My grandpa got COVID over winter break, and he is/was unvaccinated by choice. He couldn’t eat anything for a long time, and he lost a lot of weight. Every time I called, his voice sounded gravelly and distant, like he was stretched out and exhausted. I was furious. Even now, if I think about it, I feel just the deepest, crackling pits of flaming rage smoke up my throat. It took me a long time to unpack why I was so angry with him, why when things could have gotten so much worse, that I was furious. I didn’t want to be mad when he was sick, I wanted to be sad and concerned, but those were secondary to the anger. Every time I Facetimed him when he was sick, he’d use his finger to pet the phone like he was petting my head and would say, “I love you, little Earl.”
It's because I love him that I get mad, and because he wasn’t taking any precautions whatsoever to protect himself or other people around him and wouldn't take the preventative measures to lessen the risks. He fed into the Facebook lies and the talk of the conservative, ignorant members of my hometown. My grandpa is nothing if not headstrong, and he wouldn’t listen to me and still won’t. He won’t even wear a mask if he isn’t required to do so, and he will complain the entire time if he has to. Just the other day he called and asked me if UVA was still “forcing” us to wear masks in our classes. He’s much better now and he never reached a point of hospitalization, but I still hold onto that fear and that anger; I’m not sure how to forgive him for running the risk of taking himself away from us and taking part of me with him away forever. I'm not sure I can forgive him for risking other people's lives either.
That’s the most infuriating thing—to know that my anger is founded in the deepest, nearly sacred love that I do not even have the words for. My grandpa has been a constant presence in my life, and I have no doubt whatsoever how much he loves me too: he is the star of so many of my favorite memories. Yet he would rather believe a near-stranger’s meme on Facebook than his own granddaughter, who only wants him as safe as possible—no other motive. This can be said for many of my family members, though, and I no longer have the patience or the heart to carry it anymore. So now we have an emotional wall, and I hate it so viciously. They won’t listen, so I have to build boundaries instead.
It is a cliché at this point to do a whole list of definitions of “love is x,” but I can say "love" is complicated. However, this cycle, our writers took this theme head-on and created beautiful pieces that show the nuances of this theme.
In "For Lease," Kim Salac transmits the intricate and painful details of what it means to break up with someone for whom you still carry deep feelings. In Muntaqa Zaman's collection of poetry "Love Leaves Scars and Stories to Tell," she illuminates the many different sides of love, from the romantic to the familial to self-love. Addison Gilligan's dialectical poetry piece, "Let's Call It Gaslighting," shows how the very words that are "supposed" to mean "love" might actually mean "control" and even "abuse." Chloe Lyda remembers a past love, and a heartbreak that's maybe all too present, still, in her beautiful piece "Fishing at Chris Greene Lake."
In both of her short stories ("we aren't" and "anything anymore"), Sadie Randall contrasts the thrilling addiction of attraction/love with the seething repulsion of that very love gone very wrong. Cecilia Moore takes us to New York City's Museum of Sex, where she and her closest friends experience their joyful love for one another, in "Wedding Day." "Checklist for Bodily Autonomy Amid the Male Gaze" analyzes the impacts of the male gaze on the body and sex and how non-males are socialized to accommodate that gaze. In "Virtual Love," Kexuan Liu philosophically explores what makes something "real" through conversations with an AI persona.
Chloe Lyda meditates on how helping even the smallest creature can help you find the love you need for yourself, in "Ladybugs and Honey." In her geek-love/comic-fan/cultural-critic masterpiece, "What the Batman Films Have Been Getting Wrong About Character and Community," Andi Sink shows how the films have yet to capture the true nuance of the Dark Knight. Red and pulpy like a heart, and rich with mythic significance, the pomegranate glistens, cut open and exposed, in Katie Jane Villanueva's beautiful art piece "Persephone," And for all of us yearning to define our "look," our style, our experimental yearning selves, Pasha McGuigan explores the aesthetics we choose as we age and evolve, in "Unbeautiful Becoming: The Aesthetics of Growing Into Yourself."
Last, but certainly not least, we are excited to introduce our new column, "Body Positive x Iris," in collaboration with the Women Center's Body Positive team, and penned by our very own Mesina! This cycle's piece focuses on how love can be a means for starting a revolution, in "Defining the Revolutionary."
Special thanks to Kim for the beautiful artwork this cycle. Thank you also to our freelance editor Cady Rombach and to program coordinator Mary Esselman.
Long may we love!