting, though: rather than say, "no you don't" or "you can't say that," Ari tells Dante that he "shouldn't say that." For Ari, the problem is that Dante would say something like that aloud and be open about it, rather than keeping it secret. Dante doesn't think that things that are true ever need to be kept secret. In the end, this is the thing that really makes them distinct: not the difference in love, because in the end they both love each other, but the difference in openness. Ari is not ready to be comfortable telling the truth the way Dante is—and so they are not the same.
You have to be who you are. And I have to be who I am. That's the way that it is.
In contrast to Ari, who is often indirect and inscrutable, Dante insists on being upfront and an open book. Here, in his letter, he is very clear about a truth that Ari eventually does learn to accept: that there is no avoiding who we are. In the context of the letter, he is talking about how Ari should feel free to write to him less than he writes to Ari, but the mantra stretches beyond and into something that both Dante and Ari's dad tell Ari: not to run away.
Even though summers were made mostly of sun and heat, summers for me were about storms that came and went. And left me feeling alone.
Did all boys feel alone?
The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.
Ari often feels different and alone. Part of this is just the universal experience of growing up, but a large part of it is particular to him: he struggles to make friends and spends a lot of time feeling ashamed. He wonders whether or not everyone feels the same, and feels like that's represented in how for him, the rain is the most memorable part of the summer. But at the same time, it works as a metaphor for how, in terms of sexuality, Ari is different from the other boys—something that becomes very clear when we consider the context of this quote: right after he learns about his aunt's sexuality.
"Ari, the problem isn't just that Dante's in love with you. The real problem—for you, anyway—is that you're in love with him."
This is the climax of the novel, where Ari's dad makes clear to Ari what has been somewhat obvious to the reader this entire time: that Ari loves Dante, too. But more than that, Ari's dad reveals that the thing that is making Ari's relationship with Dante difficult is that he cannot accept his feelings for Dante because he still feels ashamed of himself and how he feels. Ari can accept Dante loving him, but struggles to accept that he loves Dante in return; in general, Ari has little problem accepting how others feel about him but struggles to communicate emotion, particularly love, to others.
As Dante and I lay on our backs in the bed of my pickup and gazed out at the summer stars, I was free. Imagine that. Aristotle Mendoza, a free man. I wasn't afraid anymore. I thought of that look on my mother's face when I'd told her I was ashamed. I thought of that look of love and compassion that she wore as she looked at me. "Ashamed? Of loving Dante?"
I took Dante's hand and held it.
How could I have ever been ashamed of loving Dante Quintana?
Ari finally gets over his shame by accepting how he feels, moving past his fear, and moving past his shame. In accepting the love of his mother and of Dante, he is able to express love, and in turn feels free. And in expressing love, he learns the important lesson that love can never be shameful—even when it's for another man, like Dante Quintana.
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