Caroline Fox


In June, I came to understand the world in terms of small geometries—the oily stains of arthropod bodies left on eggshell walls, cool cerulean prisms of bathroom tile, those spheroid yellow lights like electrodes over the bay, both real and reflected. When Lucas and I moved into the cottage in Point Reyes two weeks after graduation, there was a weightlessness in the California air that seemed to hold every vector we breathed into it. With only the two of us in the three-room house, time felt cumulative in a new way, as if it pooled in the beads of sweat on our lips when we fucked and sunned ourselves or made coffee on the stove. 

But before time, it was the centipedes. The house was overrun with them, narrow brown things emerging from cracks and corners at light speed. “Lucas, bug,” I called out routinely, keeping eyes on the body while he retrieved a shoe or a handful of paper towels. I always looked away when he killed them. Their miniscule glands left behind a residue, so that a greasy stamp of their leggy bodies remained on the wall even after he’d wiped away the guts. Sometimes, a day would pass without a sighting, and we reluctantly forgot about them. But without fail, the following day would bring hordes of them, and my eyes darted spastically around the kitchen as I ate for fear that one of them would startle me and I would choke. I began to see centipedes where there weren’t any—in the natural stain of our hardwood floors, in the way a speck of light shifted as the sun shot across the room. When I was exhausted from hours of painting or hungover and delirious, motion itself was a centipede, every ripple of movement cause for flinching. 

When Lucas took a job at the nearby motel and was out for most of the day, the incessant task of extermination was left for me. I looked online for ways to repel the insects naturally, having grown viscerally disgusted by the smashing and wiping of their brown mush from the walls. They avoid cedarwood, said one article. It strips their bodies of natural oils and burns them to death. I was perturbed by the idea that a natural remedy could be so much crueler than the pounding of quick death, but I ordered a vial of it and concocted a potion. Over the next week, I dabbed the cedar oil mixture across every door jam, baseboard, and crack around the bathtub. 

“It smells like the psychic in here,” said Lucas one evening. We had fucked in the shower, stirring up the damp air and the cedarwood. The tiny window above the sink framed a cut of sunset, pink and orange grasping at the ocean. Still standing in the tub, I nestled into his neck, licked him like an animal. I reached to move his hand down my stomach. 

“Fuck,” he blurted out, and I jumped as he smacked at the tile above my head. Some instinctive ventricle throbbed in my gut. Lucas grimaced as he rinsed the remains of the insect from the shower wall, holding me against him and out of the way. His other hand slid between my legs, fingers pushing through soft hair and into me, and I thought briefly of myself as insect. Wiry, dripping with something earthen, waiting to be smashed. 


The cottage sits on a precipice, like everything that crawls along the bay. As flighty East Coasters, Lucas and I were enamored with the prospects of a different kind of edge, far removed both from our fucked-up families and from the pseudo-provinciality of Kenyon College. We studied poetry and fine arts, respectively, and were overjoyed at being offered the house—neither one of us had the gall or the money for a big city. The property originally belonged to a great aunt of Lucas’s mother, Delilah, who holds the deed and wants nothing to do with it. The way I understand it, there’s enough money left from the estate to cover a few years of property taxes, which requires less effort than fixing up the house to sell it. Lucas’s mother lives with a twenty-nine-year-old, racially-ambiguous man somewhere outside Asheville, North Carolina. She appears in his poetry sometimes. His father, who is dead, does not. 

It’s August now, but really, it’s still June. The air is warm and clear, a steady breeze funneled through fir and blue mountain lilac. The centipedes are restless—they get active before the fall. My body feels different than it did when we moved here. My joints seem to be straining against my top layer of skin, and wine tastes like vinegar. I harbor salt like the morning fog. 

The sun dips. I walk barefoot down the path behind the cottage, which leads to a makeshift wooden deck at the base of our hill. Lucas is sitting with Rafa, a lanky Mexican guy from L.A. who he met at the motel, in a pair of lawn chairs that we salvaged from the side of the road. Rafa calls himself a photo-journalist, but I think he’s a stoner with a camera. Carrying what appears to be the third bottle of red, I feel powerful. This is another one of those days that can only be further saturated. 

“She comes bearing fruit,” Rafa calls out. 

