Remember back in March when the idea of wearing masks was new, and nobody who didn’t work in a hospital, doctor’s office, or construction site had one? That seems so long ago now. As we’re closing in on six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel almost nostalgic for those days when I searched Google for ways to make my own mask out of whatever I had on hand. I remember trying to fold my old brown bandanna into a mask of sorts. It didn’t work out quite the way it did on YouTube. I looked around for old tee shirts, scarves, anything that would work in a pinch if I had to leave home.
It all happened so suddenly. A week before everything shut down, I took a mini-vacation through western Oregon with not a thought of masks or that in a week the places I was visiting would be closed. How spoiled we were then, walking around with bare faces, breathing freely, touching each other, hugging, shaking hands, eating from buffets, sitting so close our thighs touched. Oh man, are we still in the same year? The same century?
I also have vague memories of President Trump’s impeachment hearings, which seemed to be the biggest news at the time. I listened to the testimony for hours, day after day. And what came of it? Nothing.
We still have the same president, who declared early in the pandemic that he would not wear a mask, that he didn’t think it was a good look for him. Now, 5 million U.S. cases of COVID-19 later, he’s wearing a mask, too. Gold-plated and diamond encrusted, I imagine.
When I look at the old black and white photos of the 1918 flu epidemic, everyone seemed to be wearing plain white masks, likely just repurposed handkerchiefs. But this is 2020, and nothing is that simple anymore.
My first mask came from my friend Phyllis, who had switched from making pillows and stuffed animals for hospitalized kids to making masks. May I have one, please, I asked. She left it in a baggie on her screened porch for me to pick up, lest we make contact and infect each other. I left her a copy of one of my books in return.
For a little while, masks were as hard to buy as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but within a few weeks, they were everywhere. Church ladies gave them away. Crafters started selling them online. My chiropractor started selling masks with his logo on them. Suddenly masks weren’t just masks. These little cummerbunds for your face were blank billboards to advertise your products, flaunt your talents, or promote your causes.
Via Facebook, I ordered a mask with a keyboard and music notation on it so everyone would know I was a musician. The company that does my postcards, mailing labels and such has offered to put my publishing company logo on a mask. I could have masks made with each of my book covers if I wanted to. Or maybe one with all the books!
Any day now, the charities that send me calendars and return address labels will start sending out masks. Here are your Christmas labels and your Santa Claus mask.
On Saturday, my friend gave me a mask with dogs on it. I can’t wait to wear it. Wait, did I just say that? I remember the first time I wore a mask to the grocery store, the blue one with pink flowers from Phyllis. I felt self-conscious and claustrophobic, like I wasn’t getting enough air. By the time I got to the car, I was shaking. I tore off the mask, drowned my hands in sanitizer, and sucked in oxygen, sure I was going to get COVID-19 anyway.
Now, it’s almost like a bare face is not completely dressed. I no longer need to wear makeup to go out. People can’t see it, and it stains the mask. Makeup is for Zoom meetings, not for in-person encounters. But I do try to match my mask with my outfit, just as I do my earrings, shoes, and purse.
I have six masks now, one for almost every day of the week, not that I go out every day. Masks do need washing, (by hand, not machine. I learned the hard way), and if you have eaten something potent, the mask will send your breath back in your face. Onions bad. Mints, good. Mexican for lunch? Wash that thing.
Masks have one drawback I could not overcome: singing. Some of my singing friends manage to sing with their masks on, but I couldn’t do it. When I launch into a song, the first thing I do is take a giant breath, and my mask choked off the air. It also slid around with the movement of my jaw. Most of us have heard horror stories about church choirs where COVID ran rampant. Singing (or shouting) reportedly pushes out more invisible virus droplets than other activities.
People watching our online Masses complained that the few of us who have been doing music were standing too close—farther than usual but not six feet–and not all of us were wearing masks. I ordered a face shield from Amazon last Tuesday. It arrived on Thursday. I look like a space monster in my shield, and it trashes my hair, but I can breathe and sing at the same time. The plastic bounces my voice back at me, and I can’t get at my own face to push my glasses up or take them off, to eat or drink, or to scratch my nose if it itches. But I can sing safely, so it’s worth it. As a bonus, I can wear lipstick and smile again.
When I take the shield off and let the wind fluff my hair, it feels so good. Was it only March that we could do this all the time? We had no idea how lucky we were.
How are you doing with masks? Do you have any special ones? How do you feel wearing them? Have you graduated to a shield? What will we do with these things when the pandemic is over?