by Ann Kathryn Kelly
In late winter, 2020, I—and the world—learned that V is for virus. Shapeless, unable to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted. Our fifth sense, touch, believed to be the weakest link and portal to potential infection. And so I soaped and scrubbed hands capable of betrayal as I murmured birthday songs at the sink.
I mourned the loss of hugs and handshakes, but held fast to the belief that it was a temporary pause.
In late spring, 2020, I was reminded that V is for violence, though deep down I, and in truth many in our country, didn’t need the reminder. We knew it all along, a divide ingrained in the United States from inception. We rationalized inaction as violence went unchecked because it’s something only some of us have felt, have endured, since our nation’s founding.
It’s something only some of us still feel, still endure, today.
In early summer, 2020, I was reminded that V is for voice and that mine was small and scared and silent, in the moment. My voice wanted to speak, but was frozen, not because I’m persecuted but because I couldn’t find the words, feared saying the wrong thing, striking the wrong tone, appearing ignorant and privileged. White, educated, and enjoying an upper middle-class lifestyle, I have advantages.
Some earned, but more that I was born into, in the luck of the draw.
TVs and newspapers underscored that V is for voices. I watched people in the streets from my living room sofa, on my laptop, lifting voices as one, stronger together, colors of the rainbow. Voices demanding an end, again, to persecution four hundred years in the making. I wanted to join my voice with theirs. Considered road-tripping to a rally, the way I did with my friend Lisa when we boarded a plane to Washington, D.C., and melted into a sea of a million pink pussy hats.
Arms up, voices raised.
Yet, I didn’t board a plane to one of the countless city rallies for Black Lives Matter. I didn’t add my voice to local voices in rallies held fifteen minutes from my house in the tony seaport town where White people outnumber Black people nine to one. Where they marched for justice and equality many of them need never fear will fail them. I allowed the threat of one V to immobilize me as I visualized swirling virus particles shouted into the air.
The virus trumped my voice.
In summer, 2020, I—and the world—was reminded that V is for vehement, as we watched an American President deny his wrongdoing and ineptitude nonstop in the run-up to an election. American citizens saw that V is for vicious and vindictive and vendetta, on display at the highest levels of government. By early winter, 2021, we witnessed that V is for vigilantes who took matters into their own hands in the Capitol insurrection. Over the whole of 2020, it became clear that V is for void. In political morality. In the physical space left behind as people lost mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We were reminded that V is for vulnerable.
And we remembered that V is for vote and for victory, as barely enough of us gave the presidency to a man faced with an impossibly long list of wrongs to right.
In winter and continuing into spring and summer, 2021, I—and portions of the world fortunate enough to have options—lined up when we saw that V is for vaccine. Finally. I offered prayers of thanksgiving that my family and I, my friends, had been spared. I was relieved each time someone I knew got vaccinated. I believed, with a willful naivete, that after all second shots had been administered within my social circle, we’d gotten to the other side. But then we learned that V is for variant, as newscasters trilled about strains that are stronger, smarter, capable of evading our vaccines. My hope for a summer that would be a return to “V is for vacation” vanished.
In early spring 2022, I watch a villain (the latest) crush all other news in an already crushing daily news cycle. He wipes all stories off the front page, as he systematically starts wiping a country off the map.
Volodymir, and the country he leads, the target.
V is, and must remain, about vigilance. In our current world, and in the future that waits, with twists and turns my brain cannot yet fathom and my gut instinctively fears.
Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, a columnist with WOW! Women on Writing, and she works in the technology sector. Ann leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals. https://annkkelly.com/