Lucas runs his finger down my spine as I drop down cross-legged in front of him. “Acadia was the last to see them,” he says. “She can tell you.”

Rafa rubs his hands together, mimicking appetite. 

“Seeing is only a part of it.” I take a long sip of wine. “Like, once when I was a kid, I woke up in the middle of a dream and just knew that I wasn’t alone. There was something else in the room.” 

Rafa nods. “I felt some shit like that when my cousin died.”

“But I wasn’t afraid in the logical way,” I say. “It was this sort of amorphous terror of being subsumed.”

“Man’s knowledge of God is an attempt to perceive himself.” Lucas smiles into his glass. 

Rafa’s black eyes dart between the two of us, looking for something to fixate on. 

“I don’t know,” I say. “I just mean there’s something about the lights that makes you look up before you see them. We’re part of some structure of energy.”

“But what do they look like, though?” 

“Like bugs,” I respond. 


“In the way they move. Frenetic.”

“They’re just orbs,” says Lucas. “But the weird thing is the color. The glow isn’t hazy, like it would be if it came from a boat. It’s opaque.” He shakes his head. “Like they’re right on top of your fucking corneas.”

Rafa cackles. “You two are perfect together. Crazy-ass motherfuckers. I believe you, though. So, what, it’s aliens then?” 

Lucas shrugs. “Maybe Cady and I are the only ones who see them. Maybe it’s just us.”

I swallow the dregs of my wine.

“In the most particular constellation of words, there is no beginning—only conception. The poem is time ensuing from itself, cleaved open by a series of verbal tics. Boundary is indistinguishable from rhythm.”

Lucas stood in front of the black TV screen in June, reading from a tattered notebook. Something new was growing inside him and I was watching it, the tinkering. I was bored with myself. I had gotten a grant, and Lucas didn’t. There was no competition between us—it only meant that he could take refuge from himself in the form of a physical job. I was not forced to work, and therefore, did not. I painted sporadically and poisoned the centipedes. 

“That’s good,” I said. “Really good. Let’s come back to it tomorrow, though. I can’t think anymore.” 

“Of course,” he said. “Sorry.”

I’d been sick all day, weighted down and feverish. It was the kind of subtle affliction I secretly loved—the kind that draws you nearer to yourself and turns you back into a child, throbbing and needy. Lucas had worked the early shift at the motel, then spent the afternoon reading and making me tea. 

“I couldn’t stop touching myself this morning.”


“It’s a thing that happens,” I replied. “When you’re sick.”

“Did you look that up?” 

I nodded.

“Hm,” said Lucas. He closed the notebook.

“Inflammation is holistic.” 


He sat down beside me and kissed the small cavern below my ear.

“Do you think about me when we have sex?”

Pulling away, he slid his hand behind my neck. “Not always,” he said.

These were the kinds of conversations we were having in the weeks after moving. In the space created by our being alone together, a third thing was forming. 

“What do you think about?” I pushed. 

“Sometimes,” he said, “it’s more about trying not to think. About the two of us alone up here on a mountain, and what it would mean to fuck that up.”

I looked at him. “I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit,” I said. 

He laughed. “I think about a lot of things when we have sex. Like, am I going to wake up and write a poem about you because I love you, or because I came inside you and there’s something heroic about that?”

I smiled. 

“I think about random porn, and hurting you, and what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

“Hm,” I said. 

I thought about how lucky I was to be with a man who admitted to these things. 

Lucas slid my t-shirt over my head and I could smell the sickness under my arms. He pushed my skirt up over the edge of my hips and came inside me, heroically. We lay there in a film of afternoon sweat until dinnertime passed and the temperature dropped.

He slept so soundly that I felt imaginary, lying there awake in a shard of light. 


The illness stayed with me. Over the next week, I woke up beaded with moisture. With my cheek against the bathroom tile, I sat next to the toilet and shivered through waves of nausea, muscles lurching to reverse the order of things. On the fourth day, Lucas watched me pull my head from the porcelain bowl. 

“You’re pregnant,” he said. 

I coughed, and my stomach churned again. 

“You’re pregnant.” 

“That’s not true,” I said, as if it were a matter of will. 

He handed me a clean washcloth. “How could it not be?” 

“Because I’m protected. I trust it.” 

