On Saturday, Oregon lifted its mask mandate. With exceptions for healthcare and public transportation, we don’t have to wear our COVID masks anymore. Of course, they said that before and then Omicron came.
I took advantage of the break to wash my mask collection. They’re sitting around the laundry room drying like little puffy kites.
It was a joy to sing at church on Sunday sans mask. I joined St. Anthony’s just before the pandemic. There are some people whose lower faces I had never seen. Lips! We have lips. And we get to wear lipstick. Most of the mask era, I just did my eyes, if that. Why put on makeup that won’t show and will get all over your mask? Or dangly earrings that tangle in the elastic that goes over your ears?
How sweet to be able to sip water without moving a mask out of the way. To know people can see your smile. To not have our words muffled by the mask.
People can also see my frowns, my inappropriate laughs, my curses, and my counting madly on certain tricky piano songs. For two years, we have hidden behind our masks. It got to be a habit, and now everybody can see us. That will take some getting used to.
Meanwhile, what was up with the woman coughing and coughing somewhere toward the back of the church? Considering all those unmasked people–and a few with masks–it was unnerving. In my little piano island, I feel somewhat safe. The Clavinova is so tall people can barely see me. The germs will have to work hard to get to me. But we’re all paranoid. A cough is not just a cough anymore. The paranoia is going to remain long after the virus finally slinks away. Meanwhile, my masks are clean and ready for the next onslaught.
Remember when only bank robbers wore masks? I remember trying to make a mask out of an old bandanna. Then the church ladies got busy making masks, and I acquired a full wardrobe to match my outfits. We even got “singing masks” that pooch out to allow more air in.
We looked down our noses at those who wore their masks under their noses, which defeats the purpose. We got used to masks hanging around people’s necks like a scarf. We got used to the absurdity of wearing a mask into a restaurant, taking it off to eat and drink, and putting it back on to leave, as if we weren’t breathing the whole time we dined.
Remember when people were afraid to touch their mail, their groceries, or their dogs for fear they had COVID on them?
Remember when everything was closed? Here on the Oregon coast, sawhorses blocked the entrances to the beaches. You couldn’t get a hotel room or eat in a restaurant. At the doctor’s office, you waited in your car till they called you. At our vet’s, we still wait in the car or near the car because the puppy gets excited and needs to get to the grass to take care of business. Hospitals and nursing homes still limit visitors. When will we feel safe enough to gather around a loved one’s beside?
I remember when I went to buy spa chemicals early in the pandemic. Customers weren’t allowed inside the store. A worker peeking out the half-open door asked what you wanted, passed it out to you, and took your money. Buying bromine tablets was like buying drugs or bootleg liquor. Weird times. There are little children for whom mask-wearing is normal. They have never lived without them.
I often wonder what my father would think of all this if he hadn’t died just before the pandemic. He was born shortly after the big influenza epidemic. Two cousins lost both their parents to the flu. I wonder if any of their masks were tucked away in the old house on Branham Lane.
A hundred years later, we were wearing masks again. More than three million people worldwide have died of COVID-19. I knew and loved a few of them. People are still getting sick, but officials are playing the numbers game, betting that it will be okay this time if we remove our masks. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, taking off my mask feels very similar to my dog Annie removing her protective cone. We’re both feeling a little naked these days.
Are you unmasked, too? How does it feel?