As wearing a mask becomes the new norm, is there still room for the figurative masks we’ve always worn? Our writers think so.
My mask is made of the four walls of my home that keep me separated from the world outside. It’s made of Chromebooks and virtual kindergarten meetings. It’s a bubble of peace and flexibility compliments of a yoga mat laid out on a worn out carpet and 20 minute videos on Youtube. My mask is lemonade made with lemons pirated off of a neighbor’s tree. It’s fairy magic and engineering challenges. It’s cakes, cookies, and ice cream. It’s email and text messages instead of hugs and conversation. A Google hangout paired with a bottle of wine. It’s tears and arguments followed by forgiveness and maybe even understanding. My mask is made of the kind of isolation that keeps me from being alone.
My mask is made of flour or olive oil from whatever I baked or cooked for the day, the to-do list I force myself to make every morning even though the tasks are usually the same, the smiles I put on for various FaceTime/Zoom calls, more than a few beads of sweat from my walk/run/online Zumba video, a few droplets of wine, and then the wall of screens I check approximately 9000 times a day.
My mask is made of words, looped and crocheted together to form one long, incoherent, run-on sentence that trails out crazily behind me as I skip down the street enjoying my 6-foot garden of space separating me from all those cookie-cutter people wearing normal, boring masks, who have lost their imagination and never look up at the sky to see what the clouds are doing, never sniff the sweetness in the spring air, never look anyone else in the eye to say hi and remain forever disconnected from themselves and the glorious world around them. My mask is my muse, and separates me from nothing.
My mask is made of my mom calling mid morning one day, someday, who can remember which is which now, but there she was calling, FaceTiming because the audio only days are past us; we have to see each other to know we’re each okay, and I answered with a grunt, the coffee not yet stimulating me to a full and pleasant person, and my mother rushed to her question: “do you need a mask?” You should send them to hospitals, I said, dismissing the notion that I might not be fine because that notion still seemed outlandish, but she insisted: “Our friends in China are sending us boxes of them, they just can’t understand why we don’t all wear masks outside. When I was a little girl in Germany I remember Americans sending us boxes of supplies, but now I’m in America and it’s the Chinese sending us boxes of supplies, isn’t that funny?” The hospitals could use them more than we can, I said, not thinking about needing to satisfy my mother’s need to care or make sure her children are okay, to follow her instincts, so she continued: “We are already sending them to hospitals, thousands and thousands of them, so we could spare a few for you, do you need them, maybe some Clorox wipes or some gloves? You know what, you are busy so I’ll just throw a care package together, okay?” Her image disappeared and my phone background—a picture of my wife and me on our wedding day—reemerged on my screen. When the package arrived a few days later, I secured my hands in plastic grocery bags, moving the cardboard box from front doorstep to back patio, where I presumed it was safer, less likely for the disease to spread around the house, easier to dispose of. My mask is made of love and fear and kindness and a little doubt and guilt as to whether I should even have a mask at all.
My mask used to be made of the mixed fabrics of hope, optimism, anxiety, and fear. It was made of the warring this-is-the-ends and the we-will-get-through-this that were fighting for superiority. Now, it is made of the hope of finding the middle ground, where things don’t have to be one or the other. A place where things can just be. A place where there is space enough to create, and reach out and search for those small moments of peace and love and humanity.
My mask is recording podcast episodes with my husband and rolling my eyes while he name drops the brandy he’s drinking. It’s rewatching Castle and seeing if I remember who the killer is within the first 30 seconds. It’s thinking about writing things about secrets that I’m keeping for the time being. It’s trying to remember to breathe. And, when all fails, it’s falling asleep as I mentally go over the dance moves to Mamamoo’s “HIP.”
My mask is made of hot pink Post-it reminders and ideas, scribbled from the early morning until my eyelids can no longer hold their ground against sleep. Pictures of my niece and nephew become tiny patches, another adding with each conversation about their day in a new normal. Tears blot it, shed after reading books that healed my heart, watching sitcoms which diffused joy or listening to news that sorrows. It’s wrapped around my ears by headphones, which change the noise of family making home an office, to the sweet calming tunes of Broadway and Joni Mitchell. Stitches of health anxiety bind the fabrics together in fear that if they aren’t tight enough, a microbe will slip in and somehow make me or someone I love become another number added to the virus’s toll.
My mask is Apropos of Nothing, the biography by Woody Allen. I’m burying my face in it and it’s so funny, light, and good. Sadly, these days, being a Woody Allen fan can cause social distancing, but I’ll never forget when I first saw Crimes & Misdemeanors and realized a film could be textured like a book. Or when I realized that Manhattan Murder Mystery was something of a sequel to Annie Hall, had Annie and Alvy stayed together at the end. It’s tough to bring up Woody in polite company these days but, since we can’t even have polite company, there’s my mask.
I call it “The Purrrrge”