He looked at me skeptically, and then shrugged. “Fine,” he said. “I’m going to work. There’s ginger ale in the cabinet if you need it.” 

I heard the front door creak shut behind him. Grabbing the edge of the vanity, I pulled myself from the floor and plodded to the sunroom where I kept my art supplies. On a plastic tray, I mixed brown and white, the only two oils I had left. I painted anxiously, my hands shaking from worry or the aftershocks of being sick. This was how it seemed to go, my way of creating. It was always beyond my control. I wasn’t inspired by ideas like Lucas, who could see himself in anything—medieval poetry, a takeout menu, the strangers we met along the beach. I simply participated in the energy of a room, whatever existed there before me. 

I thought about what he’d said, about hurting me. Where had that idea come from? Was it a projection to analyze and play with, or had he meant it? 

I imagined a child standing in my place, paintbrush clutched in a small and violent fist, bristles smashed against canvas. It was not inconceivable; the conditions for life were here. Clear air, a backyard, the kind of father who could write away his violence. The idea rose in me like a bubble of air. I opened my computer and typed “early signs of pregnancy” in the search bar. The first result was a link to the Planned Parenthood website. How pregnancy happens, it read. I clicked it. 

Pregnancy is a kind of presence, a rate of change, a particle. 

In the kitchen, I sank to the floor. The tile was ice on my bare legs. A centipede funneled in and out of a crack beneath the oven. Opening the cabinet behind me, I grabbed the bottle with the cedar oil mixture and sprayed the crack twice, dabbing it lightly with a paper towel. My head throbbed. I pulled my white underwear to my knees and slid a finger between my legs, feeling for a pair of strings. They were there, hot copper wires. I returned to the computer and typed “how to end a pregnancy naturally.”

Wormwood, licorice root, calendula. 

These were the names of soft things that grew in fables. We had ginger ale, cedarwood, and a handle of vodka on the mantel. It was noon, so I opted for a cigarette instead. I sat on the block of wood below the front door and smoked, my bare toes digging into grass. Back at Kenyon, I would have shared the cig with Chloe, my favorite housemate. She reminded me of my mother in almost every way, except that Chloe seemed to love being a woman. She could absolve a person of their weaknesses through the way she would laugh and squeeze their shoulder, a transmission of something pure and vital. On one languid day in April, we sat on the roof and I told her, in a haze, that nothing mattered, not even art—that Lucas was the ultimate end. 

She looked at me and smiled. “Why do you love him?” she asked. 

“He brings the world into focus,” I said, almost without thinking. “He’s everywhere.”

And he was everywhere—he had wedged himself inside me, or brought me into him. I had adopted his language, his terminology, his way of conversing, in which he could leap out of a moment and take you with him into some perpetual realm that was more rhythm than substance.

“He can tap into life without thinking about it,” I said.

“His father died,” said Chloe, her voice gentle. “He’s looking for life here so he doesn’t have to go there.”

I swallowed the taste of tar. “He just knows everything.”

“That’s not true,” Chloe replied, “but you looked really sweet saying that.”

Now, I smoked alone. The afternoon slipped by as I walked in circles around the property, my headache blunted by nicotine and sea breeze. I tried to remember exactly how long it had been since I had the IUD placed, and couldn’t. I was practically a child back then. For all I knew, it could be rusting inside of me, a piece of shrapnel embedded in my organs. 

As the sun dipped below the ridge, I ate Greek yogurt for dinner and ran myself a bath. I lit the “wood cabin”-scented candle in the corner of the tub, which made me nostalgic for a memory that didn’t exist. 

Night fell. I watched them through the window, fractured bits of light congealing above the bay. They moved in amoebic patterns against the darkening sky, formless but regular. I stood up in the bath and peered out the window to look for the end of a beam, though I knew there wasn’t one. There was only the blackness of the coastline, jagged and impenetrable. The radio crackled in the kitchen and the program didn’t change.

The candle absolved itself eventually, but I stayed. The water had turned lukewarm. Still watching the lights, I let my knees fall to either side of the tub. My thighs were ghostly pale. 

“Please,” I whispered, “get rid of it.” It felt ridiculous at first, but then I repeated myself, the words hanging over me in the dim light.

