In the English language, we use the same word to describe how we feel about of our favorite dessert as we do for our significant other: love. In “I’ll Be Your Fever” (Big Fiction), Panio Gianopoulos explores the various definitions of love through his protagonist Ted, who’s navigating the difficulties of parenthood and romantic relationships.
When we first meet Ted, a single father whose ex-wife has passed away, he’s trying to leave for work as a wedding photographer without bringing along his daughter, Stella, who typically accompanies him. As he pulls from the driveway, notice how he describes their relationship dynamics.
Fighting back his guilt, he switched on the ignition, pressed his foot to the accelerator, and sped away. In the rear view mirror, he saw Stella’s head pop up. She held a hand to her eyes and squinted across the lawn of the apartment complex and out toward the road, searching for him, her darling, her beloved, her captive, her father.
He feels adored by his daughter but trapped by the relationship, and his reasons become more clear as Gianopoulos describes this passionate flurry of texts between father and daughter once Stella finds out.
“People can’t just go to wedding. They have to be invited. I’m only going because I was hired to.
Not troo u want to go without me
COME BAK AND GET ME
U DON’T LOVE ME
YOR THE WURST DADDY EVER”
Ted gives in and bring Stella along, come what may—we’re told he’s been an “involved father from the moment of Stella’s birth,” one of these men who can care for a child with the ease that “their fathers had changed tires and mixed martinis.” Gianopoulos gives a passionate, messy portrayal of their father-daughter relationship—so much so that we might be tempted to call him overinvolved, and begin prescribing advice to help them towards a calmer, healthier dynamic. But notice the contrast in how the author describes the reasons for the dissolution of Ted’s marriage to Stella’s mother, Emily, before she died in a car crash.
But it was precisely his thoughtfulness and understanding, his compassion and his forbearance, that infuriated her. They were the final proof of the mildness of his feelings for her.
While this list reads like a hypothetical list of perfect qualities in a mate, for Emily, it’s further proof of the absence of the kind of love she wants—the kind, I’d argue, that Ted and Stella express for each other (without the physicality).
Often in life—and fiction, for that matter—descriptions of intimacy between two people are split into overly distinct roles (marital, friendship, parental), perpetuating the falsehood that people can only experience the deep emotional bonds often present in marriages within the context of a marriage. In the opening pages of the story, the author explores this dynamic more implicitly; as it nears the end, it’s addressed directly. Notice this passage from when Ted becomes violently sick while taking Stella to a school weekend camp, and she says with him to care for him.
He was trapped. She was everything he had tried to avoid in love, he understood in dismay, every woman he had spent his twenties and thirties bewildering, disappointing, and then fleeing; all of the possessiveness and covetousness, the neediness and stubbornness had been incarnated in his tiny, demanding daughter. And Stella was inescapable. He was fettered to her. She was the one lover he could not evade.
I was surprised not to find this passage disturbing, considering it involves a father and daughter, and not a romantic relationship between two adults. But it doesn’t, and that seems to serve Gianopoulos point: the terms we use to describe different variations of love are far more nebulous than we might think them.
Regardless, were Gianopoulos to have ended the story to here, I’d be discussing the difficult days ahead for Ted and Stella. But Gianopoulos doesn’t end the story here. I won’t ruin the ending, but suffice it to say, Ted finds a person he no longer wants to run from, and that frees up Stella to play roles more fitting of a young daughter, as opposed to that of a spouse.
But I’d argue that’s a secondary point for Gianopoulos. “I’ll Be Your Fever” contrasts two different loves, one that’s idealist, precise, undemanding, and the other that’s emotional, messy, and taxing. Each has its own place, and each feverishly draws people from one to the other in confusion and disappointment, enlightenment and joy.