They blinked out after a moment, and the sky was a pelt of blue-gray. After a while, I began to lose the feeling of having skin, and drifted from the bathtub to the bedroom. I collapsed and curled into the fetal position. My fingertips still smelled of cedarwood, and I tucked them beneath the pillow that held my head. 

Lucas came home at the edge of a dream. In the darkness, he slid his arms around me under the sheets in the way that means “it doesn’t matter who you are,” and I felt my pulse against the pressure of his chest. I laid still as his fingers traced my collarbone. The thought of pregnancy persisted. I couldn’t be—but if I was, sex would feel obscene. Being cleaved open and doubly occupied, full with both the man and his work.


We woke up shortly after dawn the next morning, a Saturday. I went to the bathroom and stood naked in front of the mirror, waiting for the oncoming bout of nausea. A half-hour passed, and it didn’t come. I felt the strange gnawing of disappointment—was that possible? Slipping a t-shirt over my head, I walked silently to the kitchen and set a pot of coffee to brew on the stove. I’ve always thought there was something precious about the task of delivering your lover to consciousness. That was a small gift I could give. I could mold the house into something dense and alive. 

I returned to the bedroom and crawled back into the sheets, letting the smell of sleep wrap itself around me. Lucas woke up slowly and shimmied closer to me, a little pocket of warmth squeezed between us. 

He ran his foot up my leg as he stretched. “Morning,” I said. “How was the shift?” 

“Hey,” he yawned. “It was good.” I could smell the final remnants of liquor on his breath and skin. “Couple of guys checked in from Oregon. They kept talking to me about the lights.” 

“Oh yeah?” 

“They wanted to know if they’re a regular thing. I said I didn’t know. Who can tell what’s regular.”

I nodded. “I was watching them last night too.” 

“One of the guys kept quoting statistics,” said Lucas, “talking about how California makes up, like, some insane percentage of the country’s UFO sightings.”

“You think that’s what they came here for?” I asked. 

“Could be. They told me they were passing through on the way home from a work trip, but I wouldn’t be surprised. One of them had this really weird energy.” He ran his hand over the arch where my thigh met my hips. “It’s funny how people seek out anomaly.”

“It makes sense to me,” I said. “You feel like an individual when you witness something strange. Some personal sliver of reality. That’s their poetry.” 

“I think people just want an excuse to lose their shit a little bit,” Lucas replied. 

Something inside me twitched as I thought of myself in the bath, that desire for contact. The thought that there was someone up there, something that could help me. 

“I read this piece in class last year. About post-war Europe being in this ‘ruinous blindness,’ forever on the point of cutting its own throat.” 

“You think California is a ruinous blindness?” 

Lucas shook his head, his curls flattened against the mass of pillows. “No, I think people are forever on the point of cutting their own throats.” 

I wanted to swallow him whole. 

Climbing on top of him, I slid my hands around his throat and dragged one fingernail across the base of his neck, mimicking his words. We twisted around in the sheets for a moment, and then with his hands in the grooves of my hips he pulled me toward him, his mouth so hot that I flinched. I arched against the pressure of his tongue and wished he would suck the thing out of me, like venom from a snake bite, and rid me of that poison forever. He fucked me until it hurt and spoke softly into my ear, words that belonged only to him.

“Shit,” he said, “you’re bleeding.”

I peered down the whiteness of my stomach and saw that both of our thighs were stamped with my blood. 

“Oh,” I said, euphorically afraid. 

A few hours later, I sat on the toilet and pissed onto a plastic stick. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, we watched the pixels come slowly into view, two lines forming like apparitions in the afternoon light. I could still feel the weight of him inside me. 

While Lucas made coffee, I sat at the kitchen table and Googled “fetus at six weeks.” I clicked the first link. 

Your baby’s brain and spinal cord will develop from the neural tube. The heart is starting to form. Your baby’s body, it said. Your baby’s body is emerging from a crack in the foundation and will you exterminate?

 “What would we do with a child,” he said, laying his hand on my arm. It was more of a statement than a question. 

“My uterus is full of copper,” I answered. “That’s like a lightning rod for an embryo. If there’s really something in there, it’s dying.” 

“I think every contingency needs to be considered.”

“But it’s not a contingency,” I said. “There’s no maybe. We act, or we don’t.”

“How do you feel?” 

“Full,” I replied. “Responsible.” What I meant, though, was that whatever was inside of me felt indistinguishable from the rest of it—Lucas, California, the art that I couldn’t produce because life was a static thing in the distance, blinking in and out of focus.


The closest Planned Parenthood is in San Rafael, a forty-minute drive. Lucas and I walked down the driveway to the truck, an old piece of steel that I bought with half of my grant money. He asked me if I wanted to drive. I laughed. 

We argued on the way, passively at first. Lucas was quiet and I pounced on his silence.

“I need you not to intellectualize this,” I said. 

He looked at me briefly. “Why do you think I’m intellectualizing this?” 

“I can see you doing it. That’s what you’re doing when you’re quiet.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m sorry for being cerebral.” He was sneering. “This is what it means to be human, Cady. You make decisions and you think about them.”

“You’re writing a poem right now,” I said.

“Is this not what you want?” He said. “I’m sorry we have to do this, but you’re being unfair.”

“You’ll never understand what it’s like to carry an infinity,” I said.

“Oh, I’m writing a poem?”

We were silent for a while. I watched the white line running the length of the road, aggravated by its permanence. We passed a carcass and a sign advertising the motel where Lucas worked. 

“Do you have to go under?” Lucas said suddenly. The tires hummed against the asphalt.

“I don’t have to do anything,” I said. “But yes, they’re going to pump me full of chemicals unless I protest.” 

“It’ll be over soon enough.”

“I know,” I sighed. “People kill things all the time.”

The clinic was a small wooden building not unlike our house. A butch woman in a collared shirt sat on the front steps, smoking, and I guessed she was security who was supposed to remain anonymous. In a moment of anxiety, I asked Lucas to wait in the truck. He hesitated, but did as I asked. I saw him pull out a book as I let the door swing shut behind me. 

Inside, there were white lights, uncomfortably kind voices, storage shelves lined with bottles of rubbing alcohol. In the waiting room, I stared at everyone who walked in. In my mind, each person was a more pitiful version of the former. Before a nurse hooked me up to the IV drip that she said would “induce a twilight haze,” she asked if I had any remaining questions.

“None that you can answer,” I said.

She smiled politely. “Do you have someone to drive you home after the procedure?”

“Yes,” I replied, “the father.” 

She looked at me quizzically. I thought she would say something more, but she didn’t. Instead, she held my left hand as she slid the needle into my vein. It was that simple, I thought. Life and death were as simple as in and out. One quick motion toward the core, one pull back. 

“My house is full of centipedes,” I said. 

The woman’s face blurred with her voice, and I leaned forward into the twilight. 

There was water there, inside me. Viscous and murky, like blood, like a voice without words, moving not in waves but in concentric circles, ripples outward from the point where I floated. I tipped my head back and the water filled me with something reverent and total. There was pressure now, a great expanse of gravity, and I could walk it like a long tether toward the lights. They sounded like two wet fingers around the rim of a glass. Suddenly, I was parched. I cupped my hands and let them beneath the surface, the water quivering in my palms. I drank it in long gulps and my stomach filled with heat. The lights were over top of me now and I wanted to cry, to beg for darkness, for soft and writhing things that I could hold inside me like sickness. 

When I could see the room again, the nurse told me that the anesthesia had been swapped out for a painkiller. The expired IUD sat on a paper towel on the counter, a little copper insect covered in bloody mucus. The nurse saw me staring at it. 

“Use condoms until you can replace it,” she said. 

I nodded from the edges of my fog.

“Oh, and you can expect to get your period sometime next month,” she added, tossing a pair of gloves into a waste bin. “An abortion starts a new cycle.”

Lucas was there when I emerged from the long white hallway. My face was hot. He pulled me to him and we stood there for a moment, locked in an embarrassingly public embrace. 

“There was nothing human about that,” I said.


The following weeks were peaceful, but Lucas and I spoke less. On the days when we were home together, we spent most of our time working in different rooms, wading in and out of our own worlds. At certain inevitable points, after we’d exhausted ourselves conjuring words and images, we’d end up in the kitchen together, drinking and smiling placidly at one another. When we’d first moved to California, desire was a constant state—it was the invisible field that gave weight to matter. Now, it was something discrete, a thing that had to be reached for. And when we did reach for it, we were individuals occupying each other in short and rabid bursts, only to finish and retreat to our respective hollows.  

At the end of September, a storm blew in off the bay and we lost electricity in the house. We made fun out of it at first, curled up in candlelight with books and wine and a portable DVD player. We watched movies in languages we couldn’t understand and slurred with Merlot tongues as we discussed which of the actors we would fuck, separately or together. But eventually we ran out of hot water and battery power, so we reluctantly called Delilah. She answered the phone on the first ring. 

“Hi sweetheart, are you alright?” 

“Hey, we’re fine mom,” Lucas answered, “but Acadia and I are stuck in here with no electricity. Is there someone we can call?” 

“What’s the matter with you two?” she said, the North Carolina sap in her voice. “Why don’t you go on over to the motel?” 

“They’re out too,” said Lucas.

“Well, they ought to have someone over there pretty soon,” she said, “given the plant.”

Lucas and I looked at each other, the phone on the table between us. 

“What do you mean, the plant?” I asked. 

Delilah chuckled. “Oh,” she said, “I guess you two are too busy to read the news.” She was joking, but there was a twinge of severity in her voice. “Evidently, they’ve set up some kind of mobile facility off-shore. Chemical waste.”

“Really,” I said, chewing the inside of my lip. “Who’s operating it?” 

“The state,” she said, a non-answer. “Or maybe some contractor, I can’t remember. It was supposed to be sort of a quiet thing, but I guess some folks were poking around. Fishing boats out where they weren’t supposed to be.” 

“Where exactly off-shore?” asked Lucas. His stare was fixed out the window, though a misty rain had left it foggy.  

“Right there,” Delilah answered. “I had half a mind to call you when I read the story, but they said there was minimal risk of toxicity.”

“Let’s hope so,” I said. 

“Mmhm. But in any case, they’ve put up a bunch of agency scientists in town who’re out there working on it. I imagine they won’t stand not having electricity but so long.” 

Lucas shot me a skeptical look. “What, so they’ve just got this thing on a boat out there?”

“Hell, I don’t know,” Delilah replied. “I guess it just floats. It’s a real shame,” she continued. “We can’t leave a speck of this Earth untouched. We can’t stop poisoning ourselves.”


It’s autumn now. I turn twenty-three on a crisp Wednesday and answer a call from Chloe, her voice like honey through the phone.  She wishes me a year of nothing but beauty and warmth.

“How are things with Lucas?” she asks. 

I hesitate, having forgotten how to talk about him in his absence. 

“Fine,” I say, drawing it out. “We’re working a lot these days. It’s… yeah, actually, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve lost something.”

She’s quiet for a moment, a faint static holding the miles between us. “Do you still love him?” 

“Yes,” I answer. “Of course. There’s just something empty about the way we’re living. I’m suffocating in it.”

“Is he?” 

“I don’t think so. He never is.” 

“Come to Chicago,” says Chloe, a subtle pleading in her voice. “Stay with me. There’s nothing over there for you.” 

She was right, maybe. My grant would run out soon. Life here existed inside of itself, like a drug, like a chemical reaction.

A few days after my birthday, I stand in front of the bathroom vanity, dizzy and glowing. My hands curl into fists as I drop to the tile, stomach acid rising in my throat. We were careful, I thought. But somehow, I know that it’s happened again. 

The truck threatens to break down as we retrace that long strip of highway. I’m sick with the nausea of fluorescent bulbs and ammonia, the clink of metal tools and the twilight haze of an IV drip.  

Lucas turns to me. “Are you okay?” he asks, and I understand that he’s asking for himself. 

I ignore his question. “I’m going to stay awake this time,” I say.

He nods, silently. 

The turn signal ticks rhythmically as Lucas prepares to take the exit for the clinic. My fingers run through his hair, but his gaze is somewhere far down the road. A hot breeze, unusual for October, bends the tall grasses along the side of the highway. The air is suffused with remains. This will ruin us, I think. We’ll exhaust the words that exist to conceive of this, and then what? I want to tell him to turn the car around and drive home, to head toward the lights. 

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Caroline Fox is an MFA student in fiction writing at Brooklyn College, where she is a Truman Capote Fellow. Originally from Washington, D.C., Caroline has also lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and in Berlin, Germany. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2022.